Following a scoping review of 27 studies of men’s reactions to stillbirth or neonatal death, researchers have found that men and women tend to grieve differently after the death of a baby. The reviewers highlight the importance of the practitioner role in helping fathers after the death of their baby.
They found the following tendencies.
- Men report less intense and enduring levels of poor psychological outcomes than women, but the reviewers raise questions about the measurements used for this, given the socially different situations in which men and women function. Given the different expressions of grief and different extents to which men and women feel they can be emotionally expressive, there could be under-reporting of grief by men.
- Men are more likely to demonstrate avoidance and increased alcohol/drug use, as well as experience problems at work.
- Many men feel their role is as a “supportive partner”. They feel the need to “be strong” and protect their partner (“holding it together”, “keeping it together”). They often take on the task of informing family and friends and organising the funeral.
- A significant cause of distress for some men is the ambiguity of fatherhood when a baby dies.
- Many men report that the father’s grief is not acknowledged socially and feel overlooked by health professionals. Many feel unable to seek help.
The 27 research papers reviewed all come from developed countries. Some studies were international, others were from Australia, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, UK and USA.
The researchers point out limitations in much of the research, for example the tendency to interview men as part of a couple, which could lead to distorted results if the men are feeling pressure to be strong in front of their partners. The reviewers also recommend measuring grief differently in men, for example, also looking at behaviours such as alcohol and drug use and employment problems.
Jones K, Robb M, Murphy S & Davies A (2019), New understandings of fathers’ experiences of grief and loss following stillbirth and neonatal death: A scoping review, Midwifery 79
Header photo: toyotaracer81. Creative Commons.