I’m going to tell you a secret… *whispers* partners grieve too. Oh, is that not a secret to you? It’s not to me either but too often, people act like the other parent doesn’t feel as much as the person who was physically pregnant. People sometimes think the other parent wasn’t as invested, didn’t have the same connection or doesn’t have the same level of emotion as the person who carried the baby(ies) but guess what? That’s simply NOT true (IMO).
So why do I use the phrase “other parent”? In a nutshell, it’s because I don’t typically conform to heteronormative and binary systems. I don’t exclusively think of parents as mothers and fathers nor simply the combination of men and women. I understand that families come in many different forms and honoring that is important to me. People biologically create children together while others may not have that privilege and have to enlist doctors to help. A family is a family is a family! There are mommy & mama’s, mommy’s and daddy’s, co-parents, and a whole host of other ungendered titles parents choose to use for themselves. I think it’s invaluable to be seen and validated so to all those different types of families out there, know that I see & respect you <3.
Other parents can be just as invested in the little ones as the person carrying them. Sure, there’s a different level of physical involvement, and one could argue that creates a different kind of bond. But rather than making it a comparison of who’s more invested, how about we just chalk it up to there being a difference. Not necessarily more or less, just different. There are times when I can remember my partner talking to my belly more than me. Maybe even touching it more than me. My partner knew we were having two little girls while I was still in the “I don’t know…” phase. I remember a support group leader asking my partner, “are they asking about you or are they just asking you about her?” It was honestly something I selfishly hadn’t thought about much but it was a reminder that she’s in this too… just as much as I am and deserves the same check-in’s I am getting. The tears that were shed when I gave birth to our girls and the tears that were shed when we said goodbye to them, were from us both. The pain in the room and in our home afterwards was and still is palpable at times. It’s not just my pain or my grief or my tears… it’s ours.
Thinking they’re being caring, people will ask the other parent, “how’s she (meaning you) doing?” Totally bypassing asking the other parent directly, “how are YOU doing?” You have to understand, people automatically assume the other parent is ok. They’re being strong for the mom and don’t need as much care. More often than not, this is completely untrue. They sometimes need just as much care, admittedly, it may be in a different way, but they need care too. Other parents need to have people checking in on them also, asking them how they’re feeling, allowing them time to talk about what they’re going through, etc. True, they are usually doing A LOT of caretaking for the mom but at the same time, they are also shouldering their own emotions and hers. All the while, they may be feeling pressured to live up to societal standards around masculinity like not crying, working excessively, not talking about feelings, not feeling feelings, getting over things quickly and blah blah blah.
Here are some ways dealing with grief may look different for the other parent:
- They may go back to work almost immediately
- They may cry once or not at all
- They may not talk as much or want to talk as much about the loss
- They may seem more angry or agitated, or they may just get to these emotions faster
- They may throw themselves into an activity (working out, driving, binge-watching shows, video games, fixing things around the house, etc.)
- They may start shopping more or spending more money on things for you, themselves, your house…
- They may become super social or often opt to be out of the house
This isn’t an exhaustive list (and I’m curious to see what other ways you all have noticed responses to grief in your partners) but it’s some of the common things I experienced with my partner as well as have read about/talked about with other angel moms. In my opinion, there should be more groups that involve the other parent. There should even be groups that are “other-parent-only” so the space can just be about them and methods of dealing/coping with their grief. I think people should ask them more, “how are you?” and we as the mom’s should ask our partners more what we can do for them. They’re part of this sucky process too and we would all do much better by them if we remembered that. Grief is a complex thing… it can completely transform a person or a relationship for the better or for the worst. It’s important to recognize that couples are grieving together even if it doesn’t look like that from the outside.