How many men do you know who have experienced a miscarriage? Chances are it’s more than you think.
Around one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, estimates the Miscarriage Association, making it a relatively common occurrence. However, from the amount of men who discuss it, you would be forgiven for thinking the loss of a baby during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy doesn’t have much impact on them.
This is not the case. Jane Brewin CEO of pregnancy charity Tommy’s told HuffPost UK: “Fathers suffer as much as women do.
“In addition to their grief and heartbreak, society expects them to support their partners, be strong and hold it all together whilst they cope with their own grief.
“It seems unfair that men have the burden of so much expectation, yet there is so little done to support them.”
Al Ferguson, founder of The Dad Network, an online support hub for fathers, believes there is a stigma surrounding men and emotions, which makes it difficult for many men to open up about their experiences following a miscarriage.
“The problem is that dads just don’t talk about their experiences like mums do,” he says.
Peter Wharton agrees. Wharton’s wife Jennifer miscarried in 2011, when she was 10 weeks pregnant.
“When it happens to you, you can feel totally alone because it is one of those taboo subjects people don’t want to talk about, so you feel like you’re the only person to have ever gone through it,” says Wharton, 33, from Stratford-upon-Avon.
“It was Christmas Day and we’d just announced the news that we were expecting baby to our parents a few hours earlier.” says Wharton.
“Jennifer had stomach pains and bleeding, but at first we didn’t tell anyone else, because we didn’t really know what was going on and we didn’t want to ruin Christmas.
“So that night instead of going home, we went to hospital with our little girl, Millie, who was two years old at the time.
“The doctors weren’t able to explain why it was happening, they just said it could be that Jennifer’s body was rejecting something or something was wrong.
“As a man you have to fight your urge to be upset because the main thing at that moment is to support and help your partner get through the miscarriage.
“I tried to be as calm as possible, to try and reassure Jennifer that it wasn’t her fault, it was simply her body was saying this wasn’t the right time.
“We told our families what had happened, but at first we didn’t tell any of our friends.
“Looking back, I wish I’d never thought we should shy away from discussing the subject.
“At that point you feel totally alone and as though you’re the only person to go through this, but actually looking at the statistics the chances are the person sitting next to you on the train may have also experienced a miscarriage too.
“Once Jennifer and I agreed we were happy to talk about it with our friends and we weren’t going to cover it up, I found a lot more understanding that I’d expected.
“I’m very lucky in that I have a very supportive group of friends, but what I didn’t expect was that once I’d shared what had happened to me and Jen, how many people would tell me they’d also been through the same thing.
“If I’d talked about it straight away I’d have never have felt so alone.”
Another father who would like to break down the taboo surrounding men discussing their experience of miscarriage is Simon Webb.
“Talk soon: That’s the one piece of advice I’d give to any man after a miscarriage,” says Webb, 30, from Buckinghamshire.
“I wish someone had told me to do that.”
Webb and his wife Kate experienced three miscarriages at around six weeks of pregnancy, in the space of two years.
“I didn’t tell my closest friends what we were going through until the second miscarriage,” he says.
“I kept it to myself for probably just over a year and it was only when it was becoming nearly too much for me that I spoke to someone about it.
“I really don’t know why I decided to keep it to myself. I don’t know if it was because I was scared of what was going on, or because I didn’t know if people would understand, or because I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me.
“My wife was speaking to friends and talking to a few women who had been through the same and that really helped her to cope. But as men we just don’t do that, we tend to keep our emotional struggles to ourselves.
“When I eventually did speak to my friends about it, they were really supportive and I wish I’d spoken about it earlier to help me get over the grieving process.
“Since I started talking about what I’ve been through, I’ve been feeling a lot more relaxed and calm. At first opening up seemed easier said than done, but the more you talk the easier it becomes.”
So why do men avoid talking about miscarriage?
According to Ruth Bender-Atik, national director at the Miscarriage Association, one reason many men choose to remain silent on the subject is because they feel guilty turning the focus onto themselves at a time when they want to support their partner, who is experiencing the miscarriage physically, as well as emotionally.
“Certainly, men who were interviewed for the Miscarriage Association’s Partner’s Too project said they felt selfish or guilty seeking support for themselves,” Bender-Atik says.
“Actually very few men contact us directly and of the ones who do many are doing so to find out information for their partner or to know how to cope with her feelings.”
Erica Stewart, bereavement support services manager at Sands, concurs: “Bereaved dads do contact the Sands helpline, many with concerns about their partner, wanting to know what they can do to support her. It’s quite a small percentage though (20%) compared to mothers and other family members.
