Women who have a miscarriage often use metaphors to make sense of and deal with the experience. A new study investigates the same among men.
Although some people consider miscarriage a “women’s issue,” men also grieve the loss of the baby. Researchers wanted to expand upon a communication model that claims people use narrative-like descriptions to organize and interpret their life experiences.
After interviewing 45 men, Haley Kranstuber Horstman, professor of communication at the University of Missouri, and her team found five metaphors often reflected the men’s understanding of the physical, emotional, and relational implications of their partner’s miscarriage.
These included lost gift, cataclysm, death of a loved one, emptiness, and chaotic movement. Unexpectedly, the researchers discovered these men also used four additional metaphors to describe their role in the experience—rock, guard, repairman, and secondary character.
“In describing the miscarriage itself, the men are speaking to a societal expectation that pregnancy is easy and smooth,” Horstman says. “When describing their role in the experience, the men speak to the traditional expectation that they should be heterosexual and tough.
“But without intention, we see that men’s emotions are being pushed aside to help their partner, when in reality these men are also suffering.”
The researchers say they hope the study’s findings will encourage couples to use metaphors and other descriptive phrases when talking about miscarriage to “co-cope” with their experience and will encourage men to find helpful ways to talk about their spouse’s miscarriage.
The authors acknowledge that highly educated heterosexual white men made up most of the study’s participants and look to expand future research with other ethnic and social groups.
Horstman researches how couples talk about miscarriage. Her interest began in graduate school when she and one of the study’s coauthors, Amanda Holman, saw how friends experienced infertility and miscarriages.
“We noticed a lot of the men that were a part of the relationships didn’t talk about miscarriage,” Horstman says. “They didn’t feel they had the space to talk about it, and didn’t feel like they could cope with miscarriage because it is such a women’s space.”
Horstman created the model with Jody Koenig Kellas at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The study appears in Health Affairs. Additional coauthors are from Creighton University, which funded the work.
Source: University of Missouri