A small study from Australia, involving interviews with eight fathers after the loss of a pregnancy, identifies inadequate support for men in this situation. Their experience of support from health services, families and workplaces is highly variable. A key pressure on these men is the requirement to be “the strong one”. This is similar to findings in neonatal care.
The researchers recommend both better support and different ways of promoting support to men.
Previous research has neglected men’s responses to pregnancy loss. Some studies have shown similar feelings experienced by mothers and fathers, but different ways of reacting, with men more prone to concealing their feelings. They might instead work long hours, or use substances for relief. The ideal of being the key “supporter” has been observed in prior research.
During the eight interviews, the researchers found the following.
- The nature of the grief experienced by men is highly variable.
- There is a tendency not to recognise that men experience grief.
“Every time I’d get a text from my friends the text was like “how’s [partner]”, but you know, the father is just as upset even though he doesn’t necessarily show it in the same way”.
- Some men downplay their own grief and emphasise the woman’s experience instead.
- Some hospitals are good at explaining what follow-up support is available, others do little.
- Some men did not use any formal support. They feel it is geared towards women. Some men do not like the idea of sitting round in circles discussing feelings.
- Most of the men had good experiences of help from family and friends, but some described their families and friends as “pretty useless”.
- Men’s relationships with their partners sometimes improved and sometimes deteriorated. Most felt the need to be the “supporter” and the strong one.
- Some workplaces were helpful (paid leave, offer of counselling), others offered nothing.
The researchers make two suggestions:
- Test informal connection for men after pregnancy loss with other men who have lived through the same experience earlier.
- Change the way support is offered. One father suggested organising joint activities, such as fundraising, to create the possibility for more normal social interaction.
Obst KL & Due C (2019), Australian men’s experiences of support following pregnancy loss: A qualitative study, Midwifery 70
Photo: Garry Davies. Creative Commons.