I suppose that there are few greater challenges for an expectant father than to deal with his partner's miscarriage. While your partner will experience huge physical and emotional challenges, fathers also feel the loss associated with a miscarried pregnancy.
What is a Miscarriage?
The simple definition of miscarriage is the spontaneous termination of a pregnancy. Miscarriage affects about 25% of all expectant women, and generally happens between four and six weeks. Miscarriage almost always happens before the 13th week of pregnancy. The chances of a miscarriage are higher in first pregnancies than in later ones.
Miscarriages happen for a wide variety of reasons. About half are due to abnormalities in the fetus or the placenta, including chromosomal problems. Sometimes the egg attaches in the wrong place resulting in an early miscarriage. Recent studies have linked environmental pollution or excessive caffeine consumption to higher risks of miscarriage. So the short answer is that most times, miscarriage occurs totally outside of the control of the expectant mother.
But both physically and emotionally, miscarriage means much more than the textbook definition. There are strong physical and emotional impacts to a couple who experience miscarriage.
What are the impacts of a miscarriage?
- Physical impacts. For the mother, there are a number of painful and unpleasant impacts of a miscarriage. There will usually be significant vaginal bleeding and the passing of large clots. This in and of itself is a little unnerving for the mom and her partner. After all, how much blood is too much or how many clots are too many? How can you tell what is to be expected and what is not? In addition, mom's body often reacts like it does when she gives birth, so, for example, her breasts may enlarge and be tender. Her hormones will likely cause unexpected emotional and physical reactions, which only complicate the feelings of loss.
- Emotional impacts. For both mom and dad, there are significant emotional issues. Clearly, the feeling of loss is real for both expectant parents. Having your dreams of having a baby shattered can be a huge blow. You may both feel fearful about becoming pregnant again, not wanting to risk the physical and emotional drain of a miscarriage. The feeling of emptiness a mom experiences is both physical and emotional. There may be feelings of guilt or of failure. And there may be a sense of overall depression or discouragement.
How is father affected?
I wrote earlier about shattered dreams. I know many fathers who experienced miscarriage who came to realize that there would not be a little girl to watch grow up or a little boy to play ball or go fishing with. Often a dad's dreams of children are just as real and meaningful as the mom's.
The typical male attitude in the face of crisis is the fix things (that is one of my wife's biggest complaints about me). But a miscarriage cannot be fixed. There is nothing but time that will heal the scar of the loss of an embryonic life. In that light, a father will feel powerless and hopeless to address his own feelings and the sadness experienced by his partner.
How should I deal with my grief, and that of my partner?
- Know what to say and what not to say. Many moms who have miscarried have suggested that their husbands not try to console them with a message that "you can still have other kids." For mom, this baby was unique and special. Having more kids in any number will not eliminate the feeling of loss. Talking about other pregnancies may be our male way of trying to fix it. What mom needs is a listening ear, sympathy and a reassurance of your love for her. This kind of attitude will help her deal more effectively with her loss.
- Talk or write it down. Men typically don't call other men on the phone to talk about their feelings, even in the case of a miscarriage. It is just not our way of grieving. But some dads have experienced some peace and healing by writing down some of those feelings and "giving them life" on paper. That can be very therapeutic for a grieving father.
- Support your partner. Your partner will often feel the loss of a child more keenly that you will. So take the time to sit with her, hold her, listen to her express herself. Just being there and supporting her through her grief will really help her process the experience.
- Get busy. Men will often turn to a project to help assuage the feelings of grief and loss. It is not a bad way to deal with everything that is going on around you. Being busy (but not too busy to be supportive to your partner) will help with the passing of time and will focus you in a positive direction.
Miscarriage is a huge blow to an expectant couple. By staying focused on supporting each other and by realizing that time will help the healing process, you can find peace even as you grieve for the loss of that one special life.