Of the five stages of grief, I tend to linger in anger the longest. After I miscarried my first child, I simmered with anger for weeks, furious at the world for a variety of reasons. Infused with my old energy now that my pregnancy was no longer exhausting me, I attacked my home in an effort to clean my way to healing.
In all my furious scrubbing of baseboards, though, I never once stopped to ask my husband how he was handling the loss. After all my introspection and self-discovery, the one thing that escaped my notice in the weeks after the miscarriage was that it wasn’t my loss — it was our loss. I am not alone in making this mistake.
Time after time, when a woman bares herself and talks about her miscarriage, the story is the same: I feel so alone, it’s like my husband doesn’t even care. He doesn’t say anything to me. It’s like this never even happened for him.
Even taking it outside the intimacy of a marriage, or even an extended family, let’s consider how society treats men whose partners have lost a baby. Men are rarely asked how they’re coping, and the focus is often placed on the recovery of the woman.How’s she healing? How’s she feeling? She’s fine? OK, let’s stop talking about it, then. How about those Wildcats?
As an artist and a filmmaker and an activist, my goal is to take the taboo away from miscarriage and change how people talk about loss. Many other women share my goal, and share their stories with the world in an attempt to take the shame away. We have absolutely no hope of doing that if we leave out half of the population.
We simply need to start acknowledging that men suffer a loss when a pregnancy is lost. Women don’t have a corner on the grief market.
Our culture is rife with stereotypes about how a man should feel or should behave in the face of hardship. It’s enough to discourage most men from entering the conversation at all. We raise men to be strong, the emotional pillars of our families. They should “be there” for their wives when they cry. It’s hard for many men to show some vulnerability and admit that they mourn their lost child as much as their wife does.
Add in our cultural attitudes that tend to dismiss early loss, and it’s even more improbable that a man is going to raise his hand and say, “Hey, I’m hurting here.”
Does a man not get just as invested as a woman when those two lines turn pink? Does his mind not race with possibilities and anxieties and dreams? Just because a woman doesn’t have a living child, that doesn’t mean she’s not a mother. And just because a man doesn’t feel the nausea and the fatigue and the pain of pregnancy, doesn’t mean he’s not a father.
If we want to live in a world where miscarriage isn’t a dirty word, and families feel free to mourn the babies they lose, then we need to start including men in the conversation. We can’t try to normalize something while expecting half of those affected to quietly stand by.
As with most things, it starts at home. It should have started at my home. I should have asked my husband how he felt when we lost our first. I should have told him that he was free to feel however he wanted to feel about it, and he could share those feelings with me when he needed to.
When a woman tells me that she’s lost a pregnancy, I shouldn’t only ask how she’s doing. The question should be how her family is doing, and asking if any of them need support.
We need to start giving men permission to grieve when they suffer a loss. And make no mistake about it, they’ve suffered a loss just as surely as the woman has.
Many people would agree that our culture needs to stop treating miscarriage like a dirty secret. We have a long way to go on this journey of taking the silence away, but one of our first steps is clear. We need to take the burden of silence away from men.