Men Grieve Miscarriage Too
Hearing spouses' stories during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
Posted October 13, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
- Metaphors of miscarriage illustrate what it's like to experience a spouse's pregnancy loss.
- Miscarriage may create feelings of emptiness. Men may feel the baby left a "gap" or a "void" in their lives.
- Pregnancy loss can feel like a wonderful gift that was broken or ripped away from them and spouses may feel helpless after the loss.
“Honestly, no one has ever asked me about this.” I’ve heard that over and over in my interviews and conversations with men about their partner’s miscarriage (or a loss of pregnancy prior to 24 weeks). People often just assume that men don’t grieve pregnancy loss. Sometimes well-meaning friends and family avoid the topic because they don’t know the man is suffering or they just don’t know what to say.
But during National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, we understand that miscarriage is prevalent (occurring in about 1 in 5 pregnancies) and affects the miscarrying woman and her social network. Miscarriage occurs within and outside of a variety of relationships, but most occur in heterosexual marriages between cisgender individuals. Pregnancy loss reverberates through a relationship and contributes to an increased likelihood for divorce. Men often suffer with depression, anxiety, and grief after a miscarriage, sometimes with mental health effects lingering for longer than their spouse who miscarried. Exacerbating the issue is that men often feel ignored or stifled from grieving the loss. They may feel the pressure to be strong and stoic and push away their emotions.
Men’s coping process is important for their own mental and physical health, but also for their relationship and their spouse’s health. Based on Amanda Holman, Chad McBride, and my 2019 publication in Health Communication, I'm going to help tell the stories of 45 mostly white, cisgender, heterosexual, married men who experienced and made sense of miscarriage through metaphor.
Metaphors Show How Men Process Miscarriage
Metaphors are tools humans use to help understand confusing ideas or events by linking them with a familiar, concrete, or tangible idea. In our study, we found that participants drew upon metaphors to help them make sense of their loss in light of the cultural expectation that pregnancy should be easy-peasy. Their metaphors reflected society’s limited knowledge about the prevalence of miscarriage and the expectation that pregnancy loss is a taboo topic. I’ve highlighted three of these metaphors here:
Many men experienced their miscarriage as feeling overwhelmingly empty. They felt empty arms, empty chests, empty hearts. They felt that the baby left a “gap” or a “void” in their lives. These men felt listless and hopeless. One of our participants explained:
“(The miscarriage was) an immediate, cruel emptiness that popped into our existence. We had this expectation, something we were building towards, all of a sudden now, it was just kind of…gone. It was just very strange – looking forward, there was something missing.”
This metaphor highlights that miscarriage is an ambiguous loss. After a miscarriage, individuals and couples need to create new stories for their future without the presence of their miscarried baby.
Some men described the miscarriage as a lost gift, or something wonderful that was given to them and then suddenly taken away. Perhaps they see a present under the Christmas tree, but upon opening it, find that it’s broken or empty. A participant described this feeling as being gifted a Powerball ticket that is off by just one number:
“You were so close to something, for you it felt like a one in a million shot, but you missed it.”
Yet others felt that the miscarriage was more sudden, unexpected, and devastating, like a cataclysm. These participants described the miscarriage as a tragedy. Often they were onlookers of this tragedy as if his wife had been in a car accident or hit by a truck. These metaphors illustrated participants’ feelings of helplessness as they tried to help their devastated partner through her physical and emotional pain.
The metaphors men use to explain miscarriage can provide loved ones, scholars, and practitioners with a better understanding of what it’s like for a romantic partner to experience pregnancy loss. This understanding is the groundwork for providing support to someone who is struggling. Perhaps these findings can inform our private conversations around miscarriage (“I hear it can feel like you’re an onlooker to your wife’s catastrophe”) as well as public discourse. Or perhaps it can validate your own experience with pregnancy loss. If pregnancy loss has affected you in some way, consider participating in National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in your own way.