On July 2nd 2011, I attended a wedding. Alone. I watched the happy couple say their vows. Alone. I toasted the speeches. Alone.
My wife, Kayleigh, was not with me that day. Just twenty-four hours earlier I was sat, alone, in a hospital room, waiting for her to return from surgery. She was undergoing an Evacuation of the Retained Products of Conception (ERPC) procedure, to surgically remove the remains of our first child.
So, why did I go to that wedding? Because I didn’t want to let my friends down? Because I wanted to pretend that life was normal? Because I wanted to show my wife that I could be strong in the face of adversity? Because I wanted to escape? Because I didn’t feel that I, as the man, had any excuse not to go?
All of the above. This is the world of men and miscarriage.
Most people were non-the-wiser that day. I made plausible excuses for Kayleigh’s absence. “She’s ill”. Not a million miles from the truth. I acted happy. I celebrated. I smiled. My first child had been taken away, and yet I acted happy, celebrated, and smiled.
For men, there are no physical consequences of miscarriage. And so, as miscarriage is quite commonly considered to be a temporary physical ailment, there is often little thought given to how it impacts upon a father. It can be isolating. It can be confusing. It can be heart-breaking. Society expects men to carry on, be strong, and look after their wife.
The reality is that women don’t suffer miscarriages alone. Families suffer miscarriages together.
On March 8th 2012, we went to have an ultrasound scan. We were told that our second child had died. Of all four miscarriages that we suffered, this was the toughest. We’d heard the heartbeat of this child the week before. We have ultrasound photographs of this child. We thought that the first miscarriage (diagnosed as a complete molar pregnancy) was a one-off low-point in our lives, and weren’t expecting to lose another child.
My first day back at work following the worst day of my life? March 9th. The next day.
During the course of four miscarriages, spanning two years, Kayleigh took a number of weeks off work to recover both physically and emotionally. The number of days that I took off work during the whole time could be counted on one hand, without the need for every finger.
The pressures on men are different. The expectations of men are different. Nobody forced me to carry on as normal, but I felt like it was the done thing.
I remember everything about March 8th 2012. I remember what I did that morning. I remember the CD I listened to on the way to the hospital. And I remember the noise I made when we were told that our child was dead. More than three years on, I haven’t listened to that CD since.
From the second miscarriage onwards, we started to wonder if we would ever have children. One miscarriage is upsetting, unfortunate and unsettling. Two miscarriages feels like a pattern. It’s a recurrence. And the nature of our second miscarriage, having seen and heard our child before losing it, made us feel particularly helpless.
If you’ve read Kayleigh’s blog, you’ll know that I never gave up on our hopes of having a baby. I never said that we couldn’t do it. I insisted that one day we would look back on this period of our lives with a different perspective, as a tough time we had to go through before starting our family.
I honestly don’t know if I remained steadfast and strong because I felt I had to, or because I truly believed it. In any case, I’m glad I did. I think it helped us both. I became very protective of Kayleigh. In particular, I was determined to keep her spirits up. I wanted her to feel as positive as I did that we would get there in the end. I felt that if she lost hope, then we would never get there, as if there were some link between a woman’s mental positivity and her likelihood of miscarriage.
I’m glad I stayed strong and positive, but it was mentally isolating. It meant not always telling Kayleigh how I truly felt about things. It even meant hiding things from her, such as stories of others’ hardships or successes that were affecting me. It meant remaining resilient when we lost our third and fourth children, despite the speed and inevitability of those miscarriages casting ever longer shadows on our dreams.
Our fifth pregnancy brought with it many new challenges. And, because this was a successful pregnancy, those challenges were spread across a nine-month tension-filled period between July 2013 and April 16th 2014.
Firstly, there was the responsibility to support and help Kayleigh with the treatment programme prescribed by our consultant, Professor Quenby. For fourty-two consecutive days (between weeks six to twelve of pregnancy), Kayleigh had to inject herself with heparin. I was there, every evening, encouraging my needle-phobic wife that she could do this, and clearing up her sharps once it was done. Words can’t describe her bravery to do this fourty-two times.
Secondly, as our baby began to grow and move, I found it very difficult to be the one who couldn’t feel if things were OK or not. Kayleigh could feel our baby moving, squirming and kicking. She could feel sickness, or other hormonal indicators. She could feel that things were OK. Whereas I was often sat at my desk, or on a train, or out on a run, worrying that my baby might not be alright. I felt like I needed constant reassurance that we hadn’t lost baby number five. Men don’t feel the physical reassurances when things are going well. Men simply feel tense, worried and helpless.
Thirdly, I still felt the need to act strong, carry on and power through in the face of distress. There was a day in December 2013 when Kayleigh text me to say that the baby had been moving less than normal, and that she was going to the hospital to have it checked out. I received that text message less than ten minutes before making a high-pressure presentation in front of two directors at work. I stood up and made that presentation, whilst my mind was filled with the dread that this might just turn out to be the most devastating day of my life to date.
It wasn’t until 21:06 on April 16th 2014 that I felt any sense of relief. Our son had been born, and he was OK. I feel it’s a little disingenuous and inconsiderate to eulogise about Blake during a miscarriage blog, but needless to say I love him very much.
This blog post is relatively short, but I hope that other men can relate to some of the emotions and circumstances that I faced. Doing things alone. Feeling isolated. Acting differently to how you feel. Hiding emotions. Experiencing helplessness.
Raising awareness of miscarriage is a battle that campaigners are beginning to win. But the rhetoric is still too strongly weighted towards this being a thing suffered by women. Only recently am I beginning to see the media talking about the impact of miscarriage on fathers. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently brought the issue to a global audience, revealing the three miscarriages that he and his wife suffered. Miscarriage Association Patron Nigel Martyn (former footballer) and Ambassador Matthew Burton (from ‘Education Yorkshire’ – coincidentally my namesake!) have done much to raise the issue in the UK.
On October 11th 2015, I’ll be running the Yorkshire 10 Mile race. The race coincides with the annual Baby Loss Awareness Week (October 9th – 15th), which culminates in Baby Loss Awareness Day (October 15th).
If you’d like to sponsor me, and contribute towards our ongoing fundraising for research into recurrent miscarriage and molar pregnancy, you can do so here https://www.justgiving.com/teams/KayleighandMatt. You can also sponsor me by texting KMBU66 £5 to 70070.
Women don’t suffer miscarriages alone. Families suffer miscarriages together.
Help us to #BreakTheTaboo
Matt Burton, August 2015