Saturday 16 December 2017

'When men open up about miscarriage, it can be quite huge' - Irish counsellor

As Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Mara Lane deal with the loss of their baby, our reporter explores how men are often left to grieve on their own

Opening their hearts: Jonathan Rhys Meyers and his wife Mara Lane who lost a baby through miscarriage
Opening their hearts: Jonathan Rhys Meyers and his wife Mara Lane who lost a baby through miscarriage
Making his feelings known: In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg went public about his wife suffering three miscarriages
Ed Power

Ed Power

There was fresh heartbreak for actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers last weekend as his wife revealed she had lost their baby to miscarriage.

"With much sadness, we open our hearts to share that J and I lost our second child, who was baking in the oven," actress Mara Lane wrote in an unflinching Instagram post. Her husband, she added, had "not taken the news particularly well".

Lane made the sad announcement after Rhys Meyers, with whom she has a nine month old son named Wolf, was photographed looking unsteady at Dublin airport, where he was due to board a flight to Vancouver.

The Cork film and television star, has a history of depression and alcoholism, which his wife addressed in her frank posting.

Making his feelings known: In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg went public about his wife suffering three miscarriages
Making his feelings known: In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg went public about his wife suffering three miscarriages

"Depression is a real concern from past abuse as well as alcoholism which he was born with…It does seem though that every time we seem to be making so much progress… sometimes it's like two steps forward, one step back."

Meyers (40) isn't the first high profile man to experience the pain of losing a child early in pregnancy. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg went public two years ago about the three miscarriages he and his wife Priscilla Chan had gone through before the arrival of their first daughter Max.

"We've been trying to have a child for a couple of years and have had three miscarriages along the way," he revealed in a post that received more than a million likes within 12 hours.

"You feel so hopeful when you learn you're going to have a child. You start imagining who they'll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they're gone. It's a lonely experience.

"Most people don't discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you - as if you're defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own."

Zuckerberg and Rhys Meyers are by no means outliers. With up to 20pc of pregnancies ending in miscarriage, it is not unusual for men to have their dreams of fatherhood horribly dashed.

But where society is getting better at helping women get over a miscarriage, men are still left to suffer in silence.

Their role, so far as the rest of the world is concerned, is to support their partner through a difficult time. Their own pain can end up going unacknowledged and untreated.

"Men are often left outside," says Maggie O'Neill, a counsellor and psychotherapist and former chair of the Miscarriage Association of Ireland.

"For a lot of men the first instinct is to look after the partner and help them cope with the physical aspect of miscarriage which can be very frightening.

"Irish men are getting better about talking about their feelings. But miscarriage is in a category of its own."

There is hard data to show that men dealing with the loss of a pregnancy feel 'invisible' and shy away from speaking about their feelings.

According to a study conducted by University College London, 46pc of men didn't share their sadness for fear of causing further upset to their wife or girlfriend (from a survey sample of 160), with 47pc reporting sleeping difficulties in the aftermath. Everybody deals with grief in their own way. However, among older couples the trauma of miscarriage may be exacerbated by the additional fear that they may never become parents.

"They may feel it 'hones' in on their manhood," says O'Neill. "A lot of issues around infertility centre on the woman. The man can be left feeling outside, asking 'where do I fit in in all of this?"

An unsuccessful pregnancy isn't just about the immediate loss. It also involves grieving for the child you never had - the person they will never grow up to be. Even before the 12-week "safe" period, after which a couple will typically share their happy news, they may already have discussed baby names, talked about the nursery, even picked out a colour scheme for the room. A miscarriage obliterates all of that in the most wrenching possible terms. Moreover, miscarriages remain very much taboo and friends and acquaintances, out of ignorance more than indifference, may hesitate to sympathise.

"Usually they will ask the man about the partner, 'How's she doing?' and so on. In the case of early miscarriage, people are terrified of asking out of fear that you might go into detail," she says.

The problem is that unresolved pain can manifest in difficult ways later on.

"Often I'll be counselling men and as the relationship builds they will open up about miscarriage. They'll say things like, 'this is something I've never spoken about'. When it comes out it can be quite huge."

Even when people think they are helping they can make the situation worse. Telling a friend or family member to push on and try again for a child again may exacerbate the heartache.

"A woman who suffered an early miscarriage told me that she was really upset when her doctor told her she should try again. She looked him in the eye and said, 'if my husband died, would you tell me to go out and get another one?"

One issue is that, in Irish society, miscarriages are regarded as a "woman's problem".

"Even within families people often don't stop to wonder how it is impacts on the man and disrupts their future," she says.

Irish people deal with death in a very specific way and the closure offered by ritual is important. In the case of late-term miscarriage and still-birth it is commonplace for the baby to be buried. Miscarriages before 12 weeks are rarely dealt with in this way - which can make it difficult for mothers and fathers alike to move on.

"The man is often terrified of another pregnancy for fear that the partner will have to go through it all again. And they don't want to talk about it for fearing of being insensitive," says O'Neill.

"If their partner is having a good day they won't want to bring up their feelings for fear of bringing them down. And if they aren't having a good day they don't want to make it any worse."

Some couples find undertaking a ritual can help them say goodbye to the baby. This may involve planting a tree or visiting somewhere of emotional significance, away from the hubbub of everyday life.

"I do say to people to be careful about planting a tree," says O'Neill. "It may grow into a beautiful tree. But then what happens if you want to sell the house? Generally, I would encourage people to sit down and plan a ritual. Maybe visit somewhere that can help bring closure. Men in particular are very good at organising something like this. It may not physically have anything to do with the baby. Yet it can help with closure."

Irish Independent

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