Why are men still ignored when we talk about miscarriage?
“How is Julia doing?” That was the question my husband was repeatedly asked after our first miscarriage. And after our second; and third; and fourth. We had lost baby after baby, but it was my state of mind and health – the devastated mother who had lost her child – that was uppermost in the thoughts of our family and friends. Almost nobody asked my husband the other obvious question: how are you doing?
While it is couples who “are going to have a baby”, miscarriages only happen to women. Yet the emotional trauma of the overwhelming sense of loss and grief affects both parents. So it was with great courage that Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg chose to reveal, as he announced he and his wife are expecting a baby girl, that they have suffered three miscarriages. His deeply personal words will have echoed strongly with everyone who has experienced the loss of a pregnancy: “You start making plans, and then they’re gone. Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you. So you struggle on your own.”
And that it precisely what many men do after losing a baby. They struggle on and bottle up their own feelings of loss to keep strong for their partners. Yet, as Mark Zuckerberg explained in a poignant Facebook post, for the couple who have miscarried, it was very much a real baby, containing all their love and hopes for the future, so the grief is very real too. And it needs to be treated like any other grief.
New research by the Miscarriage Association has found that, despite their intense feelings of sadness, anger and loss, a quarter of men whose wives or girlfriends miscarried never spoke about their grief with them because they feared upsetting her or saying the wrong thing. The sheer horror and shock of a miscarriage, and all the bleeding it can entail, can be overwhelming – an emotion that is compounded by a man’s utter powerlessness to do anything to help the woman they love.
Yet – and, importantly, quite unlike women – men are simply expected to get back on with normal life straight away, with no time off to recover. They report returning to work shell-shocked but unable to talk about their loss with colleagues because the pregnancy had been kept a secret. Even when men do attempt to talk about their feelings the response can do more harm. Well-meaning but clumsy comments such as “never mind, you can try again” and “at least you aren’t shooting blanks” underestimate the grief experienced.
The best way to cope with miscarriage is for men and women to talk – to their partners, to their friends, to a counsellor. After a rich, successful man like Mark Zuckerberg publicly shared his grief about his wife’s miscarriages, it may make it easier for more men to finally open up about their own feelings of loss. There is nothing unnatural about grieving for the loss of your unborn child.