October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Although statistics vary regarding the prevalence of pregnancy loss, it is estimated that about 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage, which is a type of pregnancy loss that occurs at or before the 20th week of pregnancy (March of Dimes, 2017). This means that miscarriage happens a lot, probably a lot more than any of us know. Despite the prevalence of this type of loss, the topic of pregnancy loss in general and miscarriage in particular is still rarely discussed. When it is talked about, often the story that is told comes from the mom’s perspective; rarely do we hear the dad’s story or how the couple as a whole is impacted.
Based on the limited research available about the dad’s perspective of miscarriage, here are four things we do know about dads and miscarriage.
Four Things to Understand about Dads and Miscarriage:
1. Dads are Impacted, Too
The research shows that, although men may not show their grief as visibly as their partner, they are often still impacted by this type of loss. Often, the male partner’s first priority is making sure that their partner is OK and attending to their partners needs. Many times, any grief or sadness dads may be feeling is set aside to prioritize what their partner is going through. This does not mean that dads don’t feel the loss. According to Puddifoot and Johnson (1999), men often grieve a miscarriage as much as their partner; they may just express that grief differently.
2. Dads May Not Be Doing OK
Dads often minimize the impact of miscarriage on them personally. They may minimize their feelings by telling themselves, “My partner has it worse; they experienced the loss physically and I didn’t.” They may find themselves drinking or working more or doing more projects around the house. These are all very common ways that men deal with distressing situations as a way to distract themselves from the pain or numb the pain they may be feeling. This way of coping is not wrong, but it may be an indication that they are not doing OK.
3. Dads May Not Want to Talk about It… or Maybe They Do
Some dads who have been through a miscarriage with their partner may be dying for the opportunity to talk about their experience, if someone would only ask them how they are doing. Other dads would rather forget that the loss happened at all, because remembering and talking about it would bring back all the pain and sadness.
4. Dads May Experience a Delayed Grief Response
One research study (Puddifoot & Johnson, 1999) in particular found that, after going through a miscarriage, men tend to internalize, minimalize, or ignore their feelings and prioritize their partner’s wellbeing. On the outside, they may appear to be doing fine. However, later on, perhaps even months or years after the loss, they may find themselves feeling despair and having difficulty coping with life and their feelings of sadness.
So, given this information that a dad’s grief may look a bit different than their partner’s, how can you help support a dad you may know who has been through a miscarriage or pregnancy loss with their partner? Here are three examples of comments or ways to check in with dads that may be helpful:
- How are you doing?
This one is important. Often dads are asked, “How is your wife/partner doing?”. This is definitely an important question, however, it is also important to ask the dad directly how he’s doing. This statement acknowledges that this was also a loss for him and communicates to him that you care about his wellbeing.
- I’m so sorry. I imagine that this is really hard for you.
Often, both moms and dads receive unhelpful and shaming comments like, “At least you know you can have a baby,” “At least you know your baby is in a better place,” “God must have needed the baby more than you did,” or “Maybe you ate/drank something you shouldn’t have.” Although these could be meant as comments intended to be helpful, often they are heard as dismissive of the pain they are currently going through or blaming them personally for doing something wrong to cause the loss to happen. A simple statement like “I’m so sorry. This must be really hard for you” communicates empathy and care, acknowledging that their loss is real.
- Want to play golf/play video games/play basketball (or any other activity)?
This one is especially important for dads. Sometimes it can be difficult for men to just sit down and talk about their feelings with someone face-to-face. Instead, men may find it easier to connect and talk about difficult topics when doing something physical. This is not a bad thing! All it means is that doing some sort of physical activity may open up an opportunity for a dad to talk about how he’s doing.
If you or someone you know has been through a miscarriage or other pregnancy loss, I honor you today. This month, I remember with you all the babies who were gone too soon. What you are going through is hard, and I am so sorry for your loss.
If you are a dad who has been through a miscarriage with your partner, I would also like to provide you with an opportunity to share your loss story from your perspective. I am currently doing a research study for my doctoral dissertation on things that may influence the dad’s grief after miscarriage, including religion or spirituality and support from his community. If you would like to participate, please see the flyer below or click on this link to access the study directly: https://alliant.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_dcKbS7RPcb9ac1U
Additionally, if you and your partner have been through a miscarriage or other pregnancy and are finding yourselves having difficulty processing it or finding that this loss has affected your relationship with each other, please reach out to us here at Estes Therapy. We would love to support you through this grieving process.
Article by Heather Frick, AMFT#116509 (supervised by Jennine Estes, LMFT#47653)
Johnson, M., & Puddifoot, J. (1998). Miscarriage: Is vividness of visual imagery a factor
in the grief reaction of the partner? British Journal of Health Psychology, 3(2),
March of Dimes. (2017, November). Miscarriage.
Puddifoot, J., & Johnson, M. (1999). Active grief, despair, and difficulty coping: Some
measured characteristics of male response following their partner’s miscarriage.
Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 17(1), 89–93.