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Men and Miscarriage

My wife started feeling strange during our vacation. That is to say, she didn't feel anything. Those annoying quirks of the first trimester had disappeared.

A quick visit to the doctor suggested nothing was wrong, but just to be sure, she went to the ultrasound technician. It was a Friday morning, my brother's birthday, when she called and told me the news.

I knew something was wrong before she spoke. She never calls.

We had thought she was at 11 weeks, but the technician told her (quite coldly) that the fetus had stopped growing at week six. We had no child.

I didn't feel anything.

Truthfully, I didn't know how to feel.

A failed pregnancy is surely a shared hurt, but with one key distinction: men are more spectators than participants. That dissonance results in confusion about what to do, say, or feel, which for some, I'm sure, comes off as callousness or distance.

I can only speak from observation, but women who have been through the terrible loss of miscarriage experience at least some physical pain. In contrast, a man's suffering is mostly theoretical—I had no tangible reference for what had happened.

And all of this was exacerbated by the overwhelming sense that the pain was not "ours" but "hers." People wouldn't ask how I was doing, but rather, how my wife was feeling. And why not? The miscarriage happened to her—not me. Why should they be worried about me?

It's not fair to say I felt ignored. My parents and friends were all concerned with my welfare, but certainly more people asked after Mallory. I don't feel bad about it or resent them; in my state I actually preferred that the attention be deflected. But it does highlight both the difference in the way we experienced that event and the mindset of those who asked about it.

Whether consciously or not, everyone is affected by society's view of gender roles, and this only proved they were more effective than ever. If we believe life according to advertising, fathers are disinterested parties in their children's upbringing. Anything to do with commitment and pregnancy is left to women, and we're affected by this even if we don't think we are. (Ever seen a man in a diaper commercial?)

So with this in mind, why should I be affected by something like a miscarriage?

For weeks I had convinced myself I was going to be a father. As every parent knows, this changes how you think. Those flippant statements you may have made about raising a child all of a sudden carry some weight. Even the little things you say to people make you think twice. Would I say that if my kid could hear me?

Then, all of a sudden, I wasn't anything.

All of this was magnified by the pressure I felt not to talk about what had happened. To tell people the truth—to confirm a pregnancy and then watch the realization on their faces when they hear that it had failed—would be like watching a miniature version of the roller coaster I was already on. No thanks.

The byproduct of this silence was, for me, depression. So many times I would be staring someone in the face and not hear a word of what they said. I didn't care. I remember attending a barbeque shortly after my wife's call. I was open about the miscarriage with these close friends. Still, I faked a pretty good smile.

This is an emotionally inappropriate way to deal with anything. I kept asking Mallory if she needed some sort of counseling. But truthfully, I'm the one who needed it. I suspect that's what many men do, and not just in situations such as this. We try and deal with our own pain by making others deal with theirs.

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