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Grief is always personal; thus each parent can be expected to react in his or her own way to an infant’s death. To some degree, you may be able to share your feelings, cry together or just sit in silence together. On the other hand, do not assume that your spouse knows how you are feeling, especially where grief is concerned.

Mothers and Fathers Grieve Differently


To understand a mother’s grief, you must first understand the attachment a pregnant woman feels to the baby in her womb. Throughout pregnancy the baby is a part of the mother’s body. Even after birth, the mother still feels like the baby is a part of her body. The baby does not stop being a part of her body for a very long time. Only as the baby becomes more and more a part of the mother’s mental self does the physical bond become loosened.

When the baby dies, this unique attachment plays havoc with a mother’s mind. What about the baby is still part of self? Can this be mourned? The emptiness and loss of selfesteem can be likened to the feelings of individuals who have lost a body part (amputation) or a body function (paralysis or loss of sight). Here one has to readjust to thinking of oneself as a complete human being; one cannot walk or see. Mothers have described these feelings as a void or great emptiness, a feeling of aching arms or like the pain one feels for a missing limb.

Friends, relatives and health care providers often lack an understanding of what it feels like to lose a part of yourself. Sometimes an unrealized sense of fear and anxiety makes them want to avoid the parents. You cannot rely on the sympathy of those close to you. Often they do not fully understand what is 12 happening to you in your grief; they just want your pain to go away. They don’t always respond with the care that you need.

A mother’s grief is different in other ways too. Although both mothers and fathers feel the helplessness that contributes to the loss of self-esteem, often mothers carry the burden of blame.

  • “I could not produce a healthy child!”
  • “I had an incompetent cervix; therefore, I am incompetent.”

Even in conditions where the problem is caused by a gene contributed by both the mother and the father, the mother often feels the loss of self and the blame more intensely. Many, including the father, continue to blame her.

For these reasons, most mothers mourn the loss longer and with greater intensity. Misery, shame and guilt may threaten your feelings of motherhood.


Fathers seem to resolve the question of personal responsibility for the death and subsequent guilt feelings sooner than the mother. Why? In an effort to shield the mother from pain and suffering, often the father becomes the active participant in activities surrounding the baby’s death. Because of his participation, as well as his mental attachment in contrast to the bodily and mental attachment of the mother, the father may mourn the loss and incorporate it with less guilt than the mother. The father is often with his baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery (NICU) while the mother lies sedated in the post-partum unit, or even removed into an outlying hospital. The father may be the active participant in decisions, such as whether he and his wife will see, touch or hold the baby; funeral arrangements; insurance details; etc. Often the father’s sadness and anxiety are given over to the energy required to make these decisions.

Our society makes it difficult for fathers to grieve. They are expected to return to work quickly. Often they are asked how their wife is doing, and no one asks how they are doing. Many times fathers have a great deal of difficulty concentrating on the tasks that are before them in their work. They are given very limited time to not function at their best. Because of these expectations, men often stuff their feelings and pain, and forge ahead with the expectations of employers.