Mike Turner* can still keenly remember the mixed emotions he experienced after his wife miscarried their first baby. He says it was a “huge roller-coaster”, but that he felt he “just had to bury [his] feelings and focus on the future”.
“I didn’t really have anyone I could turn to. None of my friends understood what we were going through because none of them had experienced it,” he says.
“But I needed to be the strong one and be there for my wife.”
As the partner of someone who has had a miscarriage, Mike’s experience is not uncommon. A new study from the University College London and the Miscarriage Association has found that men whose partners have recently miscarried often feel “invisible” and “unable to talk about their own feelings”.
Researchers surveyed 160 men and found that 85 per cent reacted to the miscarriage with sadness, while 58 per cent grappled with feelings of shock.
Other problems included struggling to concentrate (58 per cent) and sleep problems (47 per cent), while 48 per cent said it affected their work.Y
Yet many as 46 per cent didn’t share how they were feeling with their partner. One in five said they didn’t talk about any feelings of loss and pain with their partner at all.
The most common reason for hiding their feelings, the men admitted, was that they were worried about saying the wrong thing and upsetting their partner more.
Ruth Bender Atik, the national director of the Miscarriage Association in the UK, told the Telegraph that the study suggests that men need more support following the loss of a pregnancy.
“Friends and family often ask how the woman who has miscarried is coping, but never think to ask her partner,” she explains. Doctors and health professionals also tend to focus solely on the woman, leaving the grieving partner feeling alone and unable to speak out about their own feelings.
This is no surprise to clinical relationship counselor Clinton Powers. He says that gender conditioning means that many men feel like they need to be “strong” in times of bereavement.
“The challenge for a lot of men is that they think they need to be the strong one,” he explains.
As a result of this, Powers says that men struggle to go through the grieving process. “They are so focused on being a rock for their partner that they don’t allow themselves a chance to grieve.”
Powers suggests that a different way for men to deal with miscarriage would be to think of it as something they need to experience as a couple.
“It’s essential for couples to talk to each other about what they are going through. It is something they need to go through together as a team, rather than just the wife grieving,” he says.
One option for dealing with the bereavement together would be to seek couples counselling.
“I’ve worked with a number of couples who have gone through this, and through the process of counselling they are able to rebuild their bond,” says Powers. “Even though grieving is a painful process, it can actually bring people together.”
Justin Jefferies*, another man whose wife miscarried, has a different perspective. He says that although he felt sad following his wife’s miscarriage, his grief wasn’t on the same scale as hers, which impacted on his ability to really empathise with his wife.
“A friend told me that a woman becomes a mother the moment she finds out she’s pregnant, but that men don’t become fathers till the birth. I think that’s very true,” he admits.
“I was sad, but I was more sad for my wife.”
Still, Justin believes that there should be more support available for men who have experienced miscarriage. He says that his overriding feeling in the aftermath of his wife’s miscarriage was one of “helplessness”, and thinks that getting counselling may have helped him understand how he could have supported his wife more in her grief.
Mike Turner agrees. “I was distraught because the woman I loved was in such emotional turmoil having lost the baby,” he says.
“It felt like I was carrying two burdens: my own and my partner’s.”
Men who would like to talk to someone about their loss, or how they can help their partner cope after miscarriage, can talk to their GP. They can also contact Mensline on 1300 789 978.
You can find a couples counsellor at Relationships Australia.
* Names changed