Helplessness, loneliness and grief: How men are impacted by miscarriage

·6-min read
Meghan Markle has revealed how she and Prince Harry supported each other through their miscarriage (Getty)
Meghan Markle has revealed how she and Prince Harry supported each other through their miscarriage (Getty)

Early on Wednesday morning, the New York Times posted an op-ed by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex where she revealed she and Prince Harry had suffered a miscarriage in the summer.

“I dropped to the floor with [Archie] in my arms, humming a lullaby to keep us both calm, the cheerful tune a stark contrast to my sense that something was not right,” Meghan wrote.

“I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.”

Read more: Why miscarriages occur, the mental health impact and the support available

The Duchess also described what it was like for Prince Harry to go through the miscarriage with her.

"Sitting in a hospital bed, watching my husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine, I realised that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, 'Are you OK?'”, she continued.

The op-ed has been largely praised online, with many thanking Meghan for being so open about her and Harry’s loss.

Watch: Will Meghan Markle be in The Crown?

Meghan and Harry aren’t the first royals to open up about miscarriage. In 2016, when the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall and her husband Mike suffered a miscarriage, Zara said: “I have a very supportive family, Mike's incredible - and it's hard for the guys too. It's very different for us [women] because we're carrying the child, but for guys I guess it's kind of that helpless feeling, which must be incredibly high and horrible for them. At the end of the day they've still lost a child too."

According to the NHS, approximately one in eight pregnancies will end in miscarriage and many more miscarriages happen before a women realises she is pregnant. While miscarriages have a profound effect on women and her relationship with her body, what about the impact that miscarriage has on men?

“The immediate feeling was one of helplessness,” Ryan, 36, from London tells Yahoo UK. Ryan and his wife found out they had miscarried earlier this year.

“I remember when the doctor told us the news, [I was ] having this internal conversation with myself, whilst time kind of froze, of whether or not to put my hand on my wife’s shoulder. It seems ridiculous now in what would normally be such a natural and normal act of comforting someone but I just had this realisation of how helpless the gesture was and how nothing I could do as a man could help in that exact situation. I’ll never forget that.”

Read more: Meghan Markle praised for helping to break down miscarriage stigma

A recent study from the Imperial College London found that 8% of partners experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) three months after their partner experiences miscarriage. One in 25 continue to suffer from PTSD up to nine months on.

Jane Brewin, chief executive of the baby loss charity Tommy’s, says: “Baby loss can have a deep and lasting impact on both parents, and this [Imperial] study gives a voice to many who have suffered in silence, highlighting the profound consequences that can have for their mental health and wellbeing.

“The message is clear; partners are vulnerable to the same psychological problems as mothers and specialist support must be made available to either or both bereaved parents.”

Ryan says the simple act of asking his wife how she is, and vice-versa, helped the couple process their grief.

Counselling Directory member Philip Karahassan says couples should get an understanding of what each other wants. “There is no right or wrong way to grieve,” he adds. “But be understanding of each other's needs and discuss what would be a fitting way to be there for each other, give each other strength and the emotional space to mark the shared experience together.”

Harry and Meghan with their son Archie at the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, September 25, 2019 (Getty)
Harry and Meghan with their son Archie at the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, September 25, 2019 (Getty)

Ryan adds that talking to friends about the miscarriage has helped him too.

“About 18 months ago I became involved in launching a mental health charity for men. In that time I’ve learnt more about male mental health and the advantages of speaking openly with your mates. I’m sure my mental health has been affected in some way but I feel good and I 100% put that down to having a close circle of pals who are open to conversations,” Ryan says.

“One of my mates told me the same happened to him and we talked about how we felt when it happened and after. Women are a lot better at talking about their feelings and exposing perceived weaknesses than we are.”

Karahassan says that it’s important for men not to prescribe to gender roles while processing grief.

“I hear the phrase ‘staying strong’ a lot from men whose partner has had a miscarriage,” Karahassan says. “A man may wish to keep calm and carry on, work on problem-solving and attempt to fix the issue by not talking about it so as to try and help the wife to forget or not get upset.

“This stops the father from connecting to his own grief, whilst also alienating himself from his partner who wants to connect over the pain of a miscarriage. This results in two people unable to fully connect over a shared life experience.”

Read more: The question Meghan Markle wants you to ask your friend

Due to COVID Ryan was asked to wait outside the hospital room after he and his wife were told the news of the miscarriage. “I think I have dealt with it OK but I can imagine men who aren’t as lucky to have the support network I do or perhaps those who suffer with their mental health could really be affected by such an event and it doesn’t seem right us men are seemingly an afterthought,” Ryan adds.

Brewin says that it’s “vital” to recognise that partners experience the same loss and grief when it comes to miscarriage. She adds: “Miscarriage can be incredibly lonely, and that isolation is magnified for those who feel they have to hide their heartbreak. Partners often feel huge pressure to be strong and supportive, holding it all together for the mother and wider family. Attitudes to miscarriage and grief must change so that anyone who wants to open up or ask for help feels able to do so.”

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