Fathers must manage their own intense grief after the death of their baby at the same time as supporting the physical and emotional wellbeing of the mother. Some fathers hide their feelings in order to show support and strength in front of the mother and in front of older children.
23 fathers were interviewed for a qualitative study in two hospitals in Colombia.
In addition, the fathers felt marginalised and unsupported by the hospitals. They were not allowed to be with their partners during the experience, instead being required to stay alone in waiting rooms. Some couples were separated for days. Some fathers only learned about the death of their baby hours after it had happened and found out from third parties.
Some of the fathers reported not feeling cared for or acknowledged by staff. They reported indifference and even sometimes rudeness and aggression on the part of health professionals. Some gathered information from non-medical staff, such as cleaners.
“Feeling deep sadness from this complicated loss, hurt by the treatment from the medical staff, it was a very painful and depressive.”
Fathers reported acute grief, some saying it was the worst moment of their lives.
“When they placed her in my arms, she was still alive and I held her. All of a sudden, her heart rate increased, and then it went down. The doctor then said she was dead…In that moment, the only thing one can do is cry as never before.”
“The most difficult part was when the doctor showed me the baby. Seeing her right there, dead, I just wanted to die.”
“There’s a lot of sadness, because he is the son that one has been expecting for so long, that one loves and adores so much; knowing that it is the first and the last time you will ever be with him, it’s very hard.”
The death of a baby is an abrupt transition from joy to grief, often taking place near other men who are communicating joy at the healthy birth of their babies.
“It all happened so suddenly. The truth is that this is the fastest tragedy that has happened in my life.”
The researchers recommend that health professionals should acknowledge the pain of fathers, understand their experiences, and include engagement with them in care procedures.
Pabón LML, Fergusson MEM & Palacios AM (2019), Experience of perinatal death from the father’s perspective, Nursing Research 68
Header photo: Geraint Rowland. Creative Commons.