An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg: Thank you for talking about miscarriage

The Facebook head's recent post about dealing with miscarriage should encourage all men to open up about this difficult subject.

Photo: Courtesy of TK
Photo: Bryan Borzykowski

Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg did what many men don’t often do: He spoke about his wife’s three miscarriages and how hard it’s been for them to get—and stay—pregnant. And then he shared his feelings about the loss—how lonely the experience was, and how he’d avoided discussing it for fear it would distance people or reflect badly on him, like the miscarriages were somehow his fault. It was a bold move, even for the founder of a very public empire.

No matter who you are, miscarriage is a hard topic. It may be a bit easier for women to talk about since it’s such a visceral experience for them—from the physical changes that come with carrying a baby to the painful procedures they might have to endure when the baby is lost. It’s easier for men, I think, to feel like they don’t have the right to those emotions—the sense of loss, loneliness and sadness. But miscarriage affects everyone in the family and, at least in my experience, the more you talk about it, the easier it can be to deal with the loss. Zuckerberg’s post yanks it out of the shadows and makes it OK for men to let it out.

Over the last eight years, I’ve looked at more pregnancy tests than I ever imagined I would. While most of the results were negative, we have seen that light blue plus sign pop up seven times. I was thrilled the first three times it appeared, but quickly learned not to get too attached to a positive result.

My wife, Lainie, has had five miscarriages—one before our first child was born, then she lost the baby who would have been a twin to our second child, and then she miscarried three more times when trying for a third baby. Most heart-wrenching, each loss happened progressively later on in pregnancy. Our last baby’s heart stopped beating at 16 weeks. We were so sure this one would make it—we’d hit the 12-week mark after all—that we told our kids, who were then three and six. We shared the news by giving them cookies shaped as baby bottles and toys. It took a minute for my oldest to figure it out, but when it hit her, she let out a yelp of pure joy.

Then four weeks later we had to tell them that the baby was gone. My oldest screamed and burst into tears, which lasted the entire night. My youngest tried to comfort her sister by stroking her hair, assuring her it would all be OK.

We’ve wanted three children ever since we got married. We know we’re lucky to have had two given that so many people struggle to have just one, but this doesn’t take away the sadness that comes after each loss. We were so devastated about losing this last baby that we decided to put things on hold—possibly forever. Which is why I was stunned when Lainie told me in February that she was pregnant.

It’s weird to not get excited when your wife tells you that she has a baby growing inside of her, but anxiety was my dominant emotion. All I could think about was whether our family could make it through another loss. After so many heartbreaks, I wasn’t confident that this baby would survive. So Lainie and I made a pact to not talk about it so that we wouldn’t get too attached.

Of course, that wasn’t so easy. Most of my thoughts focused on everything that could go wrong. It was only on the ride to our doctor’s appointments that we would ever address the elephant in the room—or rather, the baby in the womb. The conversation pretty much went like this: “There’s no way this is going to happen.” Despite our vow that we wouldn’t get attached, tears streamed down our faces as we drove to our eight-week check-up, already convinced we’d lost the baby.

Many women have miscarriages—studies show between 10 percent and 20 percent of all known pregnancies end in one—but far fewer have multiple miscarriages in a row. Less than five percent of women have two consecutive miscarriages and one percent have three, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Anyone who has experienced one knows how devastating the loss can be.

And while miscarriages are, understandably, harder on women, studies have also found that men suffer emotionally as well. After the last miscarriage, I broke down, sobbing into my hands while my wife comforted me.

Thankfully though, this baby was still growing, and at 12 weeks came the turning point. Our last two pregnancies had failed because of a chromosomal issue, so this time we took the Panorama test, a relatively new blood test that tells you within 10 days whether or not the fetus has a chromosomal abnormality. We were at home when we got the results and I was sure our neighbours could hear our massive sigh of relief when the test came back negative.

Almost immediately, the fear and nervousness disappeared, though we held off on celebrating until after our ultrasound at 16 weeks. We saw our baby’s heart beating, little arms flapping and tiny legs jumping—and I watched my wife’s face soften as the stress faded away. After four years of major emotional ups and downs, we now had no reason to believe that the baby on that screen wouldn’t make it. We cried in the ultrasound room, we cried on our way to the car and then we finally started sharing the news. In October, our new baby girl will finally arrive.

I’m glad that Zuckerberg shared his story. I have more than a few guy friends who’ve kept quiet about their own experiences with miscarriage. They know Lainie and I have gone through it, and I know they have too, but for the most part we tiptoe around it. It’s hard to blame them—the more heartache you experience, the harder it is to relive it. But the more we get it out there, whether it’s to a few friends or a billion, the more comfort there will be.

Read more:
Signs of miscarriage>
Miscarriage and pregnancy loss: causes, treatment and research>
Miscarriage and pregnancy loss: Sandy Wynia Katz’s story>

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