resources For the Grieving Father or Partner
A partner feels a unique mixture of pain during a stillbirth experience. It is usual for the mother to be the center of the attention. Naturally, the medical team is concerned about their patient's well-being, but this disproportionate attention extends well beyond the hospital. You may even feel some resentment about being forgotten in this tragedy that is yours as well. Family and friends will ask you, "How is she?" far more often than they will ask, "How are you?". This may only add to the feeling that you have to be strong. You may not want to cry or break down in front of her, but you should know that it is ok , and far more healthy for you and for her, to express your grief as well. It may be helpful to read the stories of other grieving fathers/partners in order to help you form the words for your own. You may also wish to write your own. The Grieving Dads site even allows you to share your story anonymously if you are anxious about this expression. Joe Gatlin has created a Facebook page called the Grieving Dads Project for fathers to share their unique grief. It is a closed group, but you can request to join.
Take the time to grieve. American society is a fast-paced one and doesn't allow nearly enough time for grieving, especially for spouses. Often the mother's medical need to stay out of work drives her spouse back to work sooner. My husband found that, in the first weeks, the immediate distraction of work was a welcome one. He dove into his projects head first. After two weeks, he was desperately exhausted. Grief slows your decision making and daily functioning skills down to a crawl. Trying to step back into the work world, where everyone else was moving at 100 miles per hour, had him constantly playing catch-up. We learned that he couldn't handle being immersed in grief for long periods of time, but preferred to work through it in smaller, more manageable pieces. Instead of spending hours journaling, he preferred to close the door on his lunch break and quietly look at pictures of our daughter or talk to me in short spurts about a very specific element of his grief that was on his mind. My husband needed to talk about the anger and fear he felt when I chose a natural labor. While he had been at my side for the birth of our boys, I had opted for epidurals with both, so he had never heard me cry out in so much pain before. He was terrified that he would lose his daughter and his wife that day. It was a raw feeling that he needed to process it in order to move forward.
Your attachment to the baby may be different than your spouse's. As the mother, she felt changes in her body from the start. She likely thought about the baby often since finding out that she was pregnancy. Your relationship with the baby was through her, so it may have been difficult to feel like a father yet. Depending on how involved you were during the pregnancy, you may feel a range of emotions. There may be a sense of lost hope for the daughter that you desperately wanted or guilt over not being invested enough in the baby while she was alive.
As the spouse, you grieve for the baby that you have lost, but also for the relationship that you once had with your spouse. She may seem distant or be "stuck" thinking about the baby. Her need for support may be greater than you can give. It is ok to ask for help or reach out for support. Differences in how each partner handles their grief can cause rifts if those differences are not addressed and respected. Take the time to talk to one another about how you wish to express your grief. That relationship will be changed by your grief, though it doesn't have to be for the worse. Let yourself be brought closer by the shared experience of grief and the deepening trust that comes from holding one another up in such a difficult time.
Note: All of the resources that I found for grieving spouses discuss the male perspective. On this page I repeatedly refer to a spouse as "him" because my spouse happens to be male. If you are a female spouse, please don't dismiss the information. Grief crosses all gender barriers. We all grieve the life of the baby that we have lost.