A new study says, parents who have lost a premature baby tend to hold the child in a central place in their lives even after two to six years of the baby's death.
Stefan Buchi, M.D., lead author of the study, said that how such parents share this grief and suffering depends on the emotional exchange and communication they share as a couple.
"Our research indicates that communicating about the death of a baby can be very important. It is natural to grieve alone, but if a couple is not communicating about the loss of their baby within the first year after death, I would encourage them to seek professional help," said Buchi.
He added: "Communication appears to be crucial for a process of concordant grief."
While concordant couples share similar feelings about the death of their baby, with discordant couples the demise of the child affects one partner less or that is what their partner perceives.
At the time when discordant couples differ considerably in their grief, it might be that the father is less likely to acknowledge the extent of his distress.
"Men often don't talk about being sad," said Buchi.
In his opinion, non-shared grief isolates partners, whereas the experience of shared grief encourages intimacy and the feeling of belonging together, thereby benefiting the parents' relationship.
The study on neonatal bereavement came was conducted on parents who had given birth to a baby at 24 to 26 weeks at the University Hospital in Zurich.
Forty-four parents (22 couples) completed questionnaires regarding grief, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic growth. Doctors interviewed six couples at length.
Surprisingly, it was found that the death of babies induced an enormous process of personal change in most couples that they described somehow as also positive, called post-traumatic growth.
For example, couples described a new quality to their relationships, especially with one another. Parents also experienced a changed philosophy of life with new priorities, appreciation and spirituality.
However, the biggest surprise in the research, was that the suffering of fathers in concordant relationships ranked as greater than that of mothers.
"I think there is no other research data that would point to this finding."
The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Psychosomatics.