Miscarriage is sadly something quite common, in fact 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and 1 in 4 women will experience one during their lifetime. Whilst most of the help is directed towards the women – it’s her body that’s having the miscarriage; it doesn’t mean that men aren’t equally affected.
The odd thing about miscarriages is – they just happen. Sometimes there’s an underlying cause that can be addressed, but often there’s virtually nothing that anyone can do to prevent them. You’ll probably be told that it just ‘wasn’t meant to be’, or there was ‘something wrong with it’ yet each one is heartrending, and men normally find themselves in a unique spot. The silent sufferer, the one called upon to support and encourage and comfort, yet inside feeling equally torn up and as unsure of what to do next. How can a man navigate this difficult season?
Let’s get the facts:
75% of miscarriages happen within the first 13 weeks, and some women don’t even realise they’re pregnant. About 1 in 100 women in the UK experience recurrent miscarriages (three or more in a row), but more than 60% of these women go on to have a successful pregnancy.
The main symptoms of miscarriage are vaginal bleeding or ‘spotting’ which is light bleeding, with or without abdominal pain or cramps. Sometimes there are no obvious signs at all.
Bleeding may be light or heavy, dark or bright red and there may be clots or “stringy bits”
Spotting or bleeding might be continuous or it might be on and off, perhaps over days or even weeks. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a miscarriage or that there’s going to be one, but it always needs to be checked.
Pain, like bleeding, can vary. Tummy or abdominal pain might be due to a stomach upset or constipation, and backache is common in normal pregnancy, especially as the weeks go by and as ligaments stretch. But if there’s bleeding or spotting as well as pain, then that might be a sign of miscarriage.
In some cases, there are no signs at all that anything is wrong and miscarriage is only diagnosed only during a routine scan. Normally the radiographer will fetch a colleague and ask for a second opinion (perhaps with the screen facing away) before they say they think there is something wrong.
Depending on the length of pregnancy, there may need more than one scan to confirm the miscarriage – usually with a gap of at least one week. Having to wait can be very upsetting but it’s essential to be sure.
In some cases, especially in later (second trimester) pregnancy, there may be no need for the miscarriage to be confirmed by scan. The physical process of bleeding, pain and passing a recognisable pregnancy sac or delivering a baby, is confirmation in itself. Doctors may still advise a scan in some cases just to ensure that the miscarriage is complete.
Missed or silent miscarriage
This is a particular kind of miscarriage that occurs early on. Although there are the beginnings of a baby, the cells stop developing early on and the tiny embryo is reabsorbed. However, the pregnancy sac, where the baby should develop, continues to grow. It’s usually discovered between the 8th and 13th week of pregnancy, (sometimes at a routine early scan) and will show a pregnancy sac which doesn’t have a developing baby inside. Pregnancy symptoms may still be present so it can come as a real shock that there’s nothing there.
If an ultrasound scan shows that the pregnancy has ended but the process of miscarriage hasn’t started or completed, there’s usually a choice about what to do next and can involve
Natural management – letting nature take its course
Medical management – using medication to begin or speed up the process of miscarriage
Surgical management – an operation to remove the pregnancy
1 in every 80-90 pregnancies is ectopic, which is around 12,000 pregnancies a year and this is when the fertilised egg starts to implant and develop in the fallopian tube and not the uterus or womb. Some women don’t have any obvious signs or symptoms of ectopic pregnancy whilst others have symptoms that can easily be mistaken for something else, like a stomach upset, irritable bowel syndrome or even appendicitis.
Common symptoms are:
vaginal bleeding that’s different from a normal period (sometimes more watery)
pain low in the abdomen, perhaps just on one side
pain in the tips of the shoulders
diarrhoea and perhaps vomiting; or pain when opening the bowels or passing urine
feeling dizzy or faint
This will require medical intervention on almost every occasion as if the fertilised egg is left to grow; it will rupture the fallopian tube and could become life threatening. It’s treated either by giving an injection of a powerful medicine to stop the pregnancy growing or surgery under general anaesthetic to remove the pregnancy, usually along with the affected fallopian tube, which can obviously affect chances of conceiving in the future.
After a miscarriage, it’s understandable to want to know why it happened and what might be done to stop it happening again.
However, in a first or second miscarriage (or in a mix of miscarriages and healthy pregnancies) there’ll probably not be any tests or treatment offered.
This can be frustrating and upsetting as it might feel that the loss isn’t being taken seriously, but the reason is because most women who have one or two miscarriages will go on to have a successful pregnancy the next time and suggests that the miscarriages were due to chance rather than to an underlying cause.
For more than three miscarriages or more in a row (the definition of recurrent miscarriage), tests will be offered. That’s because a cause is more likely to be found at this stage.
However – it’s important to know that having tests does not necessarily mean that a cause or causes will be found.
Around half of couples who have investigations don’t come out with any clear finding of why they miscarried, which again is frustrating, but it is also positive news because it means that there is a good chance of the next pregnancy being successful, without any treatment at all.
So that’s the physical side of things dealt with, but what about the emotional side?
You need to grieve.
That sounds pretty basic to say, but men can overlook the simple fact that a miscarriage is a serious loss because they’re supporting their other half. The lost promise of the positive test, wondering if it’s a boy or girl, thinking about the nursery, thinking about who it will look like, is real.
So take time to grieve and be honest with people who ask – there’s much more awareness out there now about the effects on men too, so don’t be afraid to acknowledge it affects you too.
No-one is to blame anyone for the miscarriage and it’s no one’s fault. It wasn’t tempting fate to tell people (even when getting them to promise that they won’t tell anyone else) or to buy a little pair of bootees. Not embarking on 20 mile runs in the months leading to conception or having the odd fag or drink didn’t cause the miscarriage either, so give yourself a break.
Continue to love.
Hard times can either rip couples apart or bring them closer together. Make sure in the early days that you stay on the same team, at least as far as you can. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy – grief is a many headed beast and everyone’s beast is different. Your partner might be going through her own blame or guilt phase “if only I’d….” Don’t let her torture herself – it helps no one. Be there to listen to the ‘what if’s’ (maybe hundreds of times over) but keep telling her that you love her no matter what, and that you’re going nowhere. Security is key here.
Whilst doing that – don’t try to hide how much it’s hurting you too – it can still be OK in the end.
Be careful of not replacing the child.
People sometimes say things like, “Well, just have another one” or “you’re young”. People are just trying to help, but immediately turning your thoughts to having another child will never and should never replace the child you lost, and it’s not fair on the next child (if there is one) to be under that pressure.
Every couple will react differently, so keep talking to each other, keep talking to other people, keep sharing how you feel, and you’ll be surprised how many other people will share their own miscarriage stories in return. Bottling things up is a quick way to insanity.
For more information visit https://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/
Have you and your partner suffered a miscarriage? How did you deal with it? How did they deal with it? Have you gone on to have other children? What advice would you give? Often understanding that you are not alone in your thoughts, reactions, or experiences helps more than you think. Join or start the conversation below.