Perinatal mourning: and the dads in all this?

Perinatal mourning: and the dads in all this?

If perinatal bereavement affects mothers as well as fathers, the latter are often less taken into account. However, even if they react differently, they too are affected by grief and must be able to confide.

What is perinatal bereavement?

Perinatal bereavement concerns the death of the fetus during pregnancy from the 22nd week of amenorrhea (according to the indications of the World Health Organization – WHO), during childbirth or in the seven days following it.

In Europe, in 2019, the perinatal mortality rate stood at 10.2%, according to figures communicated by the Drees (Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics) in July 2021. This rate corresponds to the number of children born dead or dead during the first 7 days of life compared to all births from 22 weeks of amenorrhea.

This early death can be due to a natural termination of pregnancy (miscarriage), a Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy (IVG), a Medical Termination of Pregnancy (IMG), complications of labor and delivery, premature delivery, etc.

Perinatal mourning: Fathers more withdrawn

Perinatal mourning is an ordeal for everyone, starting with the mother who carried this unborn baby in her body for several months and sometimes gave birth to it too. As such, she is the object of the first attention of the medical team and those around her. “Fathers themselves tend to prioritize them in this traumatic ordeal and support them in their mourning.”, notes Marie-Laure Dillies, psychologist and listener within the AGAPA association, specialized in supporting people affected by perinatal bereavement. Fathers return to work more quickly and are caught up in outside life and returning to everyday life. Here again, the listener notices that colleagues generally ask them about their wives but rarely about them. They can thus be kept in the background and find refuge in this isolation.

The obligation to be strong in the face of perinatal death

Fathers do not move at the same pace as their partners when faced with perinatal loss, but the pain is there. “They often have difficulty expressing their feelings. They do not allow themselves to be sad, to talk about their suffering because they learned during their education to have to be strong, to protect their wife, to act as a support“, underlines Marie-Laure Dillies. Fathers, sometimes less accustomed to communicating about their emotions, can shy away from the idea of ​​sharing their sadness. Those around them do not always know if it is relevant to approach the subject with them nor how to find the right words to free speech without reviving the pain. Fathers can then continue their lives as best they can with this scar deep in their hearts.They often fall for women and can then go through a depressive episode“, confides Marie-Laure Dillies.

Perinatal bereavement: psychological support and discussion groups

Fathers, too, are faced with the loss of the baby they had imagined, dreamed of… They were able to see their baby grow thanks to ultrasounds, participate in childbirth preparation sessions, support their partner during her pregnancy, prepare the baby's room, thinking about a first name, talking about it with loved ones, imagining themselves fathers… As with all mourning, perinatal mourning involves going through characteristic phases, defined in particular by the Swiss-American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross , such as shock, denial, anger, sadness, resignation, acceptance and then reconstruction. But perinatal bereavement presents a singularity. “It is the mourning of a child who did not live or had little reality, it is the mourning of a projection“, explains the psychologist. This requires specific psychological development work that can be useful to carry out with a mental health professional and/or through discussion groups supervised by trained people, as proposed for example the AGAPA association Some are even dedicated to fathers who can meet other men facing perinatal bereavement. A conducive place to exchange and be heard among peers.