Research suggests that more than 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s a shedload of grief – and not just for the mothers-to-be, as George Luke knows all too well.

I remember that Monday afternoon like it was yesterday. I was at work when my wife Karen rang sounding shaken: “Something’s happened. I’m in hospital.”

My job had become a toxic nightmare by this time, so part of me was thankful for an excuse to leave work early. But it wasn’t without a sense of worry; after all, it’s rarely a good thing to be summoned to a hospital at short notice. “I can see a six-week-old foetus with a heartbeat,” the doctor said after examining her, beaming from ear to ear as she delivered the news. Karen and I hugged warmly,  she got dressed and we set off home, our hearts considerably lighter than when we’d arrived. Could this be it? Our dream of parenthood becoming real at last? Third time lucky?

Sadly, no. Two days later, my phone rang again. Another emergency summons from Karen. It felt a lot more ominous this time. Sure enough, when I arrived at the hospital the news wasn’t good: the foetus that had filled us with so much hope and joy over the last 48 hours was no more. At least this time round I was able to comfort my wife in person – not like the first time this tragedy hit us, when she was in France and I had to be supportive remotely over the phone hundreds of miles away. I don’t think I’ll ever feel as helpless as I did then. 

Baby loss isn’t just tough; it’s an awful, tragic, mind-bender of an ordeal to go through. We all know (or think we know) how it affects women. But how should a man react, respond or even feel when his wife/partner has a miscarriage? He’s lost a child too; how does that affect him? It must do…  

Who do we talk to about our feelings? How can we support our wives and partners better? So many questions, no conclusive answers. One thing I do have, though, is a couple of friends who’ve been through the ordeal and have, in their own time and their own way, responded to it. Tom Wateracre is one of the authors of a newly published book No One Talks About This Stuff. Ola Obaro is a trustee of the Miscarriage Association – currently the organisation’s only male trustee.

Tom and his wife Sarah had been married four years when, as he puts it, “Our body clocks were like, ‘Right! Okay – here we go!’” Sarah then became pregnant quite quickly, but then the couple received some devastating news: “We found out that our baby had a genetic condition which some babies can continue with, but it also had heart problems and a load of different things. They said the chances of making it to term were very unlikely, and the chances of making it further than that even less so, and so they offered us a medical termination at 17 weeks.” 

In the years following the termination, Sarah had some very early miscarriages. “After four years of that, we just didn’t want any more medical interventions,” Tom says. “So we started the adoption process. That took another four years.

“Part of the adoption process was dealing with the grief. They wanted to make sure that we had absolutely stopped trying for a baby, which is one thing; so we had couples’ counselling at that point just to talk about what that meant: were we actually ready for having a kid that wasn’t going to be ‘our own’, and then going through the various stages of adoption. We ended up doing this thing called Early Permanence, which is where you foster and adopt at the same time. Our daughter came to us and we looked after her for a year. Part of the fostering process is the possibility that the child might go back to their birth parents, so we kind of opened ourselves up to that. 

“In the book, I’ve written about the idea that we were prepared for some of the possibilities of that adoption process because we’d experienced that loss. We knew that if our daughter were to go back to her birth parents, we would in some sense have a blueprint of how we would deal with the grief of that. And so that gave me a bit of comfort during that process. It’s like a sneaky superpower.”

Ola’s wife Anjuli first became pregnant about three years into their marriage; it was to be the first of three miscarriages she would have before the birth of their daughter, who’s now five. “By the third one, we were starting to potentially accept that we might need to consider other options,” says Ola. “We were referred to a miscarriage clinic – but then before we’d started any treatment, Anjuli became pregnant again, so all the clinic could do was monitor her. And then we had our daughter. But when we got pregnant again, we were told that because we’d had a baby, everything was now fine and normal… but then we had another loss. Thankfully, we had an amazing GP who was really great, and we had our son almost two years ago.

“The first loss really stands out because like all of the stuff you read about, you never think it’s going to happen to you. You know it happens; you may even broadly know the statistics – one in four or one in five, depending on what you read – but then when it happens… I was just in a state of shock. This wasn’t part of the plan! Between me and my wife, I’m the problem solver:‘You get stuff done’. Only in this case, you can’t.”

“My constant thinking was that my emotions are not useful here,” Tom recalls. “Sarah’s the one who’s had all of the actual trauma; I’ve just been like a bystander. It’s almost as if I didn’t have as much of an emotional stake in it as she did. So I just bottled it up until the point where I had a panic attack on the train one day. That was when I realised I needed to talk to someone about it.”  

Churches generally do a great job at preparing couples for marriage, but both Ola and Tom think that some pre-emptive advice on dealing with baby loss would have been helpful. “Anj and I did a bunch of marriage courses,” Ola says, “and neither of us can remember this subject coming up. What does come up is ‘Do you want kids?’and disciplining kids. Nobody talked about what happens if you want kids but can’t have them. Yes, it might have been a bit of a downer. But there were enough people in the room that statistically some of us would experience this. 

“Nobody wants to think about it, but unfortunately it is going to happen to some people. So there’s some responsibility to prepare people for it in a loving way, just as they prepare us for arguments and communication issues. Baby loss is such a traumatic experience; it could shatter your marriage if you haven’t been emotionally prepared. Churches could do a better job of talking about it openly –how you carry on having faith but potentially being prepared for not getting something you always thought was going to be part of your life.”

“Even when your story ends in a baby, that’s not the end!” says Tom. And he’s right; the thought of what could have been doesn’t just go away overnight. Tom and Sarah now have their daughter, Ola and Anjuli have a girl and a boy, and Karen and I have our two girls. Mission accomplished? Not quite. The experience of ‘almost parenthood’ (to borrow a phrase from Tom’s book) has a way of messing with your head. There are groups that host memorial events for those who have lost babies through miscarriage in the past. Ola recalls going to a few such events and meeting people who were mourning babies they’d lost 30 or 40 years ago. “Even if you have another kid or you adopt a child three or four years later, that’s a whole different trajectory of hopes and dreams,” he says. “But those previous ones never got borne out and nothing can take that away.”

And maybe that’s a good thing. Not everything in life has a nicely wrapped up conclusion, as much as we would like them to. “Dealing with the lows of life needs to be something that we’re more comfortable with,” says Ola. “Always seeing those lows as a part of your eventual victory can be unhelpful sometimes. Nobody wants to consider that bad things could happen to them, and what that could mean. But it’s so important that we do.”  

There are a number of organisations who offer help to those in this situation:

 Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research is the largest of its kind in Europe. They offer lots of information and encouragement.

Miscarriage for Men has a community forum with links and blogs.

Child Bereavement UK supports families when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying. They have a helpline, face-to-face groups and information resources.

Cruse Bereavement Care helps people understand their grief and cope with their loss. They have a helpline and a network of local branches where you can find support.

The Miscarriage Association provides a helpline five days a week, plus a forum and support groups.

Images: Getty

George Luke

George is husband to Karen and father to four-year-old Sylvie and three-year-old Ruby. They all live in Chesham, where they attend Emmanuel Church. George loves music and can often be found DJing at events when he isn’t writing or producing radio programmes. When not doing either of those, he’s probably either baking, swimming or windsurfing.

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