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Excerpted from: "When Your Baby Dies" by Louis A. Gamino + Ann Taylor Cooney


Fathers sometimes feel forgotten when miscarriage or stillbirth happens.

In chapter 2, I told the story of my son, Anthony. Just 15 weeks into the pregnancy, doctors warned us that our son had a life-threatening genetic abnormality. My wife and I were devastated. We knew he could not live outside of the uterus; yet, we decided to carry him to full term. He died shortly after birth.

In the days immediately after his death, family and friends frequently asked me: "How's Marla doing?" I knew they were concerned about Marla's feelings and were probably trying to gauge what to say to her. But this reminded me that I was expected to protect her and act as the head of the household, even when our household was in mourning. That is what fathers are supposed to do.

Why Don't I Feel the Overwhelming Sadness That My Baby's Mother Feels?

Fathers bond with children in different ways from mothers. For many fathers, an unborn baby is an abstract being. The link between father and child tends to be more intellectual. A father knows the child is there, but does not feel the presence of the child as much as the mother, who feels the baby's movements and weight inside her body. Once the baby is born and the interaction begins, fathers bond more tightly.

Some fathers feel awkward or even guilty about the fact that their initial grief seems muted compared to what the mother feels. If you find yourself feeling less sadness and less emotion than your baby's mother, you are not doing anything wrong. It probably means that, as the father, you did not have the chance to grow as close to your baby as your partner did.

Not every father feels this muted grief. It depends how much the father bonded with the baby. Fathers who have not completely bonded find it difficult to grieve the loss of a baby they did not really know. Masculine grief is not always expressed outwardly. Because our culture emphasizes men maintaining their composure, not every bereaved father is comfortable showing sadness or crying at funerals, even his own baby's.

What Is the Best Way for a Father to Grieve?

Masculine grief is often expressed by doing. Doing something constructive, such as making final arrangements, taking over some household chores, or even washing the cars before the funeral, helps a father channel emotions into concrete activities. Doing something constructive helps counteract the terrible feelings of helplessness.

With my own loss of Anthony, among the most important things did in my grief was to carry my son–literally. I was the only pallbearer required at the church and at the cemetery. I considered it a father's honor and duty; I would not have had it any other way.

Remember, being present physically and emotionally is also important. It takes much strength to make yourself available to others who need your presence and support after your child has died.

Am I Still a Father, Even if I Don't Feel Like I Bonded With the Baby?

Even though your child is gone, you are still a father. Fatherhood is not so much about a biological act as it is about raising, supporting, and loving a child. You were prepared fully to do just that. However, tragic circumstances occurred, and you never really got the complete chance. Losing your child does not cancel your identity as a father. You remain a father to this child because you stood ready and willing to do all a father does–and more.

How Do I Help My Baby's Mother?

Even though your child has died, you are still a partner. Your baby's mother desperately needs you. She needs to know that she is not alone. She needs to know that you still love her. She needs to feel your love when her grief is breaking her in two. Please do not isolate yourself, but be present. Be the partner she needs. No one shares your pain and disappointment as profoundly as she does. For this reason, going through the loss of a child together can strengthen your relationship and can serve as a beautiful testament to the memory of your deceased child.

Points to Remember

  1. Fathers bond with their babies differently from mothers. A father's grief may appear muted, but fathers still grieve.

  2. If you feel less sadness than the child's mother, you have not done anything wrong. It means you did not have an opportunity to bond closely with the lost baby.

  3. You are still a father even if your baby died. You were willing and able to do all the things a father does for his children.

  4. Your baby's mother needs you during this difficult time. Reassure her that you still love her. She needs to feel your emotional and physical presence.

pp. 44-47. Excerpted from: "When Your Baby Dies: Through Miscarriage or Stillbirth" by Louis A. Gamino + Ann Taylor Cooney. Posted by permission of Augsburg Fortress, an imprint of 1517Media. Published by Augsburg Fortress, copyright 2002.

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