As Father's Day approaches, I am once again reminded of all the fathers I know whose grief around pregnancy and infant loss is all too often unrecognized.
Andrew Foster is an award-winning artist and illustrator whose recent art show on miscarriage, A Labor of Love, was based upon the multiple losses he and his wife suffered as one aspect of their road to parenthood. The show is mounted in partnership with the Miscarriage Association and was inspired to challenge the notion that miscarriage happens only to women.
Says Foster, "[F]riends, family and wider society appear to think miscarriage and baby loss is owned by the woman and is not a male issue. In my experience, people don't seem to think that males grieve. I found it immensely difficult to articulate verbally what I thought but I spent close to five years making imagery about it. It was only at the end of this process that I feel I can articulate my grief. "
Foster is not alone in his use of art as a vehicle of expression for men and grief and baby loss. Irish artist Louis Hemmings is the father of Holly, stillborn in 1991. He has written extensively on loss and raised the public profile of men and grief. His work includes the short video Goodbye Au Revoir Slan.
It is critical that men be given the space and permission to experience the full range of emotional responses to baby loss.
Absolutely normal responses to loss may range from mild through to severe. Attachments to pregnancies begin at different points for different people. This fact transcends gender. There is no correct response to baby loss.
However, creating space for men to grieve or process loss on their own terms in a supportive setting can be of great benefit to a couple experiencing loss together.
Dr. Julie Bindeman, Psy-D and Co-Director of Integrative Therapy of Greater Washington, offers these practical tips to those wishing to support Loss Dads on Father's Day.
1. Do understand that men express feelings differently. Take his lead and listen carefully to what he is saying.
2, Don't feel the need to bring it up over and over again. Generally, men, when asked, can be clear about their needs.
3. Don't take his answers personally. Allow him the space to experience the day on his own terms.
I think of my husband. Almost a decade after our son was stillborn, my heart still catches when I think of one or another of his heroic efforts to support me and at his own expense.
Little things still make me sad -- I remember the expressions of thrumming grief passing over his face. In a landscape of grief, these expressions reminded me of moon shadows obscuring as much as they revealed.
In breaking the silence around pregnancy and infant loss, we need to remember that men suffer loss too. In helping them understand their own experience or grief we are making our families stronger.