Because men and women are fundamentally different, they tend to process and express grief in different ways. The best explanation I’ve ever come up with is pretty succinct: “Men want to fix it and women want to talk about it.” This is only a generalization, of course, but the majority of men and women fit pretty neatly into those roles. Because pregnancy loss isn’t something you can “fix”, men are at loose ends. The need to fix it might take the form of hunting relentlessly for the cause of the loss, making plans to get pregnant again as soon as possible, or conversely, taking steps to make sure it never happens again (permanent contraception). Unfortunately, the cause is not known in over 50% of cases of pregnancy loss. And it is unwise to make decisions about future pregnancies in the immediate aftermath of a miscarriage or stillbirth. Women are likely to react to discussions like this with frustration because they are still very much in the throes of acute grief. They may even misinterpret it as the man “not caring” or “not grieving”. The fundamental nature of men and women is not something that one can just flip around like a switch, so the best and most positive way to combat misunderstandings like this is to communicate.
Some men are great communicators, some are not. It’s not a moral failing. Here are some suggestions for men:
1. Explain that you’re wishing you could fix it: “I feel helpless because I want to take your pain away and make this not have happened.” Women would appreciate actually knowing how you feel!
2. “Do you want to talk to me about how you’re feeling right now?” Sometimes the answer might be no, but a woman would really appreciate being given the opening.
3. “I love you and we’re going to get through this together.”
Just remember that you’re on the same team. You play different roles, but you are two sides of the same coin. What hurts one, hurts the other. Don’t Blame, Forgive, Communicate and Love.
Here are some helpful resources I have found:
The M Word: Coping with Miscarriage (an article by a dad)
Miscarriage and Loss (an article by the American Psychological Association)
Men and Miscarriage (an article by the Miscarriage Association)
Men Dealing with Miscarriage (from the blog Beyond Pregnancy Loss)
Miscarriage and the Father’s Feelings (from General Health Topics)
Grieving Dads Project (A website that is awesome. I stumbled upon it and think it’s the best of everything I’ve linked here.)