With Father’s Day this weekend, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about my other half. The partner to my Misbehaving Uterus: the Sad Sack, the Bad Balls, the Naughty Nuts (thanks, KK for your clever naming, I wouldn’t have gotten here on my own!)
The male experience of miscarriage is so often overlooked. It’s always the woman’s account that’s reported on in the news. It’s the woman who receives the majority of our concern and all of our postpartum care. There are plenty of reasons for this, not the least of which is a societal expectation that men should be stoic and unemotive, but the reality is that men grieve too, it just looks different.
In the immediate aftermath of my losses my husband, like me, was deeply sad. We held each other. We cried. But while I continued to wallow for days following each loss, he was able to recover his equilibrium, and so assumed the role of my caretaker. He cooked our meals. He brought me tea and water. He let me watch whatever I wanted on Netflix without any complaints. I sense that he did this, in part, because being useful and of service allowed him to focus his attention away from his darker, sadder emotions.
Regardless, from a relationship standpoint, these times fostered closeness and connection. We were experiencing acute grief, but we were together, and we were relying on each other. I was being cared for, as I needed; and he was given a purpose, as he needed. In the months following our losses, those feelings of unity and shared experience were harder to maintain.
It was easier for my husband to return to his “everyday life” than it was for me. He was able to supplant his pain with a fervor and focus on work which I couldn’t muster. Books will tell you that men recover more quickly from the pain of miscarriage. I think this is because for men, the loss is strictly emotional. Miscarriage happens inside a woman’s body, so the physical pain on top of the emotional pain, the feeling of violation and personal failure is impossible for a man to understand. My pain endured, while my husband seemed to recover. As a result, I began to emotionally pull away. I felt abandoned and alone in my sadness.
Simultaneously, my husband began shielding himself as well. He felt guilty in his recovery. Aware that I was still grieving; he didn’t ask for what he needed because he didn’t want to overburden me. And on those occasions when he did reach out with need, I was unable to meet him because my tank was already empty. It was an extremely challenging time for our marriage. We each felt so vulnerable that neither of us was able to ask for what we needed to feel close again. We were both still hurting, it just looked different.
I asked my husband if Father’s Day was met with the same jealousy and sorrow as Mother’s Day is for me, but he said no. Yes, he wants to be a father. Yes, he sometimes has moments of envy. But the harder part for him has been watching me go through miscarriages and treatments. He said it was like watching me be repeatedly abused without having the ability to stop it.
The definition of “paternal” is showing kindness and care associated with a father; being protective, vigilant, or concerned. Paternalism is also the mores for great men in American society. My husband is certainly not representative of all men, but infertility challenged his male convention. My miscarriages made him feel powerless and impotent when he longed to be virile and strong.
Through couples’ therapy and continuous work on communication, we’ve been able to take down some of the walls that miscarriage created. We understand one another better, though our work is not done. And despite our challenges and the different ways we grieved, I would not have survived pregnancy loss without him. So, to my husband, and to all the would-be-fathers this weekend, thank you. Father’s Day may eventually be yours too, but the craft of the father does not necessarily require children. Thank you for your attentiveness, your security, and your care on this journey.