Losing an unborn child deeply affects both parents, and the grief of both should be acknowledged.
After a miscarriage, many fathers take a back seat to make space for the mother’s pain. But they also have the right to openly acknowledge that they are deeply affected by the ordeal.
“Recognizing fathers’ mourning is essential so that the ordeal of a miscarriage, experienced as a couple, allows the spouses to strengthen, support and lean on each other and to welcome a new pregnancy,” says Corinne Charoy, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist.
“We lost our baby a year ago,” says Antoine, 37. He told Aleteia,
The miscarriage occurred at four and a half months of pregnancy. It was our first baby. My wife, Laure, was devastated, and I felt cruelly helpless. Wasn’t my role to protect her?… I was filled with an immense sadness for us, but also with heartache for our child.
Like Antoine, Etienne, a 42-year-old father of two, knows this feeling of helplessness very well. He’ll always remember the day his wife was crying in the bathroom while he waited helplessly outside the door. It was two months into the pregnancy. He remembers,
Claire was in terrible pain, and I couldn’t do anything to help her. That was the hardest thing: seeing her heart break and not being able to do anything to stop it.
Louis, who is 32 years old and the father of a one-year-old boy, knows this feeling all too well. After his wife Catherine had two miscarriages, he remembers every detail of one icy night in the middle of January. Still full of emotion, he says,
We found ourselves in the gynecological emergency room without believing what was happening to us. It seemed unimaginable, unthinkable … The worst thing for me was this fatalistic feeling of being powerless: there was no solution, no answer, no hope … It was like facing an incurable disease. That night, we cried, and we suffered, but we promised each other to be parents.
Corinne Charoy recognizes that, with the loss of an unborn child, men often follow in the footsteps of their wives’ pain. “While male grief is not the same as female grief, a man’s grief can cause him deep suffering: He can be affected in his project for his life and even in his identity as a man by thinking that the miscarriage occurred because of his own failure,” explains the psychologist.
In a world that already leaves little room for a mother’s grief after a miscarriage, the father’s grief is often hidden, stifled, and silent. Antoine shares this heartbreaking aspect of his mourning:
In fact, the only person who understood my pain was my wife. The conversations with our relatives, but also with the doctors, revolved around her grief. But I also lost my child. With the 3D imaging, I could see his face; he was already very present in my thoughts, my prayers, my dreams.
This was also the case for Etienne:
Friends who knew about the miscarriage were wonderfully supportive of Claire, and I was very grateful to them. As for me, I felt that no one really saw my grief. Anyway, the last thing I wanted to do in that situation was to put myself first and say, “What about me?”
Etienne remained silent, understanding that those around him sometimes find it difficult to imagine that a man could be so involved in the life of an unborn child.
Corinne Charoy points out that this focus on only the mother is incomplete:
Etienne took it in stride and remained silent, but I want to tell him, as I do all men, that there are two of you who conceive, two of you who mourn. Both of you have the right to express your grief! When space is given only to the mother’s suffering, the deceased baby cannot find its place in relationship to the couple, to the siblings, or to the family as a whole. Mourning will be much more difficult, and sometimes impossible.
The look in the eyes of others that heals
It’s the other person’s gaze that starts the healing process. Louis had this intuition. He remembers very well the emergency trip from the ski resort to join Catherine in the hospital:
My friend, who was driving me, knew what was going on, but he didn’t care. He kept talking about his vacation in Brazil that he was taking right after our ski weekend … Even though it was disappointing for me, I understand that it’s difficult to imagine the pain if you haven’t experienced it yourself … So, yes, I didn’t feel supported by him, but other friends had very comforting words and gestures. But what was most important was Catherine and I, our relationship. Being there for each other was essential for me.
Restoring the father’s place
“We must allow men to mourn the miscarriage without giving them the impression that they’re selfish. The father has a fundamental place in mourning the child,” emphasizes Corinne Charoy.
I think that today, women are not sufficiently aware that the deceased baby must be given its place in the relationship, between the mother and the father. It’s important for the siblings, for the couple and finally for the whole family. It’s therefore essential to recognize the reality of the father’s mourning in this triangle: father, mother, child.
Charoy encourages both the father and the mother to show all of their fragility and talk about their difficulties. Fathers can look to St. Joseph as an example in fulfilling their vital role in the family.
Daring to say the truth is the beginning of the mourning process for a couple. And the real strength of the couple is in being truthful about emotions. It’s not for nothing that Pope Francis has decided to declare 2021 the year of St. Joseph, because it’s time to restore the place of the father, to give him back his full place and live in the truth. This is real strength.