Keyan Milanian, 32, is a writer based in London. After experiencing several failed pregnancies with his wife, he explores the trauma of recurrent miscarriage from a male perspective – and explains how ‘getting on with it’ didn't help.
The first time I cried was the day after the bleeding started, on a phone call to our travel insurers (we were on holiday at the time). “I’m so sorry to hear that,” the stranger on the other end of the line said, then my strained, choked silence.
I didn’t cry again until a month later. I call it a miscarriage hangover.
We have had three so far. The second, when I had to make that call, was the worst.
Being abroad meant there were far more complications, visits to strange hospitals, rearranging accommodation and travel plans. And above all, an overwhelming feeling of loneliness in an alien country – my wife and I, surrounded by strangers.
We spent most of that week in clinics and waiting rooms. It wasn’t until days later that we finally got confirmation of what we had known all along: we had had our second miscarriage. The pregnancy had failed at 10 weeks.
The first time around, we began calling it ‘bean’.
We giggled at one another whenever we discussed the future. Seven weeks in, having become increasingly excited about telling our friends and family, I got a call from my wife saying she had noticed bleeding. There was a visit to A&E and a follow up at the early pregnancy unit the following day.
We stopped giving these brief, bundles of life nicknames after that.
We began to wonder if our friends, the ones that would excitedly post those scans on Facebook, had ever felt the fear we had experienced, ever known the terrible conflict of excitement and anxiety that follows the first failed pregnancy. At times there were, I’m ashamed to say, pangs of envy too – why them and not us?
After we returned home on that second occasion I went straight back to work while my wife took a couple of weeks off. I would find her crying to herself on the sofa, our little dog wondering what on earth was the matter while pacing in front of her. I convinced myself that ‘getting on with it’ would help me shift focus. There followed a difficult few weeks.
Sometimes angry that we’d had to endure this again, sometimes frustrated, partly because I felt I could do nothing to help. I told my wife she should go back to work, that it would help ease the pain, that staying in and crying wouldn’t.
But she said she needed this time, this release. I soon learnt that she had been right.
About a month later, I tried to write this article. I read about other men’s experiences and Mark Zuckerberg’s plea for us all to talk more about miscarriage. It was only then that I broke down and it came like a punch in the gut. I cried uncontrollably on and off for the next few days. I couldn’t write. I felt depressed and called in sick and realised, finally, that all the while I had been ‘getting on’ with things I had not fully come to terms with the loss.
While I had tried to support my wife through her physical and emotional trauma, I did not join her in taking stock.
I wonder if, as a man, I struggled with our new childless reality through the lack of physical experiences – no sensations in the tummy, no overwhelming tiredness, and later, no pain. Just a notion, an idea.
As Zuckerberg put it: “You start imagining who they'll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they're gone.”
Zuckerberg said that we ought to talk more about it. In many ways, he’s right – miscarriage is far more common than many people realise and there’s certainly nothing shameful or embarrassing about it.
The Miscarriage Association says more than one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Other studies say as many as one in in two. Often, as we have learnt, doctors cannot tell you why. We told our closest friends and our parents knowing they would help us cope.
My wife and I initially felt this was something we did not want to tell the world. Despite the common obsession with sharing every moment, this was something we only wanted to share when we felt emotionally ready. We also didn’t want to upset people we care about, be showered with sympathy or appear to demand attention. Even so, after three it became difficult not to just blurt out the whole horrible affair whenever anyone casually asked, “So do you want kids?”
Though we've now ‘gone public’, when it comes to talking, the most important conversations are with each other. At times I’d felt lost as my wife wiped away tears. What could I do? What could I say? The answer, of course, is nothing. Nothing will make the heartbreak of a miscarriage any easier to take. You can only be there, to listen, to hug, to talk it out, and, if you need to, to cry too.
We had our third miscarriage about a month ago now. We don’t know if we will be able to have children and that’s hard to contemplate. But what I do know is that I love my wife and that together, one way or another, we will get through whatever the future holds. We just need to keep talking.
* Since this article was published, Keyan's wife Amy has also written a piece on the physical and mental trauma of recurrent miscarriage. It can be found on theguardian.com
Images: Thinkstock / facebook.com/zuck / Blake Connally