10 things every man should know about miscarriage
When my wife and I woke up on Oct. 21, we were pregnant.
Three hours later, we were not.
We had an appointment for our 10-week ultrasound, so we went in expecting to get our first glimpse at our son or daughter-to-be.
Instead, what we got was…blank. So we waited for something other than blank. I looked up at the screen at the medical center — through it, rather — keeping my presumptions on a tight leash.
After all, anyone who’s ever seen a live ultrasound knows it’s like trying to solve a puzzle with your eyes. “Is that it? Nope. Maybe that? Nope.”
The nurse finally broke what felt like 15 minutes of silence. “So, I’m not seeing a 10-week fetus.”
We heard what she said. But again, no presumptions. There had to have been an explanation for all of this. An inexperienced nurse. Poor lighting. An honest mistake.
We left in separate cars. Twenty minutes later, my phone rang. It was my wife. I answered, and she was in tears. Before she could say anything, I knew.
She’d received confirmation that the fetus had stopped developing weeks earlier and died. We had what’s called a “missed miscarriage.”
“Blindsided” is the only word that comes to mind. My wife had carried two healthy children to term. She was healthy. I was healthy. We knew that miscarriages happened. We have family members, friends that have had them.
But this wasn’t supposed to happen to us.
Our story is not unique. We’re not the first family to be caught off guard by a miscarriage, nor will we be the last.
I’m putting this out there, not because anything I write will make any other family feel less blindsided. It won’t. I’m writing this because the worst kind of pain is that which is compounded by the illusion that we’re alone in our pain.
We’re not alone. We’re never alone. My highest ambition in all of this is that other families, and men in particular, know that.
Well, an estimated one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
One in five.
And that’s a conservative estimate, given that many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy that a woman doesn’t realize she’s pregnant, so it goes unreported.
Whether you know it or not, you probably know multiple people who have been impacted by miscarriage.
Yet, we don’t talk about it nearly enough. John Legend and Chrissy Teigen recently spoke out, and that sparked countless others to open up and share about their own pregnancy losses, which was encouraging to see.
But stigma doesn’t dissolve unless lots of us speak up and keep speaking up. You can’t fix a problem if the only ones addressing it are those who are suffering the most.
The truth is, women experience the most taxing parts of miscarriage. They endure excruciating physical pain that men simply don’t. They internalize deep shame, embarrassment and guilt that we can’t even begin to grasp.
But this isn’t a strictly female issue. So it shouldn’t fall squarely on their shoulders to break through the social taboo. In fact, we need to step up for the women in our lives. After all, we’ve been, on the whole, conspicuously quiet about this for far too long.
Just because it’s not your body, you still have your voice.
I’m sharing some of what I’ve learned over the past few weeks here, so that, God forbid, if other men do experience something similar to what I did, they can be informed, strong, supportive, vulnerable partners, and perhaps even, help others be the same.
Here are 10 things every man should know about miscarriage. (Note: parts of what I’ve written are graphic and may be difficult to read. They were difficult to write.)
1. If you have a hard time finding resources, that’s because resources are hard to find
After the shock of the initial news begins to settle, you start asking, “What, now?”
Thankfully, we’d been working with a certified nurse-midwife for several weeks and she was terrific every step of the way, coaching my wife, listening, and just being present. But when we asked her to point us toward some additional resources, even she was baffled.
No one hands you a playbook for how to deal with this. Not even a corny “What to do after a miscarriage” pamphlet. Nothing.
Turns out the Internet really doesn’t offer much either.
Think I’m exaggerating? Google “miscarriage support” or “miscarriage resources.” You’ll find, more or less, a black hole. It’s eerily sparse.
What you will find is a wealth of resources on child loss, bereavement, and stillbirths. But for miscarriage, specifically? It’s almost like, somewhere along the line, we collectively decided miscarriage didn’t warrant its own conversation. It was fine if we just grouped it in with all of the other crappy things parents go through.
Now, I did find a series of firsthand accounts on Medium and a few other websites and a handful of Facebook support groups.
But I saw few posts from men.
Let’s not be. Let’s speak up. Let’s make ourselves available to the people in our lives, so that when they’re going through a crisis like this, you’re one of the first people they seek out.