“Men are taught from an early age that ‘big boys don’t cry’ that they need to ’man up’ when they are hurting. This conditioning from a young age is not helpful when something as major as the death of a baby occurs in their life.”
“At first I felt that I shouldn’t let myself have any emotional reaction to the miscarriage, because it wasn’t my body, it wasn’t me who was going through it, Jen was, and I needed to support her,” admits Wharton.
“I cut myself off from her in that way, not intentionally, I suppose that’s my personality – my wife does tell me quite often I don’t show emotion to anything, – but it was quite a lonely place.”
When Ferguson’s wife miscarried he too found himself struggling with the burden of wanting to protect her from grief.
“As a man, I wanted to fix the problem but the reality is that you can’t,” he says.
But the fear your own grief will make things harder for your partner is misplaced, explains Jeremy Todd, chief executive of family support organisation, Family Lives.
In fact talking about your grief can be beneficial for you both.
“We would encourage men to talk about how they feel about their loss to their partner,” says Todd.
“Sometimes the mother can feel that her partner does not know what to say, when ironically the man often does not know if his feelings are as legitimate during such a time of very personal loss for the mother.
“The more a man can share his emotions the more supported the mother will be and they can grieve together, allowing them to both recognise the loss and when the time is right to have a conversation together about when and if they would want to try for another baby.”
Ferguson found this to be true. “Opening up to my wife was essential,” he says.
“It didn’t just help me process my emotions, but also brought us closer together. I’d always recommend that dads share their experience and emotions with someone, no matter how hard it is.”
After a miscarriage it’s important to remember that everyone copes in different ways, advises Brewin.
“Many men find that writing about their baby can be helpful, such as a blog or even a book,” adds Stewart.
This has been true for Webb, not only did he find that opening up helped him to cope with his grief, but he also found that knowing he was doing something to help other men gave him a more positive outlook.
“Since I decided to talk openly about miscarriage I feel like I’m helping people other than myself as well,” says Webb.
“I’ve had people approach me to talk about it, because they feel like they can now with me. For instance the other day I spoke to one guy who I know, but who I’d never really spoken about anything personal with before.
“He’d read my story and straight away he asked me about miscarriage. He’d been throuigh two but up until then he hasn’t spoken to anyone about it, so he was exactly the same as I had been.
“I was taken aback and felt really proud that actually people feel they can come and talk to me now.”
In the spirit of enabling more men to share their stories and thus normalise men talking about miscarriage, Ferguson has created a section on The Dad Network’s website where men can upload their #dadmiscarriagestories.
“Men and emotions have a lot of stigma surrounding them, so I understand why people may be reluctant to ask dads how they’re feeling after miscarriage, but I won’t accept it,” he says.
“I believe we should break this taboo and talk freely and openly about our experience of miscarriage.
“When my wife and I experienced our first miscarriage, I turned to the internet and found very little advice or support for dads, so I decided to share my own experience.
“Not only was it a help for my personal grieving, but as it got shared, I found that others found it a help as well. For some dads, it sparked off a desire to share their own stories and email them over to us.
“I believe there’s great power in testimony, so having somewhere, a platform, to share these stories was a natural next step.
“The internet is littered with miscarriage support for mums, and in comparison, barely anything for dads. Our aim is to do what we can to fill that void.”
But although a lot of men find sharing their story beneficial, it is not a one size fits all solution.
“It is important for dads to do what feels right for them, not what other people think is right for them,” says Stewart.
“Talking is not always what they want to do. Many prefer to do something practical.
“Some dads find it helpful to do something and may express their grief by doing something physical such as running the marathon in memory of their baby.”
Men may reach out to miscarriage support organisations less frequently than women, but when they do they often want to do something proactive to support charities.
“We hear from fathers who have suffered a miscarriage very frequently at Tommy’s – through our midwife phoneline and because they tend to want to do something proactive afterwards to make a difference,” says Brewin.
“We know that offering some dads the opportunity to take part in challenge events is a positive way to remember the baby they have lost and channel their energy into preventing it happening to someone else.
“I am often completely humbled by the dads I meet, their love and concern for their partners and the very practical ways they deal with their loss.”
Wharton found that doing something practical opened up conversations he may otherwise have found difficult to broach.
“Through everything that’s happened I felt so helpless. The only thing I could do about it was to raise awareness. So I decided to run the London marathon to raise funds for the Miscarriage Association,” says Wharton.
“I play rugby and so I told the men in my local club what I was doing and why. You’ve never seen so many rugby players in tears. It’s something I’ll never forget.
“The level of support was phenomenal. I had a chat with one guy who had experienced multiple miscarriages and the night before the marathon and I found he’d sponsored me £350. He said: ‘I can’t do anything else, but you’ve supported us through so much now.'”
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