20 Mar How Do Men Express Grief After Pregnancy Loss?
MedicalResearch.com Interview with
Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Ph.D.
Department of Communication
University of Missouri
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Miscarriage is a prevalent health concern, with one in five pregnancies ending in miscarriage, which is a pregnancy loss before 20 weeks’ gestation. Past research has shown that women who have miscarried often suffer mental health effects such as heightened grief, depression, loneliness, and suicidality.
Although much of the research on coping with miscarriage has focused on women’s health, many miscarriages occur within romantic relationships and affect the non-miscarrying partner as well. Women in heterosexual marriages report that their husband is often their top support-provider. Past research has shown that husbands suffer with mental health effects after a miscarriage, sometimes for even longer than their wives, but are not often supported in their grief because miscarriage is a “woman’s issue” and they feel uncomfortable talking about it.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: In this study, Amanda Holman, Chad McBride, and I looked at how men in heterosexual marriages communicate to cope with miscarriage. Specifically, we were interested in how men used metaphors to make sense of and grieve with their loss. Our findings show that men relied on metaphors of lost gift, cataclysm, death of a loved one, emptiness, and chaotic movement to make sense of their wife’s miscarriage. These metaphors seemed to be responding to the cultural assumption that pregnancy and birth should be easy for everyone. We also found that men often pull from discourses of masculinity to make sense of their “place” in the miscarriage story, relying on metaphors of rock, guard, repair man, and secondary character.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: From these findings, we learn that men whose romantic partners experience miscarriage need to process their emotions and grieve for their loss. It is important for their loved ones, including their romantic partner, to recognize men’s needs for support as well as their partner’s. This doesn’t dismiss that women undergo the physical trauma of miscarriage and often report a closer attachment to the baby at the time of the miscarriage. Rather, we hope these findings can help men legitimize their grief alongside their wife’s, and that friends and family will recognize men’s needs for support as well.
Support-providers and medical professionals may consider using some of the metaphors uncovered in this study to help validate men’s experience. These metaphors may help romantic partners understand how men are making sense of and grieving with their loss. Giving men metaphors to use to talk about their emotions may help them feel more comfortable talking about it and thus processing their emotions with others.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Although our recruitment scripts and efforts did not exclude anyone from these marginalized groups, our sample was mostly White, highly-educated, and in heterosexual marriages. Because we know health disparities affect miscarriage treatment and recovery, the research community, including myself, desperately need to work to understand the miscarriage experience of people of color, those in LGBTQ+ relationships, unmarried folks, and those in varying socioeconomic classes.
My research team and I are currently collecting longitudinal data, where we track couples over time to see how their coping and sense-making may change.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: Thank you to Dr. Judy Stern with the Infertility Family Research Registry at Dartmouth College for her help recruiting participants, and Creighton University’s Dr. George F. Haddix President’s Faculty Research Fund for funding this project.
Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Amanda Holman & M. Chad McBride (2019) Men’s Use of Metaphors to Make Sense of Their Spouse’s Miscarriage: Expanding the Communicated Sense-Making Model, Health Communication, DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2019.1570430
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