Content warning: this article discusses the grief and trauma of losing a baby.
I’ll never forget the cries of my wife piercing the early morning dawn the day after Boxing Day. As soon as they woke me, I knew what was happening; I just hoped that I was wrong. As I walked downstairs the sobs of my wife grew louder and I was confronted with the reality of the situation – my wife weeping as she sat on the toilet miscarrying our lifeless 11-week-old baby. An immensely sad yet intimate moment, forever etched on our minds.
The next few hours are a blur. We went to the hospital where a nurse at the emergency department allowed me to stay with my wife for an hour or so, despite Covid restrictions prohibiting visitors. The clots flowed at a rapid rate and the doctor came to confirm what we already knew. I went home, alone. Only this time I was the one sobbing, overcome not only with grief, but also the sadness that my wife was on her hospital bed without her best friend beside her.
Many parents are invisible to perinatal mental health services after the loss of their baby
A scan a few days later proved there was no life in my wife’s womb. At the end of the appointment, we were handed a couple of leaflets pointing us in the direction of online groups that could help, should we need it. And that was it. That was the end of the support given to us. There was no follow-up to see how my wife was doing physically or mentally, nor was there a phone call to see if I’d been affected at all. We were left to process the grief and loss - not just the loss of life, but the loss of hopes and dreams, the loss of a baby brother or sister for our daughter - by ourselves.
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Perhaps one of the reasons nobody followed up with my wife is because the miscarriage wasn’t on her doctor’s records – a fact that came to light some six months later. A terrible oversight and one that shows what can happen when the various parts of the NHS don’t communicate with one another. There must be better communication between maternity services and primary care services to ensure that every woman’s miscarriage is correctly logged, and their GP told so that their patient has access to the care and support they need.
Neither of us had ever thought that a miscarriage could happen to us, even though around 1 in 4 pregnancies end this way. I’d certainly never considered the mental health consequences of such an ordeal and the impact it can have on the father as well as the mother. While I didn’t develop a diagnosable mental disorder, it’s fair to say that the miscarriage took a toll on my mental wellbeing and affected many areas of my life. But the commonality of miscarriage means there must be many men and women who’ve had to process and digest this unique grief, some of whom might have felt as perplexed as us by the absence of any formal support or follow up.
Access to care should be expanded to the thousands who go through the trauma of a miscarriage every year
Over the last few months, I’ve learnt about miscarriage and the effect it can have. I’ve also learnt just how important paternal mental health during and after pregnancy is to the mental health of the new-born child. Fathers and mothers with depressive symptoms during pregnancy and after birth are more likely to have a child who goes on to have depression themselves, yet perinatal services aren’t set-up to assess and include the mental health and wellbeing of dads.
With the pandemic having disrupted so much over the last year and a half, it’s vital that access to perinatal mental health services is expanded. If we want children and mums to be healthy then it must be right that dads are healthy too. That’s why I’m pleased to see that the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ new report on perinatal mental health says that services should assess the mental health needs of the father and offer support if it’s needed. But this shouldn’t just be for parents who enjoy a successful pregnancy. It should be available to the tens of thousands of women and men who go through the trauma and sadness of a miscarriage every year.