Dear fathers of angel babies, we know you are suffering too. Just because you didn’t carry your child doesn’t make your loss any less real. You weren’t the one growing your child inside of you, which in many ways makes things a lot simpler for you, but it can also make things difficult on your part.
Your body didn’t suffer the physical trauma of miscarriage, but you also didn’t get the opportunity to bond on a biological level with your child like we did. They say women feel like mothers when we find out we are pregnant, and men feel like fathers when they hold their child for the first time. But you were robbed of that experience. And you also don’t get as much sympathy from loved ones as women do. Plus you are left worrying about your partner and supporting her through some pretty drastic hormonal changes — which I’m sure are just as painful for you guys as they are for us. So we get it. It sucks just as much to be in your shoes as it does to be in ours, and your pain is legitimate.
Just don’t forget that although your loss is just as real as your partner’s, her experience was different and you will grieve in different ways. I’ve seen a lot of questions and comments in my online support groups, either women not feeling supported by their partner, or men wondering how they can show their partner they are there for her.
I’m going to brag on my husband Charlie and use him as an example, because although we’ve had our ups and downs through this tragedy, he’s really good at expressing his support. And the one good thing that came from our loss was how much closer it brought us. Because you and your partner are going through the same tragedy, it’s so important to lean on each other and bond over your shared love for the child you created together.
#1: Be vulnerable and let her see your pain. Let her see you cry. If you can’t physically show your feelings, verbalize them. I know men are conditioned to hide their emotions in order to be “masculine,” but there’s nothing that has helped me more through my loss than knowing my husband is in pain too. I’ve never felt closer to another human being or been more deeply in love with my husband than the day I woke up from napping to see him crying quietly in bed. Of course you never want to see your loved one hurting, but the fact he was feeling the same thing I was feeling made me feel so incredibly connected to him. It was like we were one. And I cannot express how priceless that feeling is to a woman. It makes you more of a man in her eyes.
My husband was the only person on the planet who understood exactly how I felt, because he felt it too. That’s such a powerful feeling, and you should take advantage of it to bond with your partner over your shared loss. When my husband was expressing his grief I think the only reason he let himself cry was because he thought I was still asleep, and he has since admitted that his first instinct is to not share with me when he is sad (because he doesn’t want to make me more sad). But please do everything you can to share your feelings. It is exactly what we need. Telling us you are sad and talking about our child does not bring us more pain. It does the exact opposite.
#2: Don’t EVER tell her she should be “over it” by now. I’ve heard of so many marriages going south over the man not understanding why the woman isn’t over it, and the woman not understanding why the man is. Even if you’re past it, just be there. Don’t expect her to grieve on your timeline. It may take years or even a lifetime. If my husband ever told me he had moved on and I should too, I would completely shut down and stop letting him in. I’d cast him aside as just another person who doesn’t get it, and keep everything inside (which would just make it worse). So be sensitive, even if you think enough time has passed.
#3: Communicate about trying again and get on the same timeline. Nothing makes a miscarriage more painful to grieve than having different goals for trying again. Luckily for me, my husband and I both wanted to try again the second we were able. Trying again is unthinkable for many women for a good while after the loss, but for me, trying again was the only thing giving me any hope to get through the days. I spoke to some friends in my support group whose partners were not yet ready to try again. I can’t even imagine how devastated and frustrated I would be if I were in their shoes. Or if my husband was pushing me to be ready and I wasn’t. If you’re not ready right away, that’s completely understandable, just communicate as much as you can about it. Not in a pushy way, but in an open and understanding way.
#4: Encourage her to do things like take some time off work, go to grief counseling together, and/or take up a craft to honor your child’s memory. I made a scrapbook for my daughter and did a few canvas paintings of her sonogram photo. If your partner develops any new “obsessions,” try to support her unless you think they’re unhealthy (in which case have an open discussion to voice your concern). I became obsessed with tracking my new cycles, and then with reading posts in online support groups. My husband did address with me that he’d prefer me not to be on my phone constantly when we’re spending time together, but he’s been very tolerant of my new interests and never rushed me to go back to work. If you are financially able, encourage your partner to take some time off work to process the grief and recover physically.
#5: Get her a thoughtful gift either to honor your child or to show her you believe you will have your rainbow baby one day. You could give her a piece of jewelry with your child’s name or initials. Or a plaque with your child’s name and “birth” day to hang on the wall. Or a donation to charity in your child’s name. My husband gave me a gift certificate to a baby store and in the card wrote that I was going to be a wonderful mother and to go ahead and get some stuff for when I get pregnant again.
None of this is rocket science, yet somehow we as humans tend to internalize our grief instead of share it. As horrific as your loss was, there’s nothing wrong with using it to bring you and your partner closer. That bond is indestructible. You created life together and experienced a loss that only the two of you will ever fully understand. Just be patient with each other, be kind, and communicate. I am seeking each day to practice what I preach.