For Fathers

When a baby dies, the father is often relied on to be 'the strong one', while care and attention is focussed on the mother. But you have also lost a child and can expect to feel the intense emotions of grief.

After our baby died, friends and family would take me aside and ask how my wife was, rarely asking about me. I found myself saying, "We're both very upset." David

"I was just getting used to the idea of having a child and then the baby was gone." Jack

"I couldn't believe how much it hurt to look at my tiny son knowing he would never open his eyes." Michael

"I felt so totally helpless and useless; there was nothing I could do. Normally I had all the answers, this time I didn't." Joe

In the hospital

As fathers and partners, men are generally expected to be strong in a crisis. They are expected to take charge, to find solutions, to be a rock. When your baby has died, you may be the one who has to tell your family and friends. Perhaps you have a close friend or relative who could help you with this lonely and painful task.

You may also be the one asked to make the difficult decisions to do with a possible autopsy to find out why your baby died. Try to involve your partner in this important decision, taking all the time you need to think as clearly as possible. To help with your decision, talk to your health care provider and read the Sands brochure on autopsy which explains what the procedure entails.

Your funeral director, Sands contact, doctor or social worker will be able to let you know what you need to do regarding funeral arrangements for your baby. There is no need to have a funeral immediately after your baby has died - you can wait until your whole family is ready. Taking your time will also allow you to create a thoughtful memorial for your baby, and you will also be able to see, hold and spend time with your baby.

There will also be paperwork to do, perhaps involving registering your baby's birth and death. Hospital staff or friends and family may be able to help you. You may also be able to ask someone else to do things like cancelling a hired baby seat or a pram order.

Looking after yourself

Grief is a very physical thing and can be hard work. It is not uncommon for bereaved fathers to feel totally exhausted. You may also suffer from aching arms, headaches or stomach upsets. It is vital to look after yourself well through your grief. Try to eat and drink regularly, take regular exercise and have some time out for yourself.

The emotions you may be feeling can make it difficult for you to make objective and rational decisions. It may be helpful to reduce your workload and activities if at all possible. Many workplaces offer bereavement leave and you may be able to negotiate to work less hours for a time to ease the stress on yourself and your family. Some men try to make the situation go away by burying themselves in work. Instead, it may be healthier to take some time out to reflect on the death of your baby.

Even if you haven't cried much before, crying may make you feel better. Some men feel uneasy with such a show of emotion, but it can be very natural and therapeutic. Anger is also a common emotion felt by fathers. You may feel angry that you couldn't prevent your baby's death and at the whole situation. Feeling helpless can also make you feel angry. It may be good to express your anger by some physical activity or by talking to someone - your partner, another bereaved father, or a family member. Expressing your feelings to your partner will help her realise that you haven't forgotten about your baby and that you do care.

Grief is hard work and you can also expect to feel tired and possibly depressed.

Intimacy

When it comes to sex, it's important to be patient and gentle with each other. During grief, it is quite normal to be more or less physically intimate, and you and your partner may have different feelings about having sex. When mutually desired, making love can bring comfort to both of you. However there are some couples that don't make love in the first, acute, stages of grief - this is also normal. You may find your partner only wants non-sexual contact - being held and hugged. Don't take her attitude as one of rejection, as her needs may simply be different from yours.

Your partner

As the mother of the baby, your partner can feel both emotionally and physically traumatised. She may want to talk at length about the baby and the birth. Don't be reticent to get in touch with your softer side, it can be comforting and therapeutic for both of you. Remember your partner may not want any advice or solutions when she talks to you - she may just want someone to listen. Be available. You don't have to have all the answers. It may help to encourage your partner to also talk with her friends and family, so that you are not relying totally on each other.

You may find it helpful for both of you to share the responsibilities around the house. Doing something physical may help to ease any sense of frustration and helplessness.

Other children

If you have other children they will certainly feel the impact of the death of their sibling. Seeing and holding their brother or sister and being involved with the funeral or memorial service may help them deal with their own grief. Even very young children grieve in their own way. Further information about how parents can support their other children is available from Sands Queensland.

Different losses

Some fathers respond differently to the death of a baby through miscarriage than they do the death of a baby due to stillbirth or newborn death. This may be because the loss is less tangible - your partner may not have been showing and you may not have felt the baby move. It is important to remember most mothers will feel a sense of grief and loss no matter when their baby died.

The future

You may feel a mixture of emotions at the thought of another pregnancy. Some parents feel anxious and stressed and some fathers are not entirely happy for their partner to be going through a new pregnancy. It is perfectly normal to feel joy, happiness and anxiety all at the same time.

In the months and years to come, celebrating your baby's birthday or anniversary can validate his or her existence and may be an occasion for your whole family to remember.

Support available

There are other services you can access if you feel your need to. Sands has a library and newsletter, email support, listeners available 24/7 on 1300 0 sands (1300 072 637) and many publications are available to you.

Click here to find out further support details