If you can’t find a resource, be a resource.
2. After a miscarriage, mind your words
A miscarriage is something for you to navigate together, as a family — not separately. If you’re a fiercely independent person, as are both me and my wife, this one might be tough for you.
Miscarriage is not the woman’s fault. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s why, when you’re talking about it, make sure you don’t inadvertently pin the blame on her.
In other words, you can’t tell her it’s not her fault, but in the same vein, say, “She had a miscarriage.”
You don’t get to say, “We had a baby,” but “She had a miscarriage.” You don’t get to claim the miracles but disown the tragedies. You’re not just a team when you’re winning. You’re in a partnership, for better or worse. Act like it, and be cognizant of the language you’re using.
3. Postpartum depression doesn’t just happen when babies are brought to term
You can be the best, most supportive, thoughtful partner ever, and she still may not respond the way you feel like she should.
That’s OK — just keep doing the work. Be steadfast. These aren’t normal circumstances. You’re not being supportive so she reciprocates or plans you a parade.
She, meanwhile, is going through hell. Women who suffer miscarriages can face a high risk of experiencing postpartum depression (PPD).
The birth of a baby can trigger a deluge of emotions, but PPD after miscarriage is discussed far less frequently — though the depression is every bit as visceral. After all, a woman’s body undergoes a massive hormonal shift, complete with harrowing lows, whether or not the baby is brought to term.
Postpartum Support International runs a toll-free helpline offering basic information, support, and resources: 1–800–944–4773
This is a dark time, so wrap her up in love, and don’t let go. You get to care for the person you love most when she’s in agonizing pain. That’s a privilege. Don’t forget it.
4. Life will keep moving, but make sure she slows down
There’s no maternity leave for miscarriage. Hell, in the U.S., there’s no maternity leave, period. But my point is, there’s an assumption that, after a miscarriage, things basically just revert back to the way they were before the pregnancy. You’re not pregnant anymore, so it’s like you never were.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a torrent of physical, emotional, and mental anguish to unpack after a miscarriage.
But alas, the world keeps moving, whether you’re ready or not.
Just because she can still kick ass as a parent and a wife and a boss, that doesn’t mean she should be doing so at her normal rate.
It’s your job to slow her down. Her body has gone through a lifetime of trauma, and she’s likely exhausted in every way imaginable, so make sure she rests accordingly.
5. Don’t just be there for her — be there with her
Instead of constantly asking what she needs, try something else: just sit with her.
We all process sadness and tragedy differently. If you’re a crier, then cry yourself a well. If you’re not a crier, then stare off into space, profoundly. Or whatever. Process it in a way that makes sense for you. But don’t do it in secret. Take time to be physically next to her. Even if she hasn’t explicitly requested it, she wants your presence, more than anything.
The grief process can’t be sped up by knocking out a list of chores for the other person. Maybe her love language is “acts of service,” and taking some of her load off does actually make her feel loved, but there’s more to it than that. You can’t just keep asking “What do you need?”
At a certain point, she just needs you.
6. Don’t pretend you’re fine
“Suck it up, pussy.”
While we’re talking stigma, seriously, we need to retire the “I’m fine,” toxic masculinity facade, once and for all. You owe it to yourself.
You’re not fooling anyone. It’s OK to be crushed. It’s not OK to downplay your sadness because you’re scared of looking weak. Pain that’s undealt with doesn’t just go away — it resurfaces, inevitably.
Saying you’re fine when you’re not fine doesn’t put other people at ease. It makes them uncomfortable, because they want to be there for you, but you’re essentially telling them you don’t need them.
It’s OK to need people.
You’re not unfazed.
You’re not too tough to talk about it.
You’re not too manly for therapy or counseling.
Time to silence that fiercely independent, bordering-on-crazy, cabin-in-the-woods survivalist. There’s a time and a place for him. This isn’t it.
The best thing I could’ve done was reach out to my friends and family soon after this all came to light. I have some unbelievable people in my corner, and knowing that made this all a little less daunting.
7. Make yourself a priority
If you want to be the best man you can be after a miscarriage, make sure you’re taking care of yourself, mentally and physically, and you’re carving out time each day to pray, meditate or just have a few quiet minutes. This isn’t time you’re losing — it’s an investment you’re making in your life and the lives of those around you.
