“Input” – miscarriage: mothers and fathers grieve differently

Every fifth pregnancy in Switzerland ends in miscarriage. But only a few talk openly about it, even though many of those affected wish that the topic would not be tabooed. It is important to know that mothers and fathers grieve differently.

Author: Reena Thelly

It started with an email from "Input-Listener Fabienne: The 40-year-old is a mother of two children and two miscarried children and suggested that an "Input" be held-Follow up on miscarriages: "It’s something that happens to a lot of people but you don’t know about each other. It’s time to tell everyone: This happens to many, you are not alone! It helps if you experience it yourself.» So I meet her and her husband Matthias (42) for an interview.

They are not the only ones who share their story. Many mothers and occasionally fathers get in touch with me. Just like Sabine and Dani:

«I did not know that you bleed so much that you are afraid of bleeding to death. I didn’t know I could be so disgusted with myself. I didn’t know I could feel so guilty," says Matthias, Sabine says in a voice message. Dani also had questions: "We didn’t know that the anticipation and love were already so great. It has turned our life plan upside down- May we ever be parents?»

«I have never experienced a man saying: "This happened to us too!»

I find it enriching that fathers like Dani and Matthias also share their experiences. Women often tell me, but I am also interested in the men’s perspective.

«I have never heard a man say: "Yes, that happened to us, we also had a miscarriage", says Matthias, who is sitting at the kitchen table with Fabienne: "You talk more about practical things – what it’s like when the child arrives.» Whether he would have wished for more conversations among men about miscarriages at that time? «I do a lot with myself, or with Fabienne," says Sabine in a voice message, says Matthias "On the other hand, it would be nice if it were addressed more.»

Mothers and fathers grieve differently

In order to get a better overview, I go to Bern and meet Anna Margareta Neff, a midwife and grief counselor, at the Fachstelle Kindsverlust , linkopens in new window. Neff runs the center, and she and her team know countless stories of parents whose children have left too soon. Neff explains: "Men and women deal with the subject of miscarriage quite differently.»

Anna Margareta Neff

Anna Margareta Neff

Midwife and grief counselor

Anna Margareta Neff is a midwife and grief counselor. She heads the Child Loss Center, where parents and relatives of prematurely deceased children, as well as professionals, are advised.

She illustrates it in consultations by drawing circles: In the inner circle, in the mother’s womb, the child is. The father is in the outer circle, around the mother. This shows the different positions, a father has only indirect contact with the child until birth, explains Neff.

«When a miscarriage occurs, a father is first and foremost concerned about the mother: How is she doing?? Mourning is also different: "Men do it with their heads, they look ahead.» Mothers, on the other hand, are very much in the body, because it also happens in the body: "They feel an emptiness, a feeling of being abandoned. It is important for parents to know that a mother grieves differently from a father.»

Matthias’ experience echoes what Neff describes- For him, it was always important to look ahead: "I repressed a lot of things. First and foremost, it was important to me that the three of us were doing well.» Matthias and Fabienne have had two miscarriages between their two children.

Fathers have different feelings of guilt than mothers

Mothers of miscarried children tell me about loneliness, sadness, but also about heavy feelings of guilt: "Was it because of the wine in the early days, when I didn’t know that the baby was on the way?? Was it the sprint to the bus?», Sabine asked herself at that time.

Annina (38), mother of one child and four miscarried children, also had extreme feelings: "Self-reproach and self-loathing: that I, as a woman, was the most natural thing in the world at least that’s how it is conveyed- and failed all along the line.»

Charlotte (40), who has experienced three miscarriages, states it clearly: "The tabooing of miscarriages is also an effect of the performance society. Miscarriages are considered mistakes. Besides the pain of loss, you also have the feeling that you have done something wrong.»

Anna Margareta Neff knows these feelings only too well: "I practically always experience that a mother who loses her child asks herself: What did I do wrong??», says the midwife and grief counselor. «If the child does not develop healthily, a mother will never be able to prevent a miscarriage. It is part of a woman’s life that a miscarriage may occur.»

Not only mothers, but also fathers have feelings of guilt, Neff explains: "Men wonder what they have done to their wives or have feelings of guilt because the wife perhaps wanted fewer children and see themselves in debt.

«I didn’t know that I, as a man, felt so helpless that I was afraid for my partner.»

By mail, in voice messages or in direct conversations parents describe to me how they experienced miscarriage at home on the toilet:

«We didn’t know that it was healing to say goodbye instead of flushing in a panic.", says Sabine. Dani was afraid for Sabine: "I didn’t know that I would feel so helpless as a man, that I would be afraid for my partner.»

What to do after a miscarriage at home? Anna Margareta Neff says: "It happens to many women that they flush in shock and regret it afterwards. These are emergency strategies in shock. It is important for parents to be able to see it as normal, it was the option open to them.»

Neff recommends putting a strainer or something similar in the toilet to catch and look at what comes out: "As early as the eighth week of pregnancy, a child has fingers and feet, you can see the head. It is a very small, but actually already very educated child. I highly recommend integrating the child in a way that allows him to become a part of your life.»

Integrating children who have gone into life

Let the child become part of one’s life, for example through rituals or by creating places to mourn.

Anna (32), mother of a child and a star child, says that this helped her: "We had our star child cremated.", says Anna. The urn is at her home, with a candle on it, which she lights when she feels like it: "This way I have a place where I can give my love.» This place is important to Anna: "I have empty arms. There is a love that finds no takers.»

«I put a stone in the lake for every child that was allowed to go or had to go", tells Luzia (40), mother of two children and two miscarried children. «So every child has a place to be. That gave me strength to say goodbye.»

Rituals can help, but do not fit all parents: "It would have been too much for me, I wanted to be pragmatic. It was the way it is and I wanted to look ahead", says Matthias.

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