Photo Credit: Courtesy of Aaron Gouveia
I felt scared, depressed, angry, heartbroken and utterly confused. Not that anyone ever asked.
Such is the case for many men like myself, whose partners suffer multiple miscarriages while hoping to start, or expand, their families. Perhaps it’s because miscarriage is still a taboo topic people are uncomfortable addressing publicly, and even when it is discussed the conversation almost never includes men and their feelings. That’s understandable to a point, since this loss is, and always will be, harder for women who have to physically and mentally endure the anguish of losing a very wanted baby.
But I’m here to personally tell you men hurt, too. And it’s time we start talking about it.
My wife miscarried four times in as many years. My initial response to seeing my wife in so much pain was to default to “Protector Mode,” spending all of my time and energy tending to her needs and making sure she was okay. Because that’s what real men do, right? Harness as much Irish stoicism as possible, turn off all emotion, be the rock your significant other needs and carry on.
Truth be told, I was faring pretty well for the first couple of losses because they happened early on at the 6 to 7 week mark. I told myself these were “chemical losses” and just a collection of cells. Sure I had gotten my hopes up and started wondering if it was a boy or a girl, but I just tried not to think about it too much.
But then came Alexandra.
After struggling to get and stay pregnant, we finally got one that stuck. And when we hit the all-important 12-week mark and the doctors initially told us everything was okay, we were elated. I finally felt like I could breathe again and my wife and I announced the good news to all of our family and friends. We even picked out a name: Alexandra. She’d be Alex for short. Since we already had a boy, this was going be the girl that completed our family. We were unbelievably excited.
Then came the call from the radiologist telling us they thought something was wrong with her legs. The specialists in Boston confirmed it was Sirenomelia, a 1-in-100,000 fetal abnormality in which the legs are fused together and essential body parts such as kidneys and a bladder are missing. Long story short, it’s a condition that is incompatible with life, giving us a zero percent chance of a live birth.
I completely lost it.
Not on the outside, mind you. To the untrained eye I was a supportive husband taking care of my wife and doing what a husband is supposed to do. But inside I was a complete mess. I’ll never forget staying strong for my wife and comforting her, telling her everything would be okay and we’d get through it. I dropped her off at her mother’s house because I had to pick up our son. As soon as I got her safely inside I drove out of sight, pulled the car over and just lost it. I bawled hysterically, sobbing so hard I threw up.
I was sad, angry and confused. Do I have any right to be this upset? Should I mourn this as the loss of a person? Am I even ALLOWED to mourn? I had no idea what to do but I wasn’t about to ask or complain, especially to a wife who just literally had the life sucked out of her. And even though my wife was lucky enough to have a great support network checking in on her, my instinct to repress everything was confirmed by the fact that no one asked how I was doing.
I felt alone and scared. I broached the subject with my wife but she was going through her own hell and I felt terribly guilty for burdening her with my feelings. The whole thing was further complicated by the fact that my wife and I were coping very differently.
She needed to tell herself this loss was no different than the previous ones, in that this was simply a collection of cells that ceased to exist. She stopped referring to the baby as “our daughter” and refused to address her as Alexandra. I, on the other hand, wanted to mourn the loss of my daughter. I had seen the heartbeat and the ultrasounds that showed her beautiful little profile, fingers, toes and the complexities of the spine. But openly grieving in front of my wife was not an option, as it seemed to make things that much worse for her.
So I went back to repressing everything, which only deepened my feelings of isolation and depression. Not only was I devastated, I had to be devastated in secret and constantly lie to my own wife -- the person to whom I’m supposed to be closest -- about how I felt.
I went into a spiral for a full year. I was a zombie -- still physically present and doing things like parenting and going to work, but I was checked out. Everything was covered by a dark cloud. I was distant from a wife who needed me and unable to be the kind of father I wanted to be for my son. I thought being the strong, silent type was making me more of a man, yet I lost the ability to recognize the fact that I wasn’t much of a man at all.
Talking to a counselor was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, followed by clawing my way back to my humanity by confronting all the difficult issues I had hidden away regarding the miscarriages we suffered. But in time, I found my way back to myself and learned how to cope in a more healthy way.
No two guys are the same, but I’ve talked to many men about this topic and a large percentage have stories similar to mine. I don’t want to take away or minimize the importance of getting women the help they need to make it through this hell, but at the same time I hope we expand the miscarriage conversation to include men as well. Because contrary to popular belief, it does affect guys -- more than you know.
If you’re a man going through this, please know that being a “real man” doesn’t translate into suffering in silence. It means getting the help you need to be a better man for your family. There’s never any shame in that.