Facing it Together
Men… women don’t die of miscarriage but they do require practical help and emotional support. Your partner may also need to have a D&C or some form of medication to make sure her miscarriage is complete. She can feel fearful about the possible pain of the medical procedures and the physical consequences. She may also be upset that, in her mind, she is ‘getting rid of her baby’. The waiting time for this is usually very stressful, so it is a good idea to be present for her as often as possible. You may be thrown by your partner’s reaction. Even very capable women are often in such emotional and physical shock, that they are unable to function as usual.
Your partner may need you to make decisions in an area that is ordinarily her domain. It is essential at this time to check that there is clear communication between the two of you and she is comfortable with your decisions. You can only do your best and talking about it will help. Some things can be put off and if she needs time to think, abide by her wishes. For instance, if you have any baby remains, they can be suitably contained and cooled or frozen at a funeral home. This allows time until a decision (which you both agree to) can be made about what to do with them (see ‘Saying Goodbye’ & ‘Burial Options’).
“Perhaps men don’t acknowledge what has happened because they are afraid it will really hurt too much. Emotionally, we are not equipped to deal with it. Men don’t easily deal with their sadness and pain. We believe, being brave up front will give our wife/partner strength, when really what they need is our compassion and empathy.”
“The issues which most upset me were, firstly not knowing what was going to happen to Yasmin physically at the hospital, and then not being prepared for the emotional effect it had on her, and me too, actually.”
Other men have shared with us that they found their needs often revolved around their partners. Like them you may find yourself dealing with:
- Feelings of confusion and involvement yet powerlessness.
- With attention focused on your partner, your equally valid feelings are often overlooked, leaving you to deal with them alone.
- Focusing on her needs and not being able to think about losing the baby and what it means to you.
- Dealing with your own grief.
- Anxiety about admitting your own worries in case they add to her fears. (Being strong and brave prevents you from releasing your pain).
- Guilt about feelings of relief if you hadn’t wanted the baby.
- Guilt about having sex just prior to the miscarriage. (This would not make any difference to a viable pregnancy otherwise there would be many more miscarriages.)
- Finding the right things to say (see ‘Helping someone after a miscarriage’).
- Trying to deal with the situation logically which probably won’t be helpful. This is something that cannot be fixed.
- Fighting my male trait to be active
- Fighting the thought that grief equals tears, equals weak – it becomes paralysing
- Article on ‘Why we need better support for men after miscarriage’.
“I wouldn’t let myself show much emotion in front of my wife. Her grief was so overwhelming. All I could do was support her. I got the opportunity to have some time to myself when a close friend came around to see her so I went surfing at a favourite isolated spot. It was the perfect opportunity to allow myself to yell and cry into the waves and just let out my sorrow and frustration with-out anyone aware of what I was doing. I felt I could cope after that.”
The situation does gradually improve. It is sometimes helpful talking to others yourself. Be careful who you choose, as someone who has no experience of miscarriage may be unsuitable, even if they are women. You may know of a suitable mate, someone in your church or a family member. We have also found when men use Forums the women are so relieved to hear about a man’s feelings. Often their partner hides his and they respond very well. You can also remain anonymous. Counselling is an option too if a previous denied loss triggers a level of grief for you that may seem inappropriate. Assure your wife that you will not disrespect her trust in you and be open about your own needs – explain that you do not want to burden her – you may find she is the one who wants to talk to you about your feelings.
‘‘It was extremely emotional when my wife miscarried our first child. Naturally, she was devastated. I was upset and saddened, and confused over this tragedy. My apprehension was overwhelming. What could I do? What was the role of the father-to-be (or not-to-be in this case)? I could offer comfort to Terri in my own feeble way, but I think she was the stronger of us. I have not really spoken about the experience too much. As a man you feel you’re obligated to your wife to not disclose the information to too many people aside from immediate family. It is natural to feel that the fewer people who know, the better. Unfortunately, this meant that I did not have an avenue where I could voice my emotions without a feeling of violating my wife’s trust.”
Meeting her Needs
- Accept her moods non-judgmentally however unexpected they may be.
- She wants to know how you feel about losing the baby.
- Resist the temptation to reassure her that everything will be all right when the outcome is still uncertain.
- Most women will be worried and not their usual self. Your job is to support her by being there and listening.
- Don’t change the subject when she wants to talk.
- Just love her through this time, she will always remember it.
Often men say they want to put the ordeal behind them. If you and your partner deny yourselves the chance to grieve, the pain will not go away. It is commonly accepted that men find it harder than women to share their emotions. If you have been brought up with ‘big boys don’t cry’, how can you change? The starting point must be talking honestly about your feelings. It is essential to plan time together to do this.
Because women and men bond differently to their expected child, they grieve differently. You may become impatient if you feel ready to move on when your partner still needs support. Women tend to never really forget their loss and it is not uncommon for them to take up to six months to get back to relative normality. Their perception of life then will be different, as it may be for you. Something as seemingly natural as having a baby did not happen, even though others appear to have no problems. This can bring an awareness for you both of a heightened sense of risk for future pregnancies and often for life in general.
We cannot stress strongly enough that the support you give your partner now will always be appreciated. It may not seem that way at times, because of the effects of grief. Sadly, a lack of support during a miscarriage can cause long-term relationship friction and even breakdown. You might find that sometimes you dislike being around each other because neither of you relate to the other’s behaviour. Blame or resentment will not help, especially if your partner has what seems to be ‘unreasonable emotional outbursts’. If this happens, don’t ignore it and assume things will improve.
Outside help is needed to come to an understanding and acceptance between you both and to learn how to heal and cope with the situation. How can you help each other when you are both suffering in your own ways? Use our ‘Supportline’ number or find help or grief counselling in your own area.
For the future, you also need to understand that compared to this lost pregnancy, following baby milestones will become very much more important to your partner. The apprehension can be overwhelming but if you don’t feel the same intensity of feelings as her, accept that’s how it is and still support her. You, and perhaps she, may feel a subdued excitement again but for her it will probably be too precious to admit to. Allow her feelings to surface gradually as her confidence grows with the baby’s development. Your partner may just be so apprehensive that she won’t even acknowledge any hope and only feel able to react lovingly when a healthy baby is placed in her arms. Just be there for her whatever she feels.
“I supported my wife devoutly over the weeks after the miscarriage. When she wept I was strong and comforted her, holding back my own emotions. And we made it through. Now, with my wife expecting again, I find I have adopted a much more cautious approach to dealing mentally with the pregnancy.”
“I was at a party and was asked by a group of guys how many children I had. ‘Seven, but only one living’ I answered and before I knew it I was having an intense emotional discussion with three men whose partners had recently miscarried. I was surprised at the depth of emotion and loss that they felt as my first partner had never been ‘there’ for me.”
For further reading… Miscarriages Hurt Men Too by Peter Burdon is an ebook about twelve men from around the world sharing their miscarriage experiences. See our resource section for more information.