Whether your context is parish ministry, a business office, or another social sphere in the community, knowing what to look for can help inform and guide your care practices in your particular contexts. Here are five important things you should know about men and their experiences with miscarriage.
- Men do not grieve as openly as women. This may be attributed to cultural norms around gender, and what it means to be a “man.” Typically, men feel like they need to fill the role of “protector.” To do this, a protector cannot protect and be vulnerable at the same time. Therefore, they may hide their emotions or choose specific times and places to show emotions.
- Men experience delayed grief. As men attempt to fulfill the provider and protector role, they may put their emotions on hold to care for their significant other. This means that it may be between three and six months after the miscarriage for the grief to surface.
- Men mask their emotions with other behaviors. They may attempt to mask, suppress, or avoid their feelings by turning to food, drugs, alcohol, keeping busy, and appearing strong and supportive of their partner.
- Men feel fearful during and after the miscarriage for four main reasons. During the miscarriage, men fear for the health and safety of their partner. In addition, men experience anticipatory anxiety and fear during the next pregnancy. Third, men fear that they may do or say the wrong thing or that they may not adequately support their spouse. Last, men fear the loss of their legacy. This may be particularly concerning to men if fatherhood is considered to be a deeply fulfilling role and relate to their leaving a legacy.
- Men experience disenfranchised grief. Men are faced with dual disenfranchisement in their grief. This means that their grief is disenfranchised culturally and relationally. Culturally, men feel they are expected to be a provider, supporter, and protector. In addition, men experience relational disenfranchisement when their grief is not recognized by family or friends.
What Men Struggle With
After a miscarriage, men may feel uncertain, anxious, and/or withdrawn. These feelings may shape their responses to miscarriage and influence what they do relationally and emotionally in three key ways.
- Men struggle to state and express their feelings. When asked “How are you doing?” men may minimize or understate their feelings in an attempt to support and/or protect their partners. In addition, a man may not want to appear weak, vulnerable, or non-supportive, so they may diversify the conversation. Further, they may know little about miscarriage or how to support their significant other. The feeling of uncertainty and confusion can make it difficult to put into words what they are thinking and feeling.
- Men struggle with the sadness and grief. Studies suggest that men mask sadness and fear with the emotion and expressions of anger. Research suggests that men experience anger in two ways: towards medical and hospital staff and towards God. Specifically, men would express anger towards medical and hospital staff if they felt that staff came across as unfeeling, reacting as if the loss wasn’t a big deal, or treating the event too casually. In addition, men also expressed anger towards God to the degree that they saw God as responsible for the miscarriage.
- Men struggle with “toxic” masculinity. Toxic masculinity is when “What it means to be a man,” produces negative consequences for men, women, and society. For example, a traditional form of masculinity might suggest that, “Men need to be strong.” Taken to an extreme, as in the case of miscarriage, men may neglect their own emotional and psychological well-being in order to appear and be strong for their significant other. Toxic and traditional forms of masculinity can sometimes be supported and reinforced by friends and family members as well. For example, a friend or family member may say to the man, “You need to be strong for your spouse in this time.”
What You Can Do
Now that we have explored the struggles men face in miscarriage, there are seven things you can do to construct your own approaches to care.
- Be present and available.
- Ask men what they need.
- Be genuine when you ask how they are doing since men typically receive this question as a transition to then talk about how the woman is doing.
- Acknowledge their loss and grief.
- If you are a business leader, offer men time off from work, paid if possible; if you are a spiritual or religious leader, offer rituals and spiritual practices, tools, and resources to address grief and anger, if they are present.
- Hold nonjudgmental spaces for men to grieve, be angry, or experience other strong emotions.
- Be mindful of the ways in which the thoughts, actions, and beliefs of your context might be supporting toxic forms of masculinity.
Nathaniel J. Wagner, Colin T. Vaughn, and Victor E. Tuazon, “Fathers’ Lived Experiences of Miscarriage,” The Family Journal 26, no. 2 (April 2018):
Jennifer L. Fairchild and Michael Irvin Arrington, “Depictions of Husbands in Miscarriage Accounts,” Illness, Crisis & Loss 20, no. 4 (October 2012):
Martha S. Rinehart and Mark S. Kiselica, “Helping Men with the Trauma of Miscarriage.,” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training 47, no. 3 (2010): 288–95, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021160.
A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Joseph Kim Paxton is an ICTG Advisor while pursuing doctoral degrees in Practical Theology at the Claremont School of Theology and Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. His current research areas include clinical-community psychology, pastoral care, social scientific approaches to biblical interpretation, group processes, spiritual struggle, coping, and attitudes.
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Carly Jane Lee holds an MA in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is a graduate student of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Northwest University. She is directs and co-leads a miscarriage healing retreat for bereft women in Seattle, Washington. In addition, she is a community leader opening spaces for theological and psychological discussions around miscarriage.
Read all of Carly's blogs here >