A 2017 meta-analysis of 29 studies published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth shows that the way most men respond to pregnancy loss is by immediately offering support to their female partners, often at the expense of their own well-being. It’s easy to slip into a pattern of self-neglect and disguise it as a stopgap. Yet, when we care for ourselves, we can better care for others.
It’s not selfish. It’s necessary.
8. (Well-intentioned) people may say things that come across as insensitive
Nothing anyone can say will make this better. Nothing can soften the blow or put it in perspective.
That said, people will try.
“God has a plan.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
And perhaps, the most tone-deaf of all tone-deaf statements: “You can always try again.”
What some people may not realize is, perhaps we could try again. But as one of our friends poignantly put it, “We didn’t just want a baby; we wanted that baby.” And we can never have that baby. There will never be another baby exactly like the one we lost, with that unique genetic coding, heartbeat and fingerprint. And that’s a terribly sad thought.
As best as you can, don’t react to these well-meaning platitudes — respond. Try to remember the intention behind their words. Nobody’s trying to maliciously attack you after you’ve experienced a miscarriage. They know you’re in pain.
At some point, we’ve probably all been shown ample grace by someone in our lives from whom we didn’t deserve it, but they did so anyway.
Be that person.
9. There may be things you will never know about her experience
Seeing my wife in crippling pain was the hardest part of this, for me. My wife is the toughest person I’ve ever met. Seeing her wake up covered in blood every day for almost a week and fighting through that pain was equal parts heart-rending and awe-inspiring.
One night when we were talking in bed, she said one of the most chilling things I’ve ever heard.
“No one tells you this, but there comes a time when you have to pass the embryo, and once you’re sure you’ve identified it, you realize the next step is to flush your baby down the toilet. Like a goldfish.”
I couldn’t move or speak for a solid 30 seconds after she said that.
And that’s when it really hit me: nobody goes into the bathroom with her. I’m not the one sticking my hand in a toilet bowl filled with blood behind a closed door, inspecting each individual blood clot, wondering which one will be the embryo and knowing damn well that that would be the only time our baby will ever be held.
But she did.
I didn’t know this until days after it happened. And if my wife and I didn’t have the openly communicative relationship that we do, I might never have known.
Every miscarriage is different. Still, there are things about her experience that you may never learn. This may take some time to accept.
10. This might always hurt
Again, there’s no universal grieving process, there’s no normal timeline for when it’s acceptable to start talking about trying again. Allow yourselves time to process this tragedy, however long that takes. Be there for each other, and when the time comes, open that door and walk through it, hand-in-hand. In the meantime, consider storing away any baby decor, clothing, or anything that may otherwise stoke unease.
By the same token, know that this isn’t hurt that will be nullified by the conception or birth of a future baby. This isn’t sadness that will be cured by anything. The sorrow may come in waves. It may be triggered by a trigger you didn’t know existed, leaving you feeling lost and helpless all over again days, months, and years down the line. You might not always feel it as intensely as you do at first.
But a part of you might always feel it.
- Reach out to your family and friends. Some of them may not understand exactly what you’re going through, so let them know how, specifically, they can help. Again, you probably do personally know someone who’s experienced something similar. Start there.
- Don’t have anyone who fits that description? Well, now you do. Here’s my Twitter. Guys, I’m part of your support network now. DM me. I’ll respond, and I’ll listen.
- Seek counseling or therapy. Licensed professionals exist for this reason. They can help you process feelings of loss or guilt. If you don’t want to leave home, try BetterHelp or Talkspace.
- Join an online community to find others who have been through the same situation. Here’s a page: Miscarriage Mommies and Daddies Unite Worldwide and a group: Pregnancy Loss, Stillbirth & Miscarriage Support Group that may be able to help.
- Try the U.K.-based Miscarriage Association’s Zoom miscarriage support groups.
- Write. Not a good writer? Who cares? It’s not the eloquence of your prose people will remember. It’s the honesty and vulnerability in your words. Write an article on Medium, or even a short post on social media. You never know how telling your story might change someone else’s.
If you have a suggestion for another resource, please comment below with the details.