As a man, you are allowed to feel things too.
Miscarriage is a common phenomenon, affecting up to one in four pregnancies. As women carry the child and go through the physical trauma, it is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of research and extant writing has focused on them.
Whilst less focus has traditionally been paid to the experience of male partners, from personal experience, we too suffer in our own way, albeit different from women.
With the permission of my wife, I wanted to share our experience of multiple miscarriages in this article, in the hope that it will be useful for other men and women who have been through something similar.
I’m going to walk you through my own emotional experience and the ups and downs on our pregnancy journey. Buckle up and enjoy.
Ready, steady, go
I had always wanted children, but in my 20s, I was far too hedonistically oriented to seriously consider having them. All I wanted to do was study and party.
Until I met my wife, I had even de-prioritised relationships for some time, as this seemed like too much effort.
I think I always knew I would hang on for a while to start my career and ground myself a little more, both emotionally and financially. It wasn’t that I was irresponsible, just not ready.
I had an underlying feeling that some things needed to shift in my life before I embarked upon raising my very own human being.
My wife and I, therefore, went through quite a long process of becoming “ready” to have children. We made some major life changes (including moving to Australia), became more sensible financially, and did some valuable personal development.
We felt like we had optimised our emotional and physical health and developed some gifts to pass onto these hypothetical children.
Finally, in 2019, we reached that psychological threshold in which you throw the balls in the air, stand back, and say, “I’m satisfied with my life now. I feel responsible. I’m ready to have a child.”
Just as other highly organised people might plan a long-term project, we fell into our first trap of expecting a swift entry into “Baby World.”
And where did our influences for this fallacy come from?
Sadly, Facebook fantasyland serves us a highly curated version of what the whole process looks like.
We are immersed in a sea of oversimplistic visual narratives that give the impression that we decide to have a baby, click our fingers, and then have a beautiful, healthy, little child emerge, with perfect family to boot.
Social media edits out reality.
The thing was, we actually got pregnant with no issues—that bit happened quickly. But then the miscarriage happened quickly too. As did the second, and third, and fourth, and fifth.
We would get pregnant immediately after trying, and then within a month or so, lose the pregnancy. It was devastating.
This phenomenon is known as a “chemical pregnancy;” the egg and sperm fuse together, but due to chromosomal abnormalities, the embryo does not continue to grow, leading to a miscarriage. Ours always happened around the four week mark.
Any sense of happiness that we were both fertile became overshadowed by the inexplicable failure in the rest of the process that followed each time we got pregnant.
Emotions—and lots of them
Reflecting back on this whole experience has really made me realise what an incredible arrangement of emotional experiences I’ve had in the past year. It really has made me feel human.
When we first discovered we were pregnant, we felt hopeful, excited, overwhelmed, elated, and attached. What I mean by this is that we immediately began to conjure an image of what it would be like to have a baby and became emotionally attached to that future.
I was so excited that I even told some of my friends and family quite soon after we’d confirmed we were pregnant.
It felt great to share it, and this increased the excitement and attachment even more.
It was like feeding a puppy dog of positive emotion that grew bigger and bigger each serving it had: a spoonful of excited conversation with a friend, a dollop of fantasising about future life with a child.
That all changed when we lost the baby.
I felt deflated.
There was shock, sadness, loss, uncertainty, and also embarrassment.
It was embarrassment generated from my mind telling me, “You were so stupid to have told people you were pregnant. You should have just waited!”
I expect I won’t be the only person who felt like that.
Whilst this was challenging as the man, I feel that for me, this was a much easier task. After all, men are biologically free from the majority of the process. This makes it a strange experience.
I watched as my loved one suffered for the same reason as me but knowing her suffering must have an additional layer to it that I couldn’t see, touch, or experience.
Women experience a change in hormones and a different sense of attachment that is part of the whole evolutionary package.
It’s this that can create the tendency to downplay our experience as men, “It’s not about me, it’s far worse for her,” our minds tell us. “I just need to support my wife.”
Whilst this is clearly well-intended, when we buy into self-sacrificing and neglect our own experience, it can be damaging. We are entitled to feel emotions too, and not acknowledging them can be counterproductive in actually supporting our partners.
In our case, it was me who wanted the children more. Olivia told me subsequently that she could see I was suffering and knew I would be devastated, and this made her not want to ask me how I felt, as she knew it would be upsetting. Thankfully she did ask me how I felt.
Let’s try again
We managed to work our way through things. We dusted ourselves off, regrouped, and decided to go for it again.
Round two arrived. Pregnancy came easy, again. But it wasn’t meant to be, sadly. And this happened five times in total across a short space of around six months.
Each time we tried and failed, our emotional strategy shifted. The upbeat, optimistic coach in our minds who had previously patted us on the back and assured us we’d win the prize had now been relegated to an unknown place in favour of a somewhat more dispirited and neutral inner voice.
This new voice had a convincing tone of detachment and pessimism.
