Written by Kelly Jean-Philippe from Welcome To Fatherhood
There is nothing quite like being a dad. The journey to having my sons, however, was taxing and strenuous; humbling and disheartening; painful, numbing and traumatizing. The first time that I was an expectant dad the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Somewhere along the way someone said, “Don’t be surprised if the first pregnancy doesn’t stick.” While 8 out of 10 miscarriages happen in the first trimester according to some reports, that was a stupid way to introduce the awareness of that possibility to me. Still, that statement planted a seed in the back of my mind going into the first ultrasound. I reasoned that at worst I wouldn’t be surprised, after all, if it did not stick. Sure enough, the pregnancy was not viable, and sometime after my wife and I found ourselves at the clinic for a D&C. Because of the expectation that was set, I did not connect to the emotional trauma my wife was experiencing. I failed to empathize with the physical ramifications of her procedure. I was callus. I did not respect her space, experience, and pain. She hid behind the protective cocoon of a grief I did not resolve to understand, and like an unyielding woodpecker I was forceful in my attempts to invade her space.
We worked through the first miscarriage and found ourselves expecting once again. Since there was no mention of subsequent pregnancies not sticking, I was certain I would become a dad this time. I was wrong. This pregnancy was also nonviable. I was devastated. We soon found ourselves waiting in a closet-size room at the clinic for a second D&C. I started to internalize certain negative assumptions and began questioning whether I was the cause of our miscarriages. We waited for what felt like forever. The longer the wait, the more guilt I felt for the way that I treated my wife after the first miscarriage. Suddenly a male physician walked in followed by a Black woman resident. I was sitting at a corner almost perpendicular to my wife, an arm’s reach from the door and surrounded by white walls. The physician positioned himself with his back to me given the room’s size and arrangement. He made no attempt to acknowledge my existence. The resident stood against the door and was more cultured. Upon closing the door, she made eye contact with me and offered a smile—a simple yet profound act of kindness for which I will be forever grateful. The doctor secured my wife’s consent, and as quick as he came, he left. Never once acknowledging my presence in the room. I felt invisible. I felt powerless. I felt out of place. My grief, my pain, and my experience were not validated, and perhaps not even valid. My wife was the patient. Not me. End of story.
Since leaving that clinic, I’m certain my experience is indicative of that of other fathers in these spaces, especially Black fathers. Reputable research studies have brought to light the ways Black pregnant women are perceived and receive care in healthcare settings. Less apparent are the experiences of men and fathers—particularly Black fathers—in these same spaces with their pregnant partner. My wife was obviously the patient. She was the one carrying. She needed the D&C. Her miscarriage was the very reason we were both there. But she hadn’t become pregnant alone. As her husband, I provided the sperm that fertilized the egg that made her pregnant; and I was there not just as her husband but also as the father of the nonviable fetus in her womb. This was our miscarriage. Although I wasn’t the one physically carrying our baby, I was carrying the emotional weight of unfulfilled dreams, hopes, and aspirations for a fetus who did not survive, as well as carrying a crippling amount of guilt, shame, and angst due to consecutive loss of pregnancies. While healthcare professionals understandably prioritize physical over mental and emotional care, the latter has become more prevalent in healthcare practices over the years. Fathers do not experience physiological medical concerns like mothers during a miscarriage. However, the mental and emotional aspects must be acknowledged by healthcare professionals for the male husband-partner as well.
My wife and I welcomed a healthy baby boy into our family in May of 2020. We experienced another two devastating miscarriages before our second and final son in February of 2023. Now that we are no longer trying to grow our family, and as I’m beginning to process these multiple experiences, three important ways emerge for ways to support a male partner after a loss of pregnancy.
Acknowledge that the male partner has also experienced loss. It may seem odd to state the obvious, but my experience with the male doctor before my wife’s second D&C proves it isn’t obvious at all. Especially in medical spaces exclusively for women’s health, the experience of the male partner may be peripheral to those providing support. Taking the time to also acknowledge my loss would have made me feel seen and validated my grief.
Invite the male partner to talk about the impact of the loss. Although I was not the one pregnant with our baby, or the one who experienced the symptoms of miscarriage or a D&C, I was also deeply impacted by three of our four miscarriage events. However, it did not feel appropriate to express what I was feeling for precisely these same reasons due to internal and external factors. Instead, I assumed I would be insensitive—or make it about me—if I openly talked about how I was being impacted. But inviting the male partner to talk about the impact of the loss is only the first step. Equally as important is to not dismiss or treat his expressed experience as less valid.
Provide support resources specific to the experience of the male partner. It seems likeliest that any supportive resources offered to a couple after a loss of pregnancy is entirely tailored to the mother. This is not to say there aren’t more general resources the male partner may find beneficial. I did not receive any resources following any of our four miscarriage events. Providing resources specific to the male partner may encourage him to also connect with specialized services and providers.