Supporting Men on the Sidelines of Miscarriage

Supporting Men on the Sidelines of Miscarriage

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Although miscarriages are fairly common, occurring in up to 20 percent of pregnancies, the World Health Organization reports that it remains a taboo topic of discussion in much of the world. Initiatives to support men through miscarriage need to be more openly discussed, men often find themselves on the sidelines of support programs.

What is Miscarriage?

Miscarriage is defined by Planned Parenthood as the loss of a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks along. Their cause is often unknown but can include chromosomal or other fetal abnormalities, injury or illness in the mother, hormonal fluctuations, or maternal age. Despite their relative frequency, miscarriages can be an incredibly difficult emotional experience and is considered a disenfranchised loss[1], meaning it is not widely acknowledged by society. This is true for several reasons:

  • 8 out of 10 miscarriages occur within the first 3 months of pregnancy, often before a woman is visibly showing or the news has been shared with family, friends, or employers.
  • Miscarriage represents loss that is intangible to parents and invisible to outsiders, including loss of hopes and dreams for the unborn child, loss of the experience of motherhood/fatherhood, and even loss of the idea of a sibling for a living child.
  • Care providers often medicalize the miscarriage experience and lack the empathy and training to provide needed emotional support.
  • Most of the terms that refer to the loss of an unborn child avoid the use of the word “death,” suggesting a general discomfort with and lack of validation of the loss.

Increasingly, women are opening up a dialog about the experience of miscarriage because there is a need for it to be acknowledged as a real loss. This includes female celebrities who want to use their platform to change the conversation. The most recent example is when Chrissy Teigen shared a very raw and intimate post on social media about the loss of her third pregnancy with husband John Legend, including photos from the hospital of her being prepped for surgery and later laying in her hospital bed holding John’s hand. When women are brave enough to bring a very private experience into the public domain, it promotes more openness, reduces feelings of isolation, and provides needed language for validating and affirming the loss experience around miscarriage. However, it only speaks to part of the picture. These women often have male partners who are as impacted by the loss but may be overlooked in their grief.

Men’s Experience of Miscarriage

Men are sometimes called “the forgotten grievers“(Time, 2015) when it comes to miscarriage because attention tends to be focused on the woman, who has experienced the physical loss. However, research indicates that men experience an acute emotional response to the loss of the pregnancy as well, including the following:

  • shock and sadness
  • worry and concern for the well-being and health of their partner
  • feelings of helplessness at not being able to fix things
  • expectations that they be strong for their partner
  • fears that intimacy within the relationship may change
  • increased time spent on work or other practicalities that feel “controllable”
  • difficulty concentrating and drop in work performance
  • feelings of isolation from partner, who may be coping differently

These natural responses coupled with societal expectations that men “get on with it” can lead men to suppress their feelings, making the grief process longer and harder. By contrast, when men’s experience of loss is acknowledged and validated and they are given permission, time, and space to grieve, their functioning at home and at work improves. This is especially true in the workplace, as studies show that when an employer makes efforts to support an employee in their grief, the employee’s productivity and loyalty to the company increase over the long-term.

Coping Tips for Men
  1. Talk to your partner about your feelings as a way to keep the lines of communication open. Remaining silent in order to protect your partner’s feelings can end up creating more distance and disconnection instead.
  2. Consider seeking out a couples’ grief support group that you can attend with your partner. Your employee wellbeing program may be able to assist you with identifying a local or virtual group.
  3. Write out your feelings in order to label and better understand them.
  4. Design a ritual that you can do with your partner to honor the pregnancy and the baby you had hoped for such as naming the baby, creating a memory box for ultrasound photos and baby items, planting a tree, creating a piece of art or jewelry, or making a donation to a charitable organization or cause.
  5. Ensure you are getting adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise.
  6. Consider reaching out to your employee wellbeing program for support.

How can employers help?

While a manager might be uncomfortable discussing the topic of miscarriage, it can be a tremendous way to support an employee’s recovery process. Above all, managers manage people and people bring a wide range of emotions to the workplace, including grief, anxiety, and depression. Therefore, managers are urged to work through their own discomfort in order to support their team.

Suggestions for Employers
  1. Establish an open-door policy and demonstrate investment in and care for the employee.
  2. Offer a simple “I am so sorry” rather than searching for the “right” thing to say.
  3. Avoid statements that minimize the loss, such as “It was God’s will” or “At least you still have your other child(ren)”.
  4. Be sensitive in assigning new work responsibilities and consider whether existing responsibilities can be temporarily reassigned.
  5. Send a condolence card/flowers to acknowledge the loss.
  6. Be flexible in giving the employee extra time off to the extent possible.
  7. Recognize that grief is not linear, so emotions can ebb and flow over time.
  8. Provide the employee with information on the support available through the employee wellbeing program and encourage him to reach out confidentially.
References

[1] Doka, K. (2002) Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice  Champaign, IL: Research Press