Until rather recently, little attention has been paid to what a father goes through when a baby dies. The attention - physical and emotional - usually goes to the mother. She carried the baby, she has to give birth or have a procedure to remove the baby's body from hers, she is often the emotional one, and she has the hormonal changes that influence her. Additionally, most women look forward to the baby time - rocking, bathing, breast feeding, dressing. Thus, the loss of a baby gives her an empty, aching feeling both physically and as a mother who has lost her role and her dreams for a baby.
Daddy's on the other hand, can tend to take the roll of the protector; after all, if not them, then who will look out for their partner? While they may feel they are also drowning, some men find a way to keep it together enough to offer assistance to their partners and other family members, at least in the beginning. It may just be what they do during shock and crisis; fight rather than flight.
In addition, many men admit that the times they most looked forward to were not the baby times, but when their child would be a toddler or a bit older. Playing ball, fishing, tossing them in the air, doing dad/buddy things...show relationship with a older child, not a baby. This does not mean dad's don't love their babies, but their tougher times may actually come when the baby would be of an age where they would be talking and able to play or learn from dad. And many fathers have admitted that they could not easily feel their pain and do their grief work until they knew their partner would be okay...something that could take a year or many more.
While this may not be the best way for men to respond to the pain of the loss and the intense relationship changes and challenges that often occur, it may happen unconsciously. It might be better if dad could allow his needs and feelings to bubble forth so mom can see it (and know he is hurting, too, which can create a bond during this painful and difficult time). It can also allow mom to give to her partner. The love, courage, warmth, and help she offers him when he is down can actually help her feel stronger. It can give her the feeling that she is not the one who has all the needs, pushing her deeper into the darkness. Rather, in giving, she is growing stronger and healing a bit. If dads could just allow their sadness and some of their needs to show, it might change the relationship, providing a little more balance. Just one way to look at it.
Society makes a big deal of mom's and babies. Daddy's are often not included in conversations, plans, showers, and other preparations. So when a baby dies, it makes sense for all of the above reasons why it is harder for dads. They can easily get left out.
This is not okay and should not be acceptable. We need to be thinking about how fathers feel, what they can and cannot do at any given time, and how to support them without taking away their role of protector and strong one, especially in the beginning.
While we could delve deeply into this issue; and dad's do deserve that; a few paragraphs on a website cannot take the place of the great resources that are out there waiting for dads to read and find. A few are: A Guide for Fathers by Tim Nelson, Kelly Farley's Grieving Dad's Project, and Tim Nelson's Father's Blog,. The Couple Communication After a Baby Dies book by Sherokee and Tim Nelson is very insightful about both mom and dad's role, perspectives, styles of coping, and much more. Our eZine # 1 Mother and Father's Day and #8 Couple Communication offer support and understand about both mom and dad's grief and parenthood issues after a child's death.
Here's an enlightening video on "Men and Emotions." It may help both partners understand 'some' of the differences between how men and women grieve...and how they deal differently with emotions and life's stresses in general. Check out the video.