Miscarriage: It's Not Just a Women's Issue
How to support partners after a miscarriage.
Posted Dec 31, 2019
In recent years, miscarriages have finally begun to be discussed more openly—from public figures such as Michelle Obama sharing her experience with pregnancy loss to numerous platforms dedicated specifically to discussing miscarriage.
While these strides are incredibly beneficial to promoting dialogue around this painfully common issue, there seems to be one very essential character that is often left out of the narrative: the partners. The woman who miscarried is often portrayed as the main character in the narrative, while her partner, if she has one, barely makes it as a supporting actor. Yet they too have experienced loss—not only the loss of their child, but also the loss of the dreams, hopes, and expectations they had for themselves and their families.
The Partner’s Experience of Miscarriage
After my miscarriages, I was fortunate enough to be frequently asked how I was feeling, how I was grieving, and what my next steps were. I deeply appreciated these questions and these heart-to-heart conversations immensely helped my healing. While my partner was often asked thoughtful questions by others, these questions often centered on how I, his partner, was doing rather than his experience with our loss.
It is correctly assumed that partners may have different reactions to miscarriage that may vary based on cultural background, gender norms, and past life experiences. However, research has repeatedly shown that while partners may show less explicit forms of grief (e.g., crying, appearing distressed, and/or asking for help), they have been found to report similar levels of distress and grief following a miscarriage as their partners who carried the pregnancy (Hutti, 2015). Additionally, likely because partners are not given as much emotional or physical support, they have been found to experience higher levels of prolonged grief—chronic grief that persists well after the initial loss.
How to Support Partners After Miscarriage
Consequently, it is essential that we begin recognizing and making space for the partners who have experienced miscarriage by asking questions about their experiences and starting conversations. Here are some tips to help you support the partners. (As a note, heteronormative language is being used because much of our research on supporting partners after pregnancy loss centers around heterosexual couples. There is a significant gap in the literature when it comes to supporting the needs and experiences of LGBTQ couples that is slowly being filled.)
- Understand that grief can take on many forms. Grief may look like crying and speaking frequently about the loss. Grief can also look like being withdrawn or throwing oneself into other parts of their lives in which they feel like they have more control, such as work or projects around the house. For example, many women feel shocked that their partners are able to go back to work immediately following the loss, but it is very possible that this behavior is a manifestation of grief and a desire to feel some sense of agency in the face of a powerless situation.
- Explicitly invite conversations about their grief. As mentioned previously, partners often get asked how their partner who carried the pregnancy is doing, feeling, and coping. Ask specific open-ended questions about how the partner is experiencing the loss—not just the logistics such as asking about the next steps or doctor’s appointments. Examples of questions to ask include: “What does this mean to you?” or “What can I do to support you during this time?”
- Remember them on holidays or anniversaries. There have been beautiful posts in the last few years acknowledging the pain women who have experienced pregnancy loss may have on Mother’s Day. Similarly, it is important to remember the holidays that may have meaning to partners, such as Father’s Day and anniversaries—including both the anniversary of the miscarriage or the expected due date. Just a gentle check-in, such as, “I’m thinking about you today” can do wonders to help a partner feel validated.
- Be aware of delayed grief. Oftentimes, men are so consumed by worry for their partner who has carried the pregnancy that they make little space for their own reactions or may actively avoid their own feelings by focusing on the needs of their partner, particularly in the first few weeks following the loss. This avoidance or suppression of their experience of grief can lead to delayed grief, in which the partner starts to experience the symptoms of grief months after the loss. Research suggests that following pregnancy loss, men are much more susceptible to delayed grief than their female partners, likely due to the increased support and focus given to women (Fredenburg, 2017).
- Let them know it’s okay to need help. As mentioned previously, men are often so focused on the experiences of their partner that they may invalidate their own experience. For example, a man may believe, “She was the one who had the miscarriage. What right do I have to be sad?” Men may actively hide their distress in an attempt to shield their partner from any more distress. However, men’s lack of sharing after a miscarriage can lead to increased relationship difficulties following the loss. Thus, it is important to encourage partners that it is completely normal for them to need support following this loss and direct them to resources such as online or in-person support groups and individual or couples therapy.
It’s easy for anyone to feel alone after a miscarriage. There has been a veil of silence and secrecy around miscarriage for centuries—and while that veil is slowly being lifted, we need to continue making space for not only the women who have experienced miscarriage but for their partners who are also living with this loss. Miscarriage is not a women’s issue; it is a universally human issue that affects so many. By reading this article, you are helping in breaking the silence. Whether you have personally experienced miscarriage or know someone who has, let’s keep breaking silences and contributing to the dialogue around miscarriage.
Fredenburg, M. (2017). Reproductive Loss: Giving Permission to Grieve. Issues L. & Med., 32, 353.
Hutti, M. H., Armstrong, D. S., Myers, J. A., & Hall, L. A. (2015). Grief intensity, psychological well-being, and the intimate partner relationship in the subsequent pregnancy after a perinatal loss. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 44(1), 42–50. doi:10.1111/1552-6909.12539