Fathers’ experiences of losing a baby at 20–24 weeks of pregnancy

Fathers we spoke to were very affected by the loss of their baby.

Caring for their partner

During pregnancy, if their wife or partner was in hospital for a period of time before the birth, fathers were trying to support them, while also managing their worry about their partner’s health and the pregnancy. Fathers often felt they had to fight to have their wife or partner’s symptoms taken seriously when she became ill or worried about their baby.

Emily and Mike were in and out of hospital with bleeding for 7 weeks. Although they felt something was wrong, they didn’st feel they were taken seriously.

Many fathers spoke about how hard they had found it to see their partner in pain or unwell. Sometimes there had been difficult decisions to make when their partner and their baby’s life were at risk, and fathers worried for both mother, baby and their other children. Lindsay described how, when faced with a difficult decision to end her pregnancy because of worries about her health, her husband wanted her to focus on how their older son, he “needs his Mum. You know, regardless of what your instincts are, he needs you to come home.”

Despite their grief at losing their baby, often fathers talked about their relief that their partner was safe. Mike recalled how tough it was seeing “your wife in pain, and you’re worried, and you’ve seen her being rushed off in an ambulance, and you’re trying to follow behind her”.

Matt struggled with weighing up the best for his unborn baby when Lisa’s life was at risk.

Mike found it extremely difficult seeing his wife in pain and feeling completely helpless.

Matt describes feeling almost relieved after the birth because he was so worried about Lisa’s health.

Fathers often had to juggle home and work life while their partner was ill. There was work to fit in with visiting and fathers with older children also had to look after them and try to maintain a sense of normality. While some parents were provided with bereavement suites that offered a helpful space for both parents during and after the birth, often fathers felt marginalised as the facilities available during pregnancy were not inclusive of them. Some talked of not being able to stay at the hospital while others had to sleep in a chair while staying with their partner.

David Z found it very tough balancing work, caring for his son and visiting Asun in hospital.

Courtney felt there were no facilities for her husband while she was in hospital.

Age at interview 30

Gender Female

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Giving birth to their very premature baby was very difficult for mothers we spoke to. Fathers were a key presence, helping them through an extremely difficult time. Iain felt he had to be assertive to get pain relief for his wife Michelle saying, “No, my wife needs gas and air. I’ve seen this loads of times, she’ll need gas and air.” Courtney was very touched by her husband’s gentle care and attention during the birth when they were left alone as he was “mopping up blood, and trying to clean my legs… because I think he was by himself. That was tough”.

Coping with grief

Parents often spoke of different reactions or ways of dealing with their loss. Some fathers felt they were less deeply affected or found it more difficult to grieve than their wife or partner as they had felt less of a connection with their baby before the birth. This sometimes contributed to different experiences of grief after the loss of their baby by mothers and fathers and had an impact on their relationship.

David Z felt helpless at being able to comfort his wife after the loss of their baby.

Time off work

Some of the fathers had to manage taking time off work before the birth of their baby when their partner was in hospital for several days or weeks. But many had very little time off work after the loss of their baby (between 1 week and 6 weeks) and their experiences of support on returning to work were mixed. Adam described how hard it was being back at work, “obviously it’s been really, really tough for Joelle. But it’s been tough for me as well. You know, I’ve been back at work, and had to kind of get on with things”. Raj found being back at work “distracts you quite well, but obviously you’re not talking about what you need to talk about sometimes, and getting it off your chest.”

Sharon described how her husband was asked why he needed time off work after the loss of their baby.

Age at interview 45

Gender Female

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David described how supportive his employer was when his wife Asun was first admitted to hospital and when he returned to work.

When he went back to work David was angered by someone asking if Are you over it yet?

Emotional support

Many of the mothers and fathers we spoke to felt men’s feelings were overlooked. Fathers often felt forgotten after the loss of the baby as help, sympathy and care was focused on the mother.

Matthew felt people don’st really think about how loss affected fathers.

Iain found it really helpful when people acknowledged not only that he was supporting Michelle but also how badly affected he was too.

Many parents highlighted the lack of support that was available to fathers and partners compared to mothers. Sarah described how bereavement care was focused on her as a mother while her husband was treated “as my secondary support… but it was very much… his loss as well.” Asun also felt bereavement care was “not something that’s offered to the dads… It’s focused on the mother. And the loss is for both.”

David described the lack of support for fathers and the impact that had on delaying his grief.

Sarah always felt awful when people didn’st ask her husband how he was feeling.

Age at interview 34

Gender Female

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David Z felt that fathers’s needs were very much forgotten.