Men also feel the loss of a miscarriage and their exclusion adds to women's pain
Published 02/10/2015 | 02:30
There is perhaps a misconception that miscarriage happens to a woman. Physically, this is true. The woman is the person who becomes pregnant and loses her baby. She is the one who endures the labour-like cramps, bleeding and pain of a miscarriage. She is the person who goes through the fear, trauma and physical aftermath of a D&C, where a natural miscarriage does not occur. So while it is true that she is the one going through it physically, it is important to recognise the huge emotional upheaval a miscarriage brings on both parents.
But because so much physically happens to a woman, there is a tendency to leave the husband/partner out of the loop. Indeed, when we lost our first baby, my husband was 'told' to wait in reception, while I bled and cried in pain for hours in the emergency room, alone. Despite my pleas for my husband to be allowed in to hold my hand through what was a very traumatic experience, I was told husbands and partners were not allowed in the ER. Losing our baby, while in pain and crying my eyes out, was not enough to get my husband by my side, apparently.
And even worse for my husband, who was forced to wait outside, was the lack of updates on my condition and the fate of our baby. As he sat there, for four hours, emasculated and desperate, he did not get any update whatsoever. Hoping this was perhaps a positive sign, he clung to the notion that maybe, just maybe it would all be okay. When I was wheeled out after I had miscarried, he looked at me with hope in his eyes and I was the one who had to dash it with the news that our baby was gone. How cruel; that he was left sitting there and not deemed important enough to be told what was happening. And how cruel, that I was left with the job of telling him our baby had died, somehow making me feel like I had let him down in some way.
In the weeks that followed, there was little conversation at home. We were numb from the experience. We had no language to discuss it. I felt like I was somehow responsible and he felt like he had failed to look after me and our baby and had let us both down.
In reality, those kinds of feelings are not justified because, of course, we did nothing wrong. However, the trauma of how we were dealt with in the hospital and the additional stress heaped on by separating us, when we clearly needed to be together to support each other, created even further pain and confusion in an already excruciatingly painful situation.
As the weeks went by, we drifted further and further away from each other. Not knowing how to get past the sadness. Not knowing how to deal with this grief. And make no mistake, we were both grief-stricken. But our baby was not a person the outside world knew. Only we had talked about our baby. Only we knew of the future we had planned when we discovered I was pregnant. How were we supposed to grieve for a person we had only talked about but never met?
The tension between us got so much that my husband finally cracked and begged me to see a counsellor. He said I needed to talk about what had happened and address my anger and grief.
I resisted but he pleaded with me and so I reluctantly agreed. I called the hospital and asked if I could speak to someone and they said there was a counsellor I could talk to. (Why this information was not given to us when we left the hospital, I do not know, but it would have been helpful to know).
I thought it might be good if my husband came with me but that was not an option. They only offered counselling to women who had lost a baby and not their husbands or partners. At the time, I did not really question this, but looking back, I should have. Why shouldn't the counselling be offered to both parents? It was their baby and they are both in need of support, so why just look after the mother?
In truth, the counselling helped me enormously. I finally felt it was okay to be sad and once I started, I cried for days. I had been holding that all in, afraid to cry, afraid to let it out but it was much better to grieve and admit that I was devastated. The counsellor also suggested I keep a diary to help me let my feelings out at the end of each day. I started to do that and after a few weeks, my husband asked if he could read it. I hesitated but eventually agreed.
He was stunned and shocked at what he read. It was raw, honest and brutal about how I felt during and after we lost our baby. It was not always complimentary about him, but it got us talking properly for the first time about how we both felt. Being open and honest made us stronger as a couple and to this day, I believe that experience and loss changed our relationship. It forced us to realise that we need to stick together and be there for each other, especially in tough times.
My husband said I should turn my diary into a book and try to get it published. I agreed but only if he would co-write it with me, to represent the dads who may feel ignored and unsure of how to cope with a miscarriage.
And so we wrote it together. It was published by the Liffey Press and is called 'We Lost Our Baby'. It's a legacy to our baby, who is gone but never forgotten and we hope it helps other couples deal with their loss and realise that communication is the key to getting through it.
- Support for couples dealing with a miscarriage: Miscarriage Association Of Ireland: www.miscarriage.ie
Mumstown Parenting Website: www.mumstown.ie
Maternity Hospitals: ask your hospital about counselling services.