I often see praise given to you for being strong, for “keeping it together” following the loss of a baby, and for being calm for your partner during pregnancy after loss. I know you have done all of these things, and I am confident that your partner has needed this strength, this calm, and this support from you.
You deserve to be praised for your strength, AND I want you to know that it is okay to not feel calm or “strong.”
You have gotten messages your entire life about the “strength” that it takes to be a man. The version of masculinity that is taught by popular culture conveys the idea that any emotion other than anger is weak, while being calm, stoic, logical, and “unemotional” is strong. I imagine because of this you feel an intense pressure to “keep it all together.” The space you are allowed to express your feelings must seem like it is getting more and more narrow.
You deserve to be praised for your strength, AND I worry that when we as loss mamas praise you for being strong for us, it makes you feel you have to hide your grief.
I want to send a really clear message that, in the words of Megan Divine, “It’s okay to not be okay.” Not feeling strong doesn’t mean that you aren’t strong.
You don’t have to hide your grief. You don’t have to hide your fear. You don’t have to pretend that you are okay to be “strong” for your partner or to prove to the world that you are fulfilling your roles as spouse and father.
Of course you are not okay.
You lost a child or children. You have watched others get to experience the joy that you haven’t. You have felt one of the most intense pains there is. You have seen your partner hurting physically and emotionally and felt helpless to do anything about it.
You are often overlooked and simply seen as a spectator or a supporter, but you experienced loss too. You are grieving too. You are experiencing the hopes and fears of pregnancy after loss and the pains and joys of parenting after loss. Your loss(es) were not just your partner’s. They belong to you, too. You are not just a passenger in this journey, “along for the ride.” You are a co-pilot.
You deserve to be praised for your strength, AND I want you to know that strength is not defined as not being broken, sad, or terrified.
It takes so much strength to be vulnerable. It takes so much strength to cry. It takes so much strength to leave the hospital without your child and to grieve them more than any non-loss parent will ever realize. It takes strength to have seen the things you have seen, to have done the things you have done, and to feel and share this pain.
You deserve to be praised for your strength, AND I want to praise you for feeling all of your feelings.
You deserve praise for all of the tears you have shed. You deserve praise for facing your fears each day. For the times you have reached out to others for support. For the steps you have taken to be vulnerable and honest about your emotions with other loss parents and especially with others who are lucky to not understand this pain.
Courageous Dad, I want you to know that I see you. I feel your pain. I am a witness to your fear. I see that you are not okay, and I want you to know that that is okay with me. Even though your instinct is to hide that, please push against that urge. Please don’t let our praise of your strength shut you down from expressing your pain and fears.
Don’t try to just “be okay” for your partner. Express your feelings, especially the raw ones, the sad ones, the scared ones. Be vulnerable. While your partner needs support from you, you need the same amount of support from her. For as much as she needs you to be calm, you also need her to reassure you.
You need each other in order to weather this storm together. Remember that when you lean on each other you are both much stronger.
Lots of love,
A Courageous Mama