Researchers have carried out a systematic review of research on how men respond to the loss of a pregnancy or the death of their newborn.
Findings related to both men’s experiences of grief and the factors that influence grief. Some of the main findings include:
Grief experiences of fathers are highly varied and are not all captured in traditional measures of grief. Fathers are more likely, for example, to engage in action-focused coping rather than emotion-focused coping.
The degree to which fathers are attached to the unborn child makes a big difference to how they react to the loss. If there is less of a relationship – possibly in response to a previous experience of loss – the grief tends to be less acute.
The couple relationship is important. For many men, their partner is the only person to confide in. However, this relationship may be complicated if grieving styles differ.
There is a strong social expectation on fathers to be strong and to provide support, rather than to receive it. This can result in suppression of their own grief in order to hide their feelings and to take on the supporter role for their female partner and family.
The support offered by health services is highly variable. Negative reports included insensitive or confusing language, lack of information, and failure to recognise distress in men. Positive experiences came from health services that recognise and validate men as grieving fathers. Men are considerably less likely to get support after a miscarriage than after a stillbirth – miscarriage tends to be seen as a ‘women’s issue’.
The wider community tends to lack recognition of grief experienced by men. Many men describe a taboo around their reactions, which can be isolating. Returning to work can be an escape for some men, but for others, the lack of opportunity to take time off to grieve can push them towards exhaustion.
The researchers recommend support strategies at individual, interpersonal, community, and public policy levels for grieving men. Strategies may include explaining different grieving reactions to parents, and giving practical advice on coping with grief and how to support their partner. Plain language, empathy and follow-up calls specifically for men are also important. There are a variety of options for how support can be provided: individual or couple counselling, support groups, on-line support, peer support, and male support workers in the healthcare setting. This is all part of making services “male-inclusive”.
The review identified 46 studies. 21 looked at miscarriage, 10 at stillbirth and 15 considered a combination of loss types, including neonatal loss. 22 studies were from North America, 13 from Europe and 10 from Australia.
Obst KL, Due C, Oxlad M & Middleton P (2020), Men’s grief following pregnancy loss and neonatal loss: A systematic review and emerging theoretical model, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 20
Header photo: Mohammad Jangda. Creative Commons.