FOR FATHERS WHEN YOUR BABY DIES
Through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death
WRITTEN BY MEN FOR MEN
Men and women grieve differently and even amongst men, we deal with grief in different ways. There is no right or wrong, but there are perhaps ways of coping or grieving that will make things easier for you and your loved ones who are also tormented by this tragedy. Men as fathers and as husbands are expected to be a tower of strength, a provider, problem solver, to take charge, a bulwark in the face of crisis. Men handle physical pain relatively well, but are relatively inexperienced at handling their emotional torments, yet men too have strong emotions and in the face of such a personal loss. It is imperative that they find a means of expressing their grief that is constructive.
You: Be easy on yourself, you are likely to feel mixed emotions and are not likely to be able to be objective in what you say and do, but you can only try. The following may be helpful, reduce your activities and workload. It will not help to bury yourself in work, and you will also need time to think and reflect about the whole incident. You may ponder on the "why me?" question, like this question, there are no good answers - Life is NOT fair. Crying will make you feel better, you may be uneasy with such a show of emotion, but you can and should cry privately if you feel like it, it is therapeutic. Anger is not an uncommon emotion, express it constructively, if you must, for example by beating a mattress with a tennis racket or by talking to someone, talk to your loved ones and other family members. It can help particularly when the loneliness and grief are acute. This also helps by establishing a support system where you can express your feelings, additionally you can seek succour by sharing with other bereaved fathers, by seeking grief/professional counselling.
Intimacy: It is not abnormal to want to be more or less physically intimate during this period of grieving. You and your partner may feel differently about it, it is not wrong to experience an increased libido (desire), don't feel guilty about this, it is perfectly natural. When mutually desired, it can bring comfort to both of you, on the other hand there are couples who do not engage in sexual relations during this period of grief, once again, there is no right or wrong. There is no place for feeling guilty about your sexual needs or apathy. Try not to succumb to any urges or inclinations to engage in extraneous sexual affairs if things do happen to turn nasty between you and your partner during this time. Your partner is emotionally fragile, so she may avoid you altogether. She may go through a phase where she thinks you are uncaring, hence the importance of showing your emotions even though it may be difficult. Extramarital dalliances due to the emotional upheaval during this time have been known to occur and can only make things worse. Many men may feel that a change of some sort may be in order, as a rule if possible, don't make any permanent life-altering radical decisions during this period of when your judgement is likely to be impaired.
Your partner: Some men feel that one of the hardest things to deal with in this period is their partner. The following suggestions may be helpful. She, as the mother of the baby is probably just as traumatised, if not more so, so bear that in mind. Men tend to keep things inside, women tend to like to talk about things. Don't be uneasy about getting in touch with your softer side, it is not only comforting for your wife to talk and comfort her, but it's also therapeutic for YOU. At the same time do remember you too are a parent of the baby and so it's your grief too. Your partner may not want any advice when she talks to you, she may just want a kind and empathetic ear. Be available for her, don't be aloof and let her mistake it for indifference. At other times, she may just want to be left alone. Listen to what your partner is saying, not what you want to hear her say, for example if she says "Leave me alone, I need more space", that's probably what she really wants, though it can be hard not to take it as a rejection. After all, even in the best of times, we all need our own space. Don't vent your emotions on her either indirectly or directly, it's not her fault, don't turn to the bottle either or engage in other 'escape' activities such as trying to avoid things at home by burying yourself in your work, it only makes things worse. Your wife is emotionally vulnerable at this time and so even carefully chosen comments can elicit a nasty reaction. Don't take it to heart, she is hurting too. Let her cry, cry with her, don't be frightened of tears, they never hurt anyone. ASK HER how you can help with the chores or anything else, help make things easy for her. Helping out helps relieve that sense of frustration that you may feel at not being able to heal the hurt. Let her talk to her friends and her parents, she needs as much support as she can get. Encourage her, when you feel it's appropriate to engage in the activities that could give her some measure of pleasure. She may want to write a sentimental poem about her lost child, you may not appreciate this , but it's important to her, so by all means encourage her, and if you happen to be keen on poetry, have a go yourself.
Other children: If you have other children, depending on their age, they will feel the impact of this loss in a different way. Don't try to hide it from them, children can be very perceptive. Sometimes children may irrationally feel this incident is somehow their fault, it's no one's fault. Talk to them if they want to talk about it, they may be emotional and tearful for the sibling that was so cruelly deprived them. Take them out when you are up to it, treat them to special outings. In the long term, this whole incident can serve to bring you closer to your remaining children and make you appreciate them more, yet do resist the temptation to cling to them too much or spoil them unnecessarily, this could only be deleterious for them in the long run.
Other members of your family: Other members of your family, your own parents and siblings may be shocked, though perhaps their reaction may be less evident. We are all human, they may say things that are inadvertently insensitive, forgive them, they don't realise the effect of their words. Sometimes you won't realise the effects of your words either. They may be uncomfortable discussing the matter. After all, its not the natural order of things for grandparents, uncles or aunts, let alone parents to bury their young. It feels, and is, unfair. If you feel like it, do talk to your family, they may want someone to talk to as well. Having someone to talk to can take away the isolation that comes with your grief. It can also strengthen and deepen the bond between you and your loved ones.
Friends: may not be able to fully perceive the magnitude of your loss, they may be ambivalent about it, you may feel the same way if you were in their position.
Other noteworthy points/issues during this period:
Coming home alone from the hospital without a baby can be hurtful, and it is normal to feel that way. TV commercials featuring babies may upset you, so may seeing other babies in a pram, this again is normal.
Don't be afraid to mention the baby's name or keep the baby's things, feel free to frame up pictures of the baby if that's what you and your partner desire, remembering the child validates its existence, albeit transient and temporary. Feel free to commemorate their birthdays or anniversaries with small ceremonies (at the graveside for example).
Don't let this unsuccessful birth mar your experience of the next pregnancy when the time comes, you will be more prepared to deal with the unexpected, but you have every right to be happy or excited in anticipating the birth of your next child.
Men react differently to miscarriage as compared to a stillbirth, they seem to think less of miscarriage as it's less tangible to them than a stillbirth which is usually closer to term and hence more physically obvious. Your partner may not feel the same and may see no difference between a stillbirth and a miscarriage and so may be just as devastated by both events.
Find out from your Doctor, GP or SANDS about your rights and responsibilities with regards to funeral arrangements for the baby. Don't let anyone make you or lead you to do anything you are uncomfortable with. Consult an empathetic funeral director regarding funeral arrangements If in doubt, ask, don't assume, you have more rights than you think. For example, you can photograph the child, and you can make any special arrangements in accordance with your cultural and religious beliefs. You may have questions about an autopsy and its necessity, ask your Doctor or contact a support organisation
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