Over the last 18 months, journalist Keyan Milanian and his wife Amy have experienced a devastating series of miscarriages. While initially keeping news of their personal heartache private, the couple chose to speak out earlier this year.
Here, Keyan opens up about the need for men to talk about the pain of miscarriage and how friends and family members can best support someone going through the experience.
I choked, pulled over in a bus lane, switched the hazard lights on and tried again. “I think we’re having a miscarriage.” It had taken me by surprise, this sudden grief. But speaking to my mum on the phone, cancelling the dinner plans we had with her at our local that night, was what brought it crashing to the surface. A few hours earlier, with me still at work, Amy had called. “I’m bleeding,” she forced through telephone tears.
I tried to calm her and felt useless. She called 111, the NHS helpline, and they told her to go to hospital if the bleeding got worse. It did and I called my mum on the way to A&E.
That was just over 18 months ago. We have had four more since then. We have no children and we have felt for a large part of that time like we are in limbo, between coming and going, between somewhere and nowhere.
After the third we decided to 'go public,' feeling it was time to be more open about our pain. There were too many pressures to keep things secret any longer, too much lying to people we love, too many times we were asked when we would have kids or whether we wanted a family, too many occasions when we had to force a smile and say, ‘Yes, hopefully one day.'
A few years ago my mum told me my grandparents had had a fifth child but she was stillborn. Having told my granddad, a very progressive and thoughtful man in his eighties, about our miscarriages I asked him about that baby, the little girl they’d lost more than 60 years previously. I wanted to try and understand what he had been through and perhaps how he had dealt with it. He went very quiet. “How did you feel about that?” I asked. “Well, it was very upsetting, we didn’t really talk about it,” he responded. End of conversation.
Of course, many people don’t want to wade into that fog of blood and grief and, perhaps more than anything, don’t know what to say. The subject is still considered taboo. And besides, what do you say to someone who has lost five babies? To someone who, and it has crossed our minds many times recently, may never have children of their own?
Men are seen as the rock, steadfast and unflinching too – the strong silent type
Men in particular don’t appear to know what to say or at least don’t generally share their experiences in public spaces. My wife, a journalist herself, wrote a piece for The Guardian and it struck me how many more women – each with their own tragic story – responded compared to men. She received dozens of messages from female friends and from complete strangers, women empathising, sympathising, identifying, discussing. But from men? Not so many. On a recent Facebook post by the Miscarriage Association to remember babies lost I counted just two comments, out of 30, written by men.
We are also battered by the waves of emotion that come with loss, but we are meant to be the rock, steadfast and unflinching too – the strong silent type. Already one down, already sad, we went abroad last year for a holiday, pregnant again. The bleeding started on the second day and, sat in a loud burger bar just off Times Square, not looking at one another, we knew what was happening and tried to be hopeful. As she was pushed from one clinic to the other, jabbed with needles and given internal examinations, I could only take control of the practicalities. I hailed our taxis, changed our flights, spoke to our Airbnb hosts about what had happened, phoned the insurers and tried to be The Strong One. A month after our return I phoned work to tell them I was sick. I didn’t tell them that I had burst into tears the previous night and felt like I wanted to constantly sleep. Even now there are days I feel despondent and I can’t help but feel I am a sadder person than I was two years ago.
And at times, some male friends were brilliant with me. Having decided on one or two occasions not to bring up the subject in the pub, mates often started the conversation. They were ready to listen.
One, soon after we ‘went public’ and quite out of the blue, said how brave he thought we’d both been in being open about our losses. That then sparked a long and, by the end, not entirely sober discussion with four or five male friends over pints. Another friend, a guy from work who had recently been through a miscarriage with his wife, said he’d stumbled on a piece I had written about miscarriage and told me how comforting he had found it to know other men were experiencing similar emotions.There was something almost beautiful about it. Others, however, weren’t quite as good.
After I mentioned that I was raising money for the Miscarriage Association on a Whatsapp chat with football friends the normally buzzing thread went dead for days. On another occasion, a male colleague visibly flinched when I mentioned that we had endured five. He moved the conversation quickly on. It's an all too familiar theme I've had to experience day to day.
There’s even still a lingering idea that men just don't feel it, that they just aren't affected by it.
“How is she?” some people will ask, forgetting that this is our miscarriage and not just hers. She, there is no doubt in my mind, has had the worst of it, but we have both gone five rounds. We are both bruised and a little broken. It wasn’t totally dissimilar to a few years before when, trawling wedding venues and meeting caterers, people would speak to Amy as though I wasn’t stood right there beside her, talking about her ‘big day’ like I was an afterthought.
Fortunately, things are moving forward in terms of the public perception of miscarriage. On 13 October, for the first time, Baby Loss Awareness Week (October 9-15) was recognised officially in Parliament. The discussion was brought forward by MPs Will Quince and Antoinette Sandbach, who have both suffered the loss of a child.
During that debate, Victoria Prentis, Conservative MP for Banbury, read an excerpt from a study published in the UK medical journal The Lancet that read: “Fathers reported feeling unacknowledged as a legitimately grieving parent. The burden of these men keeping feelings to themselves increased the risk of chronic grief. Differences in the grieving process between parents can lead to incongruent grief, which was reported to cause serious relationship issues.”
Amy and I went through different stages of grief at different times and that caused its own problems. In the first few days, she would be raw and furious and devastated. In comparison, I would be numb, still coming to terms with a future, once again, that did not involve screaming babies and nappies and buggies and all the other clichés. No cloud-like scan on Facebook for us.
At one point in New York, and I feel so ashamed of it now, I cringed a little as my wife openly sobbed in the waiting area of an abortion clinic (it was the only place that could carry out the procedure we needed at such short notice).
We were not in the same place at those moments.
The period before we decided to be so totally open with our friends and family was the hardest. I suddenly felt lonely, utterly useless, unable to comfort her and as though, for the first time, I didn’t understand my own wife, someone I know so well, someone who is so like me. That was terrifying. Talking with one another helped us fight through those dark days.
The last time it happened we walked. We walked for almost 10 miles across London. We spent time with one another and we talked. There were silences too, we shook our heads at one another and even smiled, sadly, disbelieving but totally believing. “Here we are again.” And, when we were ready to see our friends again, the best thing they could say to us was simply “I’m sorry.” That’s all we ever wanted to hear.
Men do need to change – we need to realise that this subject should not be taboo, miscarriages are common occurrences, there is no shame in feeling pain and we are no less of a man for opening up to friends, even crying.
Women might go through more, physically and mentally, while having a miscarriage but it's a shared pain.
Not so long ago, while giving an interview about our losses, my wife put it perfectly when she said: "There's no strength in going through things alone." If these five miscarriages have taught me anything it's that she was right.
If you'd like support or advice, contact the Miscarriage Association or call its helpline on 01924 200 799