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A Father's Grief: Coping with Stillbirth

A Father's Grief: Coping with Stillbirth

When a pregnancy ends in tragedy, people usually gravitate towards the mother, thinking that she will need the most comfort and support. This is a natural response, but sadly, this often leads to the father’s grief being overlooked and forgotten. For this blog, I interviewed my husband, asking him about his experience and what he would like others to know about how males grieve.

For my husband, grief showed itself in three major ways: rage, guilt, and distraction. The most overwhelming emotion was rage. Right after the doctor told us that Hope had no heartbeat, he went out to a friend’s car and screamed until his voice was hoarse. He was angry that Hope was gone, angry that I was in so much emotional agony, and angry with God for letting such an awful thing happen. After her funeral, he would often go into the woods with a sledgehammer and just tear into old trees and stumps. He knew that if he couldn’t find a way to release the rage, it would eat him alive and damage his relationships, so he set aside time each week to walk in the woods and take out his anger on the trees. Now, we have a boxing bag in our garage, and if Will is having a hard day with grief, he goes out there and punches the bag. If you are watching a father go through grief, don’t be surprised or shocked at their rage, and most of all, do not make him suppress it. Encourage him to find an outlet, whatever it may be, so that he can deal with the anger in a healthy way.

The next major emotion my husband dealt with was guilt. He felt like he had failed us, that he should have been able to stop the tragedy from happening somehow. As a man, he saw himself as our protector, and it was torture for him to see his lifeless little girl and broken wife. It’s very important to never assign or imply guilt onto a father because that will only intensify and encourage this line of thinking. In the midst of my grief, it was easy to take my anger and frustration out on my husband because I wanted to shield my living child from it and I wanted to hide those ugly emotions from the world. But my husband was already blaming himself for something that was completely out of his control; he needed to know that I still trusted him, that he hadn’t failed me or Hope.

In order to cope with his grief, my husband relied on distraction. He focused on helping me navigate my emotions and grief. He kept our household running and helped take care of our son. He threw himself into his work, wanting to find as many projects and tasks as possible. I would often accuse him of not allowing himself to grieve, thinking that his way of coping was unhealthy. But Will explained to me that men cannot handle day-to-day life and process such tremendous grief simultaneously. He had to compartmentalize in order to survive. For him to grieve, he had to set aside time specifically for grief. He would take an hour to go on a long walk, journal, and pray. Then, he would go back to work and be able to finish out his day. If you know a father who is grieving, encourage him to schedule time for grief, actually writing it in his calendar. It will not happen by accident; grief is something that needs to be addressed head-on without distraction.

Men grieve so differently from women, and it’s important to have people who are specifically focused on making sure the father is handling grief in a healthy way. He needs real friends who care for his well-being, who will ask him the hard questions and be there when he needs support. He needs people to lift him up in prayer, asking God to comfort him and give him strength to face each day. Fathers need us to remember that they lost a child too; their grief is real, valid, and beautiful, because it shows just how deeply a baby’s life can touch everyone who loves him or her.

In closing, here is a poem my husband wrote shortly after Hope died that beautifully showcases the depth of his love for her:

“Two little eyes I never saw open,

two little feet I never saw kick.

Two little hands I held, 

but never held mine

One little mouth I never heard cry

One little nose I never heard breathe

One little body I clung to, but never clung back

No little life for mommy to nurture

No little girl for daddy to care for

No little Hope, I long every day -

Oh Jesus come soon!” 

Lauren Young is a wife to Will and mom to two beautiful boys on earth (Matti and Sammy) and three precious babies in heaven (Hope, Jonah, and January).  She is a stay-at-home mom who enjoys writing, reading good books, cooking new recipes, and playing piano.  She lives in central Texas now but was born and raised in Georgia.  She and her husband are now in the adoption process and can't wait to see what God has in store for their family.   

Catherine Hartel

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