A Man's Guide to Miscarriage
Lessons from the aftermath of five ‘inviable foetuses’
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Trigger warning: miscarriage.
One in six known pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with roughly 75% of those coming in the first trimester. According to pregnancy research organisation Tommy’s, one in five UK women who miscarry have anxiety levels similar to people using psychiatric outpatient services, and a third of women in the UK who receive specialist miscarriage aftercare are clinically depressed. Recent research by Imperial College London suggests that four in ten women who miscarry suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. As always, we’re not short of research on how miscarriage affects mums. But, a theme you’ll regularly notice here, we’re missing insight, data and authentic perspectives into the impact of this devastating experience on dads. There are almost 9,000 of you reading this email, meaning somewhere in the region of 1,500 of you will have experienced this at some point.
If you’ve been here for a while you’ll know that TNF doesn’t shy away from tough topics, and the ones that we, as men, tend to steer away from. Last week I met up with Matt Farquarson who—alongside his wife Anna—has penned a trio of best-selling books, and has recently started the newsletter Typical Man, “a rant-free analysis of all the things quietly kicking around the typical male mind today.” Matt shared an essay he’d written about the male side of miscarriage, and this felt like the right place to run it. Sending love to any and all of you who have been affected by this issue. Over to you, Matt.
Do not say, ‘at least we can get pregnant’. What you’re really saying is ‘I did my bit,’ even if you don’t realise it.
Do not suggest that, ‘it’s kind of like a heavy period’ because it happened in the first trimester and the internet told you it was no bigger than a peanut or a poppy seed or an avocado pip.
Do not say, ‘it’ll work next time,’ because those are empty words and you don’t know if they’re true, and this isn’t the same as trying to start a 2002 Ford Fiesta.
Do not say, ‘at least it happened early’ when she is curled under your arm on the sofa and you have paused Netflix because she started crying. Because it doesn’t matter that it was early, it matters that it was there, and no amputee was ever made to feel better by being told they should be grateful for a clean cut.
Do not think that everything is fine because a week has passed and she only took a day off work.
Do not fail to be ‘the strong one’ when she weeps, weeks later, at coffee spilt on a rug. Or when she stands in the kitchen and with red eyes demands that you get more involved or give her more space, that you cook more or fuss less, that you talk about it properly or stop talking about it entirely.
Do not be ‘the strong one’ so much that you forget to tell her what you feel, whatever that might be. It might just be that she needs to see you cry to know that it matters to you too.
Do not rush to change channels whenever an infant appears on screen, like you are protecting a child from a horror film.
Do not say, when you discover that you are pregnant for a third time, that this one will ‘hang in there,’ because this is not a half-time pep talk for a struggling under-9s football team.
Do not fix your features to be blankly supportive whenever she talks to you, because in the end you’ll just end up looking like you’re talking to an elderly relative.
Do not feel ashamed that you are a little relieved that you have longer to save money or find a bigger place to live. But do not share that thought, either.
Do not forget about the moments when each pregnancy ended. Like the first time, when she wasn’t supposed to be pregnant at all because you’d only been seeing each other for a few weeks, but in that first flush you’d both failed to realise that antibiotics stopped the pill from working. When you spent four hours sitting in a strip-lit corridor in the Hammersmith Hospital, waiting for a female doctor (who looked like she might be about your age) and who confirmed that, ‘yes, it looks like you’re miscarrying’. The time when the West African nurse said ‘I’m afraid it’s just about waiting now, dear’ and gave you a thin mattress and wool blanket so you could sleep on the floor by her bedside. Until the next night, of course, when she was moved to a ward and you had to leave because, it ‘looks like everything has passed.’ Which you knew, of course, because in the wee hours when the nurse came to give more pain relief and clean up, you’d seen the butter-bean-sized amniotic sack in the grey cardboard kidney dish that they took away.
Or the second time, years later, when you were drunkenly singing Christmas carols and all wearing novelty jumpers at a friend’s place and she, very sober, came out of the bathroom and said, ‘Can we get a taxi home?’ even though it was only 9.30pm and you immediately knew and became very sober yourself too but had to keep your big stupid Christmas grin on so you didn’t deflate anyone’s evening, and just said, ‘yeah sorry, we’re off, she’s tired’ and went home to lay next to each other and wait because you couldn’t do it in a hospital again.
Or the fifth time, when she was at daycare picking up your three-year-old daughter and was late because there was a signal failure on the Tube, and she had to ask to use the staff toilets (even though the staff were reminding her that pick-up was strictly 6pm at the latest), and she went in to the cubical and knew what was happening but still wasn’t ready for the sound of the little splash, like a penny falling in to a wishing well.
Do not let trying stop you from living.
