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In this article, Danielle Cooper-Lowden, a Cruse Scotland Volunteer and graduate of the MSc Counselling course from Abertay, Dundee, discusses the subject of her Masters project: fathers’ experience of child loss through miscarriage and stillbirth.
October 10, 2021
Supporting people through child loss is a topic that is particularly close to my heart as I have had personal experience of miscarriage and understand the stigma that still exists when trying to talk about this topic. I feel that things are shifting for the positive, and there is more awareness of the statistics around miscarriage and much more normalising of the feelings that come with it. However, I can’t help but feel that men are being left behind in this area, or are choosing not to share their feelings around their bereavements as openly as women are.
When my partner and I lost our first child through a miscarriage at 19 weeks, I felt a large disconnect in the support I was offered compared to what he was offered. We were both parents who had lost a child. Sure, I had the physical trauma of being induced and having to deliver our baby, but he still had to witness that and deal with taking care of me whilst also grieving himself. I was offered specialised counselling through a bereavement midwife, which I did for a couple of sessions. I found this useful for getting out the initial grief and to cry to someone who wasn't my family, as I felt they were too close to the situation and were hurting as much as we were. What I found even more helpful, was finding an online community of other bereaved mothers. Initially, we bonded over the shared experience of child loss, then we supported each other through subsequent pregnancies, and now we are still in touch and talk every day. What I thought was great about this forum, was that there was a section for miscarriage and grief, which was the first thing I was interested in talking about, but there were lots of groups about other things not even pregnancy related. I remember there was one called "rants and raves" where people talked about nonsense, had a laugh and developed relationships, until they were ready and felt safe enough to talk about the difficult stuff.
My partner was welcome to come along to the counselling I received, or join the chat forum, but we found there was nothing tailored towards fathers and the differing support they might need. A bereaved father can experience different feelings to the mother so it cannot be assumed that they can slot into any existing models of support.
Literature suggests that men experience many hurdles when trying to come to terms with the loss of a pregnancy. They can feel anger towards themselves for not being able to “protect” their partner and baby. They can feel embarrassed by their strong emotions if they don’t seem to be on par with the mother, as society assumes that she should be affected more. On the other hand, it can take fathers longer to connect to a pregnancy, as it may not feel as “real” to them as they are not experiencing the physical symptoms, so some men may feel guilty that they aren’t grieving as much as their partner. All of these feelings are valid, and all deserve an outlet to be shared and respected.
Throughout all the miscarriage websites and literature I reviewed during my studies, men appeared to be an afterthought, only securing small sections or occasional mentions - as if they only own a small fraction of the grief, rather than 50%.
In order to look beyond just my own experience, I developed a short questionnaire capturing the experience of other men who have lost a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. The results showed that men were not offered any support from healthcare providers and reported feeling secondary to the mother or leaned on to “pick up the pieces”. When asked what support they ideally would have liked, their answers varied from specific bereavement counselling, to couples counselling, to online support. This shows that men have varied needs in how they would like to deal with their grief, but currently are not being offered anything at all. These results are supported by a recent analysis of men’s experience of miscarriage which highlighted that men's reactions to miscarriage vary greatly, yet the support they are offered remains consistently minimal which results in men feeling overlooked when it comes to pregnancy loss (Williams et al., 2020).
The conclusion to my Masters project was that I developed a prototype online support hub, exclusively for men who have experienced child loss. Here, bereaved fathers can decide on any given day, what would best serve them. They could decide to reach out for 1-2-1 counselling support, whether that’s face to face or via an online chat. They could connect with other men who have experienced child loss and support each other here. There would be an education area where men could learn more about the nature of miscarriage and stillbirth, which could quash any feelings of blame and help them understand more about what their partner may be physically feeling. Finally, there would be a private area of this website where the user can document his own thoughts and feelings and upload photographs etc. The idea was that this would cater to the many varying preferences men may have when it comes to dealing with such a loss, and give a space dedicated just to them, rather than them trying to fit into the supportive spaces that have (gratefully) been made for mothers.
This online resource is still a pipedream of mine, so until I can have it realised, I encourage you to think about bereaved fathers this October in honour of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and open up the space for them to be heard and understood.
If you need support with your grief concerning miscarriage, baby loss or a child's death, please call our free helpline: 0808 802 6161 or start a webchat on this site. We are here to help.
Danielle Cooper-Lowden - Cruse Scotland Volunteer
Danielle is a qualified psychologist and counsellor who has volunteered with Cruse Scotland since 2019. Her journey to become a counsellor began after she experienced a miscarriage in 2016 and felt "stuck" in her grief until seeking counselling herself. She felt how useful it was to have that safe space to explore her feelings and wanted to be able to create that for others who were on a bereavement journey. She studied Pluralistic counselling part-time at Abertay while also working and raising her young family (one of which was still in the womb during her Cruse training!). Danielle has a particular interest in pregnancy loss and fertility struggles but works with all types of loss at Cruse.