Nearly 1 in 4 women who experience miscarriages may not tell their partners, according to an informal survey conducted by Celmatix, a biotechnology company focused on fertility issues. The findings (which were not subject to peer review) shed light on the silence, secrecy, and shame surrounding infertility, and the reasons why some women choose to keep loss of pregnancy to themselves.
“A woman might want to have an exciting reveal and hold off sharing the information with her partner,” Angie Lee, Chief Product Officer at Celmatix, told Fatherly. “Then their period may come and they don’t want to disappoint their partners. Or, their coping mechanism is to go inward.”
As traumatic as miscarriage can be for women, it can be uniquely painful for men when they are kept in the dark and robbed of the chance to support their partners. Studies haven shown that many men suffer depression and anxiety following the loss of a pregnancy, underscoring the fact that lack of communication between couples after a tragic loss of pregnancy can hurt both men and women.
And yet when Lee and her team surveyed 1,000 women between the ages of 25 and 33, they found that 21 percent did not tell their partners about miscarriages, 43 percent did not tell their friends, and 49 percent of women did not talk about fertility with their partners at all. While the findings were by no means definitive, they do highlight a possible trend toward avoiding awkward conversations about fertility. Lee suspects this may be nearly universal. “We found it very telling that women would not share this information and we think it ties back to feelings of shame, fear, and disappointment,” Lee says. “We just don’t want women to not get the emotional support they need because they’re afraid.”
Lee says men can support the women in their lives—and make it easier for them to open up about fertility issues—by leading by example. After all, male infertility is the problem about one third of the time, and being vulnerable about your own concerns could make your partner more willing to do the same. Lee recommends having these awkward conversations as early in the process as possible, ideally when fertility anxieties are still hypothetical (and when “trying” is still mostly about having lots of sex).
Along with men supporting their partners by initiating these difficult conversations, Lee and her colleagues are currently encouraging women to be more transparent about miscarriage and infertility in general through “Say The F Word” — a campaign of women pledging to talk about fertility openly and frankly. Though the effort doesn’t call for men to pledge per se, the end goal is to increase thoughtful communication and eliminate secrecy between couples as they approach parenthood.
“It’s the first words that are the hardest, but once you cross that threshold it’s amazing how it can open up a dialogue between two people,” Lee notes. “Men can also overcome that fear.”