Though pregnancy loss affects both men and women, they respond differently. The father’s reaction to the loss of a baby is often less outwardly obvious compared to the mother’s expression of grief . This difference in grieving may be wrongly interpreted as “men do not grieve the loss of a baby.” That is certainly not the case.
Different Social Expectations from Men and Women Around Parenthood
Women are under pressure from society to be ideal mothers and caregivers. Men face pressures to be the breadwinners and to be successful. These specific pressures lead to successful men being identified as those who provide for their families and successful women being identified as those who bear children and care for them.
Men Grieve Pregnancy Loss Too
Men experience many of the same emotions after the loss of a baby as women do. Here some common emotions both men and women experience:
- Shock and disbelief
- Frustration and anger
Both mothers and fathers feel sad after the loss of their baby in their own ways. Here are some
Typical Ways Men Grieve Pregnancy Loss:
1.Initially, Men Mourn the Loss of Their Baby to the Same Degree Women Do
According to research using the Perinatal Grief Scale, grief scores for men are comparable to those of their female partners right after the loss. For both men and women, their grief is higher with a longer duration of pregnancy and pregnancy with ultrasounds where baby was seen.
2. Men’s Grief is Not as Long or Intense as Women’s
Men’s grief is usually shorter in intensity and duration than their partner’s grief. Usually, fathers do not experience emotions such as depression and anxiety as intensely or as long as mothers do. Due to these different grieving periods, women can take a significantly longer time to recover from their loss. In comparison to mothers, men also experience significantly less preoccupation and yearning. They also do not experience somatic symptoms, the way mothers do.
3. Differing Perception of the Fetus
Mothers perceive the fetus as part of their physical and emotional self, so they form a much earlier attachment to the unborn child. Thus, it is not surprising that fathers do not experience the same amount of guilt and self-blame as mothers do. Fathers generally exhibit more frustration and anger. While the mother could feel she failed her baby and her body failed her, her partner may feel that he failed to protect his wife. Though, these differences in perception of the fetus do not prevent both parents from feeling equal amounts of withdrawal, isolation, fatigue, discomfort with physical intimacy, and fear of future pregnancy.
4. Different Cultural Pressures
Due to cultural norms, women are more comfortable expressing and openly talking about their grief. Because of societal pressures to contain their emotions, men show greater control over their emotions and are less willing to discuss them. In our society men use coping strategies such as denial and avoidance. For instance, men focus on work and self-soothing activities outside of the couple unit to cope. Men usually return to work sooner after the loss. They may work overtime as a way to avoid their own feelings, and to avoid being with their grieving wives. Men may use work accomplishments to repair their diminished self-esteem. This avoidance and emotional shut down can profoundly affect relationships.
5. Fathers’ Grief is Marginalized
Fathers are often overlooked in their grief. Medical staff, friends, and family tend to put more attention on the mother and tend to ignore that the father has lost his baby as well. While fathers are often asked how their wives are doing, there’s little concern how they are doing themselves. Therefore, they receive less social support.
Different Grieving Styles of Mothers and Fathers Can Lead To Conflict
A father is often faced with deciding between fulfilling his primary role as a protector of his wife by keeping his feelings to himself or sharing his feelings openly and risk upsetting his wife even more. This can lead to the father avoiding talking about the loss at all. The husband’s lack of emotional expression can be easily perceived by his wife as cold and uncaring. It is possible his wife feels alone in her pain and wants to hear her husband express his sadness so that she is not so alone. These differences in grieving can cause misunderstanding, tension, and distance in the relationship. Because of different coping methods, both partners can feel alone and unsupported by each other.
Grieving Together Can Strengthen the Relationship
Even though men and women tend to experience pregnancy loss in different ways, many couples will endure the trauma of their loss and eventually achieve greater closeness and an improved marital bond. The best predictor of recovery from the pregnancy loss is spousal support. As long as fathers remain emotionally available and attentive to their wife’s overt suffering their relationship is not threatened, but rather is often strengthened.
If you find that differences in grieving the loss of your baby are keeping you apart, specialized couples therapy for pregnancy loss can help. Mental health professionals can aid in establishing open communication between partners and identifying support strategies for fathers. Couples therapy is effective in improving communication and intimacy in grieving couples.
Don’t let your grief ruin your marriage.
Call Dr. Irena for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation at 281-267-1742 or book your appointment now.