For Men Dealing with Loss

It is common for couples who have experienced a pregnancy and infant loss to feel very connected to each other and to grieve together – especially immediately following the loss. It is not uncommon, however, for men and women to then have divergent experiences as you move away from the actual loss and begin to process the event.

A basic fact that must be acknowledged is that women experience not only an emotional reaction, but also a physical experience following a loss. For men, as much as you may empathize and be there for your partner, the woman may feel that there is “no way that her partner truly understands what she is going through.” Physical changes are undoubtedly taking place for the woman: she may experience cramping as her uterus contracts, she is very “hormonal” which can account for a wide range of emotions, and she is most certainly lactating – her breasts are producing milk which is a constant reminder of the physical loss and not having a baby in her arms to nurse. As these changes are noticed and experienced, there may be an emotional reaction and feeling by the woman that you may feel disconnected from.

In addition to understanding what your wife may be experiencing physically, there is also the need to gather information and try to grasp what may have caused the loss. Although there may not be a definitive answer, as rational beings, we are always looking for answers. Many men may not be familiar with the physical changes that a woman experiences during a pregnancy. So it may be even harder to grasp what problems may have ensued and the intricacies of the loss. It is strongly recommended that you speak with your partner’s obstetrician so that you can gain as clear a picture as you possible, and so that you and your wife can “speak the same language” about the issues surrounding the loss.

Men tend to return to work sooner than women. Women may have been preparing for a maternity leave, they may have been on bedrest/leave from work already, or they may have quit their jobs in anticipation of the baby. In more cases than not, women are faced with time alone at home whether it’s to continue to heal physically, or because they are just not ready emotionally to begin a daily routine. The fact that men return to a daily routine sooner may cause tension in your relationship.

Your True Feelings and How You are Reacting

Many men have their own feelings to the loss that often get overlooked or submerged. You may feel that it is your responsibility to take care of your wife both physically and emotionally. This is natural but it may also overwhelm you and make you feel helpless. And while trying to take care of your wife, you may feel like your needs and feelings have disappeared. In reality your feelings are very real but you may feel “lost” in how to handle the loss.

One common reaction – completely natural – is for you to find a physical outlet for your grief. That may mean working out at the gym, mowing the lawn, taking on a project around the house. It may feel really great to swing a hammer and pound out your anger! Go for it! But just make sure whatever project you undertake you also understand its origin since this may help bridge the communication gap may develop between you and your partner.

Some men find it particularly difficult to express themselves verbally when it comes to these difficult emotions so don’t be hard on yourself if that is the case. Maybe try writing how you feel, or even ask your wife to read these passages to help explain what you’re going through. Doing projects, working out, etc. by no means negates your very true sad feelings – it is a real avenue for you to express yourself.

You May be Responsible for Burial Arrangements

It is important to recognize – and here we do – that you may be the responsible one for making burial or cremation arrangements for your baby. What a difficult emotional task that is!! You are not prepared to have to deal with such “adult” issues so early in life and at this stage in your marriage. If you can find a parent, sibling or friend to help with this, be sure to ask for help – this is really hard! Most funeral homes are very helpful when it comes to these things so don’t be afraid to ask for their assistance; and don’t think that you need to know how to do this.

What to Do? Most Importantly, Acknowledge the Differences

It is crucial during this experience to acknowledge that there are differences in how men and women grieve and react to this experience. Allow yourselves to feel the differences and acknowledge that you may heal at a different pace. Communication is the key to bridging the gap – it may not put you on the same page, but just letting each other know where you are at will keep your relationship balanced and honest, and allow for mutual understanding and respect. It is also recommended to seek support especially in a support group that is designed for couples. Occasionally there are support groups or workshops just for men, or designed for women only. Contact local hospitals or clergy to find out what kind of support is available. Our center offers individual support and group support.