This week, we happened to have several dads join us, which was a double blessing. The guys don't tend to come as often as the ladies, but we all know that pregnancy loss is not just a "women's issue", so when they do come, it is a great opportunity to talk about how loss impacts us differently - because honestly, it's kind of a mystery how different men and women are from each other, isn't it? Not just in this aspect but in lots of other ways, too!
Moms process with words; dads process with actions. This was one of the first things we talked about. Women generally find it more helpful than men to talk about their grief - one of the reasons why support groups like ours are more popular with moms than with dads. Talking helps us connect and to understand our emotions, and that helps us feel some measure of control over them in a time when everything feels out of control. Dads, though, don't tend to work that way. Their "full" meter for words fills up much faster than ours! After a short time, words feel pointless because nothing in the situation has changed and they just feel more depressed. They process better with actions, whether that is working on projects in the garage or around the house, spending time at their job, or doing sports or hobbies with friends. They need that the same way moms need to talk.
Moms want to feel; dads want to fix. Moms after a loss tend to focus on how they feel - which can go in a thousand different directions on a given day. This goes back to those words, which we use to help us understand our crazy emotions. Dads tend to want to fix the things that are hurting the people they love. Since they can't fix the fact that their baby died, they will focus on what can be fixed through their actions, which may mean they postpone their own grief work until they are well past the initial crisis and feel like they can let down their guard a bit.
Moms get sad; dads get mad. Of course, we both feel sad and mad, but this is about how we tend to lean. The predominant emotion for moms seems to be profound sadness, a deep missing of the baby who is no longer there. The predominant emotion for many men is anger, because this terrible thing happened that can't be changed and that just makes them mad.
Because understanding each other's differences leads to acceptance of those differences, not as right or wrong but just...different.
Because accepting each other's differences will change our expectations of one another, which is a healthy thing in a marriage.
Because it can also help us see beyond our own needs and to how we can give our spouse space and support to grieve in his or her own way.
Because it can also help us appreciate what our spouse contributes to our own journey.
And because it can help us see what is the same. We both love and miss our child. We both need friends checking in on us. We both need support and understanding. We have both been changed by the same experience of loving and letting go of a child this side of Heaven.
If you are on this journey of pregnancy or infant loss, I encourage you to use these differences as a starting point for a conversation with your child's other parent. Even if he or she disagrees with each one, at least you can then talk about how you are different, which will in itself lead to these other benefits of being able to support each other better as you find your new normal after loss as a couple and a family.