Do tell trusted friends.
Do keep talking.
And do not give up on each other.
If you’ve been affected by miscarriage and are looking for help, you can reach out to Tommy’s and check out their specific help page for dads and partners. The US equivalent charity March of Dimes doesn’t have a page for dads, but they really should. You can subscribe to Matt’s newsletter here, or by clicking the link at the bottom of this week’s email.
3 things to read this week
“The Splashback Scandal” by Sam Wollaston in The Guardian. My online time veers wildly from the heavy to the flippant. So, for some distraction: the increasing trend of men choosing to sit down to pee. “In German, there’s a word for one. Of course there is. In German, there’s a word for everything. But this is an especially excellent word: Sitzpinkler. You can probably guess what it means even if you don’t speak German: a Sitzpinkler is a man who sits to pee.” (Matt)
“The TV Shows That Helped My Dying Son Communicate” by Rob Delaney in The Atlantic. I really have to read this book. I’m working myself up to it. Every part I've come across has both broken and lifted my heart. “You may have seen Makaton if you’ve ever watched the beloved Mr. Tumble on CBeebies, a BBC channel for little kids. Mr. Tumble is the alter ego of a guy named Justin Fletcher. Because he’s probably the most famous Makaton user in the United Kingdom, he’s helped countless families develop communication skills that foster substantively better and closer relationships. When we found his show, Henry and I didn’t have much longer left together, but Mr. Tumble helped us understand each other in what time we did have. It is fair to say that I love Mr. Tumble. One time, I heard a mom talking about her preferred CBeebies shows, and she said she didn’t like Mr. Tumble. I had to walk away. Fuck with Mr. Tumble, and you fuck with me! She’s lucky I had errands to do and didn’t have time to go to jail that day. (Kevin)
“Your Sex Lives After Kids” by Emily Oster in ParentData. According to my stats, less than 10% of you are signed up for Emily Oster’s fantastic ParentData newsletter. What gives? I featured her survey on sex after children a few weeks ago, and if you haven’t already taken a gander, then I highly recommend it. Fascinating, and it generated a lot of chatter in the private community, especially this bit: "The one strong predictor of satisfaction with amount of sex is gender. Men are about 16 percentage points more likely to say they feel there is too little sex — again, holding constant the amount of sex. Interestingly, this difference is largest in the people having sex 1 to 2 times a week. In that group, 64% of men and 36% of women say it’s too little. In contrast, among those having sex 1 to 2 times per month, 82% of women and 93% of men say it’s too little: still a difference, but smaller. The only place we see no difference is in the tiny share of people who are having sex daily. Everyone thinks that’s enough.” (Kevin)
Hey! Watch this!
Last weekend I saw C’mon C’mon, at least a year after a close friend recommended I push it to the top of my list. I was not disappointed—a beautiful exploration of what it means to raise children, with powerful performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann and young actor Woody Norman. Mike Mills wrote and directed the hell out of this one, aided by many authors whose penmanship peppers the movie. This clip is based on an excerpt from Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty.
What are we doing to mothers when we expect them to carry the burden of everything that is hardest to contemplate about our society and ourselves? Mothers cannot help but be in touch with the most difficult aspects of any fully lived life. Why on earth should it fall to them to paint things bright and innocent and safe?
I ordered her book that same evening, and it is currently making friends in my Tsundoku pile and ever-growing anti-library.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
A lovely anonymous note on last week’s essay on work travel, the freedom to stop and notice the world around you, and coming back a better parent and partner:
I've been working hard for the past few months on cultivating this exact feeling. There's no substitute for moving through the world on your own, noticing the shape of the clouds, the angle of the sun, the music you want to soundtrack it all. Whether it's a walk in nature, an afternoon working from a coffee shop (or hip local brewery), or a drive to a small town I'd never been to for a quick lunch, I come back more curious about their curiosity. More patient with their demands. More present. So counterintuitive that time away makes me feel more present, but there it is. Thanks for saying it out loud, and for continuing this newsletter.
Thank you, secret commenter! We also went deep on our own individual—and often shared—music tastes over the weekend. Not everyone shared my love of Radiohead, but we still have time.
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Branding and illustration by Selman Design. Survey by Sprig. Thanks again to Matt for this week’s essay (and what feels like a week off for me). Follow The New Fatherhood on Twitter and Instagram. Send me links, comments, questions, and feedback. Or just reply to this email.
Great piece on what is an emotional but also cruelly visceral experience. I've only managed to tell one other person 'the details' of what we went though, so bravo for the unflinching words.
I almost cried. I can feel my eyes watering, I think the only reason I haven’t. Im in public.
Im a step-parent, and my partner and I are currently not trying, but fuck. For some reason. This got to me.