How you can help grieving fathers come to terms with the devastating loss of a child
A charity campaign is highlighting the importance of not forgetting suffering dads. Lisa Salmon takes a closer look
When people think of baby loss, they often think of a mother experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth and her resulting emotional anguish, but what about dads?
The Mariposa Trust, a charity also known as Saying Goodbye (sayinggoodbye.org), which supports people affected by baby loss at any stage of pregnancy, birth or in infancy, recently surveyed fathers who'd experienced the loss of a baby and found 60% had received no support afterwards. In addition, 45% of the dads surveyed said their relationship had suffered, and 98% claimed more support was needed.
Dads matter too
On the back of the findings, the charity has launched a campaign called Dads Matter Too, to help highlight the issue and ensure men who experience the loss of a baby also have access to the information, advice and support they need.
"Men can often be sidelined and we're trying to change this," says Andy Clark-Coates, co-founder of the Mariposa Trust, who has lost five babies.
"Men often grieve differently to women, focusing primarily on their wife or partner who's going through the physical act of loss, before they consider their own emotions.
"The right support from family, friends and colleagues is vital in allowing men to grieve fully, which in turn can help improve relationships and mental health."
How to help grieving fathers
Wondering how you might be able to help support a father going through baby loss? The Mariposa Trust suggests this advice:
1. Ask: Take time to actually ask them how they're coping, sleeping, etc.
2. Listen: When people go through loss, they often need to retell what's happened, and this is a crucial part of working through grief. Allow dads to talk and be the friend who's willing to listen, be it once, twice or 20 times.
3. Act: Provide practical support. When people go through loss, the last thing they think about is practical things like cooking, for instance. Take round some prepared meals that they only have to warm. If they have other children, perhaps you could do the school runs. Try to think of ways to make their lives easier without imposing yourself on them.
4. Understand: Grief is an ongoing journey and often comes in waves. Some days will be better than others. Sometimes things can seem quite settled, and then people are hit by another wave of grief. This is normal, so just stand alongside grieving dads through these times.
Things that won't help grieving dads
1. Don't presume: It's easy to see a father who's had to go back to work following the loss of his baby and think he's fine. But Clark-Coates warns that just because someone has to carry on with life doesn't mean they're okay or they've come to terms with their loss. Grieving is unique to each person and it may take weeks, months or even years for a father to come to terms with his loss.
2. Don't make platitudes: Comments like "At least you know you can get pregnant" and "At least the baby's in a better place" don't help at all, says Clark-Coates, who points out that no one knows if they can ever get pregnant again and that parents will always want their child in their arms. "Human nature often makes us want to look for the positives, but when it comes to death and grief, the only person who should be making 'at least' statements is the person who's bereaved," he says.
3. Don't make grieving dads rush: Allow them the time they need to process and come to terms with what they've gone through.
For information, advice and support, visit sayinggoodbye.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org