Last year, I published a piece on The Miscarriage Taboo | An Interview with the Invisible Mother. I discussed how one in four pregnancies result in miscarriage. And regardless of how miscarriages just happen and a million reasons can account for them (biology, hormones, an immune system response, etc.), mothers very often feel as though it’s their fault. Societal norms often lead them to think a heartbreak over their unborn child isn’t validated — and consequently, they deal with their soul crushing loss in silence. A father’s miscarriage and the heartbreak endured are discussed even less. It’s the nature of our culture, I suppose.
The father of the child (or the non child- bearing spouse/partner) deals with his own heart wrench and loss – but is accustomed to taking on the role of the support system and comforter. They are forced to deal with the practicalities of the situation. There are few guides, self help books and grief groups on how fathers can cope with this loss. There is a lack of recognition of the child he lost, the future they lost together and the lineage that didn’t go on.
My purpose of this post is to show there is no right or wrong way for a father to react, no right or wrong way to support or process feelings. Grieving can come in different ways — and one way is no less true or meaningful than the next. Men react in different ways — some stoic and scientific — and others emotional. What is important, however, is that the father’s suffering is talked about and recognized.
We are in October which marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
And – today, on October 15, we will all light a candle for those who are suffering a miscarriage, a stillbirth, an ectopic pregnancy or the loss of an infant. We will light a candle in honor of all the fathers, mothers and the bereaved.
I will introduce you to two fathers who react in two very different ways. I thank them for opening up so we can ensure fathers don’t feel alone in this anymore and to eradicate the mystery and taboo behind miscarriages completely.
First, I introduce you to Charles – a military father who beautifully opens up and shares his words. He has been a changed man since the loss of his child. These are his words:
“Fathers, especially military fathers, are supposed to be at least stoic about these things. But I can say without equivocation that a miscarriage can be as difficult for the father as for the mother, perhaps in different ways, certainly not the level of loss a mother feels after carrying the child, but difficult. I for years blamed myself. I’d not thought I was ready for a child, we’d only been married a short time, and when I realized I was ready and excited to meet my child it was too late for him. So I suggested to myself that that somehow influenced the pregnancy.
I am not religious in any sense. And I did not believe he was needed elsewhere or it was part of some grander plan. I can’t say if that makes it more difficult or not, though I can say my depression would have been present regardless, my self-doubt would have been as strong. But I do know it took me years to understand the level of anger and guilt I felt, and to deal with it.
I still celebrate, quietly, his birthday every year.
My now adult children and I still occasionally speak about the older brother they never knew. And I am always heartbroken when anyone I know has a miscarriage. I don’t share my story unless they ask if I have one (I don’t feel “I went through one, too” helps in any way, especially from me to the mother), and if asked I will talk with the husband or boyfriend about my experience, and let them know it’s not only OK, but healthy to grieve the loss.
I hope more fathers who are in my situation will acknowledge the pain and will be less the stoic “these things happen all the time” partner and more understanding and empathetic. And I know if I’d done so early enough, I would have been far more able to help my wife deal with the loss, and myself in the process.”
The vulnerability and bravery expressed in his words awakened me — and brought to light this issue of silence that fathers endure. Miscarriage can be equally difficult for the father — but generally they need to march through life with stoicism, self doubt and silenced depression. Social mores and a lack of outlets don’t make it comfortable for the fathers to deal.
I also asked my friend Steve if he would speak on this issue. He and his wife suffered two miscarriages about seven years ago — and I wanted to bring to light the emotions he endured and how he walked through the process. Steve took on a more scientific and practical outlook than other fathers may — and just slid into the role of caretaker. Some may identify with his approach and outlook, others may not. Regardless, neither approach is wrong. What’s important is that it’s being talked about.
Steve, thank you for doing this. Please tell us where your head was after the 2 miscarriages?
Even though I knew it was irrational to seek blame in myself, it was unavoidable. I thought, “Is there something wrong with my DNA? Am I unhealthy? Is it my diet? Will this happen again?” The first miscarriage was harder than the second, mainly because we had seen the beginnings of life on the ultrasound. We had heard a heartbeat. The second miscarriage occurred very early and never seemed like a viable pregnancy to begin with, so, for me, there was not the same sense of loss as with the first.
At the time, I was sad but grounded in the reality that miscarriage is very common. Today, my two daughters erase any sadness I may have carried. Miscarriage is a hurdle in the human process of procreation.
The fathers take on the role of comforting the mother of their lost child. Does this help you heal in some way to be the caretaker? Or does it push aside your own grieving?
I don’t think that I grieved much and I came to accept the loss fairly quickly. I would grieve if we were not able to have children at all.
After going through these heartbreaking experiences, what can you tell fathers in your situation?
I would tell fathers to, first, be glad that you and your partner can “get” pregnant in the first place; so take a break and try again. If you want children, you will either conceive naturally or you’ll find another way to complete your family.
What do you hope men and their partners gain from reading this?
I hope readers will understand that they are not alone when a miscarriage occurs, that many people go through this and that you will be okay.
What advice can you give to a father who has gone through a miscarriage? How should men break the silence on miscarriage?
Miscarriage is not a failure, so do your best to get past it and focus on the bigger picture: family. I think people don’t talk about miscarriage because most of them end up having children. And the joy of parenthood overrides the despair of loss.
How has religion/spirituality played a part, if any?
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance month — and October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
If you or someone you know has suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss due to SIDS, please join in the national tribute by lighting a candle on October 15th at 7:00 pm and leave the candle burning for an hour. Thank you.