Just writing the word Pregnancy Loss, Infertility and Father's Day seems unusual. Because men are often the forgotten mourners of pregnancy loss, and infertility and Father's Day can be a reminder of what they do not have.
Acknowledging a man’s journey through pregnancy loss is a huge passion of mine. There is not much resource out there to support pregnancy loss in general, and there is even LESS which acknowledges the story of loss for men.
In our Pregnancy Loss Reflection Services which we hosted on the Gold Coast, the amount of men that would come to those mornings was so surprising. Some would come to support their families, wife, daughter or friend. But even the word 'support' denotes that they are not the ones grieving. And that is not the truth at all. When individuals turned up on their own to these services, it was always more men than women that came on their own.
Maybe it is because a man would possibly not invite someone to come and support him in his grief, but also it also indicated the nature of the grief was often attached to shame, guilt or embarrassment that he was even there.
In "Helping Men with the Trauma of Miscarriage," published in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training in 2010, Kiselica and Martha Rinehart, PhD, looked at case studies of men whose partners had lost a baby. And I reference their work in this article.
Here are a few reasons why men are forgotten in relation to this issue; and leading into Father's Day I want to honour the men in our world who carry this and do not feel like they have a safe place to process.
Men often do not feel entitled to their grief
Dan Singley, a San Diego–based psychologist who focuses on men’s mental health and reproductive psychology and is the media chair for Postpartum Support International, said men in our culture are socialized to be stoic.
“One common reaction that I see with the dads who experience a miscarriage is a profound sense of guilt,” he said. “And the guilt is very often the result of the fact that he himself is struggling. He’s got a lot of anxiety and depression but doesn’t feel entitled to it — kind of like, `Hey, I’m not the one who lost the baby, so what right do I have to be taking up her emotional bandwidth with my issues?’
I see this all the time in our support of couples who have lost babies or are struggling with infertility. They scale their grief and see it as less important. Then days like Father's Day happens and they do not know how to express themselves in these situations.
2. Men grieve differently and typically have a different way of processing emotions
With virtually no research on how men process miscarriage, mental health experts have to rely on anecdotal experiences to understand the issue. And while it’s inaccurate to speak in generalizations about gender and mental health, experts said they recognize certain common patterns in how many men respond to miscarriage.
“Men often express many emotional reactions in different ways than women, so if a man is suffering from grief, he doesn’t necessarily cry or emote about it in a way that therapists or their wives might be looking for,” Diamond said. “They take action. They avoid. They become workaholics sometimes to cope or alcoholics. Men don’t always show their reactions as grief or loss, and sometimes the people around them — and they themselves — don’t connect that with the real source when it’s a miscarriage or failed IVF treatments.”
3. Men have often had to physically support the woman through the pregnancy loss
In Andrew’s case, there was so much trauma around the actual incident itself where he was on a plane, on the way to Singapore when I was in my ultrasound. At the announcement of our baby having no heartbeat, they also said my body was showing signs of toxicity and so he immediately had to go into rescue mode. He needed to be strong for me. Especially through the traumatic birth.
So because their loss was not in their own physical body, they often miss out on rituals of healing or support that come more naturally for the mother.
4. Men will not be asked ‘how are you?’ after pregnancy loss
There is a perception that miscarriage, pregnancy, infertility — all of it — are primarily women’s issues, not men.
5. Men feel guilt and shame for not being able to do more
They would love to be able to take away the pain, but they cannot and this inability to be able to protect the one they love can be traumatic in and of itself
6. Men have hopes and dreams for this child as well
But often these are not spoken about in the same way or acknowledged. But if we congratulate a couple for being pregnant, then we need to support both people in the relationship through the loss.
And Father's Day is often a day where men begin to think about the 'what-ifs' in a more tender way.
7. Men can go on and question their virility but will never tell you that
In the case of IVF pregnancy loss or pregnancies not taking, this issue is always very shame based.
Wikipedia says this about virility:
Virility (from the Latin virilitas, manhood or virility, derived from Latin vir, man) refers to any of a wide range of masculine characteristics viewed positively. Virile means "marked by strength or force". Virility is commonly associated with vigour, health, sturdiness, and constitution, especially in the fathering of children. In this last sense, virility is to men as fertility is to women
And the next one is very controversial i know, but participants in this Known Course may have experienced pregnancy loss because of a choice to abort their baby, or even give their baby away at adoption.
8. A man was often not given the choice regarding the pregnancy loss
This one is laced with controversy I understand, but participants in the Known Program and many individuals I have worked with in my grief coaching have experienced pregnancy loss because of a choice to abort their baby, or even give their baby away at adoption.
In all my care and counselling of people through pregnancy loss one of the most traumatic parts of this loss, is the inability to control the outcome. And in the situations of abortion if there is not mutual consent to do so, the women's rights take precedence and the men have much to process then with this kind of loss and grief.
And when it comes to the care and support we give to people processing the grief of abortion later, we find the depth of grief and loss experienced by males and females around this is of equal impact.
Father's Day can trigger so much of this trauma and noticing what is going on for men on this day is crucial. I know quite a few couples who have actually used a day like this to share about parts of their relational life that they have never shared before.
9. A man's reproductive story will have formed generations ago
In the Known Program we ask participants to write out their reproductive story. What they believe about reproduction and fertility and where they formed their belief system around pregnancy and then also around loss.
The loss dynamic gets to a much broader social phenomenon in which we train boys, adolescents and men to grieve.
So let me end by ask the men who have lost children in some way. How are you? Or the women who have relationship with these men. Do you know how they are doing? Is there any impact on a day like this that they would benefit from processing?
Because moments like Father's Day can be an invitation to grieve and grow in new ways and it is my prayer that you would create rituals that help you integrate this loss into your everyday life and honour the stories in new ways.
If you know someone who would find this post helpful then please share. And if you are curious about the benefits of Grief and Loss Coaching for Individuals or Couples then please read about the Known Program here