Implantation was swiftly followed by miscarriage, over and over.
I touched grief a number of times during this period.
To begin with, it was confusing and painful. Now, I realise grief was holding my hand and guiding me through a cosmic journey: out of the fire of grief emerged a new wisdom about what it meant to love my wife and how grateful I was for the life I already had.
I feel like it helped me cross a boundary of human experience that had previously been unknown to me before. In loss, there is a realm of understanding about the rest of life.
Another emotion that showed up in alien quantities for me was envy.
It snuck up on me and caught me by surprise. I would find myself getting lost in unhelpful thinking directed at other people we knew who had seemed to get pregnant so easily.
Why weren’t they being more grateful?
When I noticed my mind in the driving seat of the envy car, I kindly acknowledged it and steered myself back toward what mattered in that moment, which was often finding compassion for those people and reminding myself to care for my wife and look after my own mental health.
Getting through the experience
Let me emphasise this: talking consistently and openly about our feelings to one another was crucial for moving forward through this experience.
Giving language to our emotional experience completes its purpose. When we label and talk about emotions, we transmute them from being nebulous to concrete. Moreover, being sensitive to my own emotions and allowing them to come and go as they pleased was also crucial.
Fighting emotions is futile. A willingness to walk through those months being accompanied by the range of emotions I described above was not easy, but it made the process a lot easier.
When we work courageously through difficult emotions, it disarms them, so the experience doesn’t wield power over us in the future. This means feeling what we feel and talking about it. Better still, in talking about it, we can make sense of it and find purpose in the pain.
The future has no obligation to fulfill your imagined order
As I alluded to, one of the most problematic aspects of this whole experience was the avoidable pain caused by fantasising about the baby before it had arrived.
One of the greatest gifts bestowed upon us by nature is our remarkable ability to use our imagination to reflect on the past and generate whatever reality we like in our minds of the future.
It’s nice to imagine things going well, right? It’s nice to create the perfect, ideal image, as this can generate positive emotions.
Even before you get pregnant, it’s easy to start planning out how you think things will eventuate. When we were “ready,” we started planning the next year, thinking about the month the baby would probably arrive.
When we got pregnant, this future thinking got kicked into overdrive.
Unfortunately, the future has no obligation to play out the blueprint in your mind. The world is chaotic, dynamic, and unpredictable. Sometimes, things work out as we hoped or expected. Sometimes, they don’t.
Allow me to deliver a word of caution: the investment we make in our minds toward the future we hope to have can leave us in negative equity if things play out differently.
Spending time on dreaming about an idealised future may feel fleetingly pleasant in the immediate moment we are doing it, but when faced with the reality of miscarriage, we are immediately sobered and begin to see the perils of such future-thinking.
But you know what? I’m glad I had the opportunity in life to learn this lesson.
I’m glad I learned to be more present, focused, and content with what is happening in the now.
I learned to be grateful for the opportunity to participate in the game of life and knew that after we got pregnant, it was nature’s turn to roll the dice, and it was out of my hands what would happen next. We began to tolerate uncertainty.
The miracle of life
You may be wondering what happened after all of this.
After several miscarriages, we saw a specialist OBGYN and managed to exclude some potential causes and get a surgical treatment arranged. The doctors said this treatment had previously resulted in women being able to have children, but they weren’t entirely sure why.
Once again, as the man, I was absolved of any real physical responsibility per se. However, I was physically present for Olivia at every appointment, and I was allowed to attend and invested in acknowledging the inherent imbalance and unfairness of the genetic lottery.
We stayed positive and grateful to be going ahead with the surgery but remained detached from any particular outcome.
After a period of waiting for Olivia to heal, we tried for a baby again. We got pregnant immediately.
This time, as we were under the care of a specialist, we went in for a scan at the six-week mark. This was the furthest we had got in our pregnancy journey. We were excited.
To our utter amazement, we were informed we were pregnant with identical twins.
Elation entered my emotional picture once again.
Because the specialist leaked an air of confidence in the likelihood of this pregnancy sticking, I allowed myself to get used to the idea of having twins. It was something I had never even considered before. And now, here I was, imagining what it was going to be like being a dad of identical twins. It was scary but awesome at the same time.
It turned out I hadn’t fully learned my lesson about not imagining the future.
It happened again: another miscarriage.
Olivia went for the next scan alone due to COVID-19 restrictions. The news was delivered that one of the twins hadn’t made it.
After everything we went through, it was as if nature was delivering one final test before permitting us the gift of life.
But it did leave us the other baby. That baby is still, thankfully, with us.
He’s baking in the oven of his mom, apparently cooking quite well and should be ready for delivery in April 2021.
After all of their lessons, mom-and-dad-to-be are taking each day as it comes and allowing that hope and optimism to bleed back into our lives more and more as the weeks pass and the risks diminish.
For anyone out there trying for babies, I wish you the best of luck.