Basics of Grief Management after Pregnancy for Dads

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Grief is intense sorrow due to loss. The loss of the perfect child, the perfect partner, or perfect family can cause grief in dads. The most important thing to remember about grief, no matter what the cause, is that it takes time to work through. Don’t be hard on yourself or your partner when you’re grieving, and don’t expect you’ll be in the same stages at the same time. Everyone works through grief differently.

The stages of grief for dads

Grief can be caused by many different scenarios, but the widely acknowledged five stages of grief, described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, include similar phases whatever the cause.

Whether you’ve found out that your baby has a long-term problem, your partner is suffering from serious postpartum illness, or your baby has to be hospitalized, expect to experience the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial: The first stage of grief is often a feeling of “This can’t be happening to us.”

  2. Anger: The second stage of grief is anger, often directed at God or other people.

  3. Bargaining: Trying to make secret deals — “I’ll donate our savings to this hospital if my baby’s heart surgery saves her” — often with God (even if you don’t believe in God!) is common in the bargaining stage.

  4. Depression: When reality sets in and you realize that this is happening to you, fair or not, depression often follows.

  5. Acceptance: Eventually you get through the other stages and settle down to deal with what you have to deal with, but you may still go in and out of earlier grief stages at different times.

Stages may not follow this exact pattern, and not everyone goes through every stage. Yo-yoing back and forth between several stages is also common.

Also, cut yourself a break — parenting isn’t easy, and it’s perfectly natural to miss having nights out with friends or even being able to eat an entire meal before it gets cold. Grieving over the little things doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby; it means you’re dealing with change in a healthy manner.

Why, why, why? How to get past the question

When grieving, getting bogged down in why a particular thing has happened to your partner or child is easy to do. However, it’s not particularly good for you, especially if there’s no way of deciphering exactly why something happened, and most of your thoughts are purely speculative.

How to grieve with your partner and separately

Everyone needs time to grieve a loss in his own way. Grieve together with your partner, certainly, but take time to grieve separately as well. Don’t feel bad about needing to be alone with your thoughts occasionally. At the same time, the following tips can help you and your partner get through your grief, both together and on your own:

  • Arm yourself with knowledge. Knowledge really is power. Especially if your baby has a genetic or long-term condition, learning all you can about it helps you be your baby’s best advocate and can help you and your partner feel like you’re doing something productive in a frustratingly out-of-control situation.

  • Don’t get upset with your partner. One day you or your partner may be raging at the world, and the next day the other one may take a turn. Listen to each other without taking things personally, trying to make it all better, or reproving your partner for her feelings.

  • Expect to be discouraged at times. All people have moments when things look much worse than they really are, usually because they’re tired, hungry, or just plain stressed. Identify the situation for what it is: temporary discouragement, not a new permanent negative outlook on life.

  • Find a support group. If you’re coming to terms with a birth defect, your child or partner is ill, or you’re dealing with a loss, talking to other parents dealing with the same thing can be a lifesaver. When relevant, a support group can also be a really good source of information on specialists, educational programs, and other outside help.

  • Get help for yourself. If you find yourself mentally overwhelmed, seek counseling, either with your partner or alone. Often just being able to talk through a situation with a person not involved helps you sort things out.

  • Keep a journal, if the thought appeals to you. Journals are good for privately venting feelings and fears that you and your partner don’t want to share with each other. They’re also good for looking back later and realizing how far you’ve come.

  • Stay physically close. It helps you feel less alone, keeps you centered on still being a couple, and helps keep your relationship going in a situation that could easily break it apart. Even if you don’t feel like it, make the effort to hold hands, cuddle on the couch watching TV, and have sex regularly.

  • Tell people when you’re not up to something. Another baby’s christening, a big family party, or a holiday celebration may all be beyond your or your partner’s ability to handle at first. Don’t be afraid to say no to things that you feel would strip you raw right now. People who love you will understand, even if they’re disappointed.

How to determine when grief has gone on too long

Grieving can take a long time, but sometimes grief takes on a life of its own, and a situation called complicated grief can become permanently entrenched in your or your partner’s life.

Although everyone has times when the sadness of circumstances becomes overwhelming, normally these feelings don’t affect every aspect of life after the first few weeks or months. Complicated grief may be taking over after a period of time if you or your partner

  • Are preoccupied and bitter about what’s happened

  • Are unusually angry, irritable, or agitated most of the time

  • Can’t perform normal tasks, go to work, or participate in normal social functions

  • Feel that life has lost its meaning

  • Make rash decisions or do things you normally wouldn’t do, such as drinking too much

  • Still feel numb and detached