A waste of life: fathers' experience of losing a child before birth

Birth. 2001 Jun;28(2):124-30. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-536x.2001.00124.x.


Background: The prenatal loss of an expected child entails parental despair and grief. The grief after a stillborn child is sometimes described as a "forgotten form of grief" and the fathers as the "forgotten mourners." Our aim was to describe how fathers experienced losing a child as a result of intrauterine death.

Method: Eleven men were interviewed 5 to 27 months after the intrauterine death of their child during weeks 32 to 42 of pregnancy. The interviews were analyzed using a phenomenological methodology.

Results: After being informed of the infant's death, most fathers first wanted their partners to have a cesarean section, but all later thought that it would be right for the child to be delivered vaginally. A strong feeling of frustration and helplessness came over them during and after the delivery. Several men found meaning and relief in their grief by supporting their partner. Tokens of remembrance from the child were invaluable, and fathers appreciated that the staff collected these items, even if the parents declined them. The perceived prerequisite for resuming their everyday lives consisted of the support they received from the hospital staff and precious memories of the child. The most important comfort in their grief was a good relationship with their partner. Some fathers missed having a man to talk to both at the time of the stillbirth and subsequently.

Conclusion: The fathers' general trust in life and the natural order was suddenly and unexpectedly severely tested by the death of their child, which they perceived as a terrible waste of life. They sought understanding as grieving men and fathers from both the hospital personnel and their partners, as well as from relatives. Being able to protect their partner and to grieve in their own way was important to the fathers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Fathers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Death*
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Labor, Obstetric*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personnel, Hospital / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Social Support
  • Spouses / psychology*