The Gouveia Family Lost 5 Of 8 Pregnancies — And Wrote A Book On How It Affects Dads Too
When my husband and I lost our first pregnancy to miscarriage, I was surrounded with support, at least in the beginning. A lot of women in my life sought me out to share their own loss stories and make me feel less alone. Online forums provided me with comfort, assuring me that I was the one in four, a member of a sisterhood of grief and loss that binds women of all ages and stations together.
My husband went to work the very next day (because, as one HR director recently told a grieving woman, “bereavement leave is for, like, real people.”) One person said, “Aw, dude, that sucks. Is your wife okay?” That person centered my loss, and nobody else really seemed to assume that my husband was suffering at all.
My physical needs during that time of mourning and loss were more immediate, but the emotions of that loss wore equally on our hearts and minds.
I was not the only one grappling with all the unfulfilled dreams we had for our baby. Maybe it was my body feeling the loss, my husband’s hopes and wishes died along with mine. It was his baby, too.
When I had another miscarriage 8 years later, the experience was very much the same. My girlfriends showed up with gift baskets, sent dinners, and called me to make sure I was okay. Very few people really thought to ask Scott how he was handling the loss, except to make sure he wasn’t overwhelmed by my grief. When it comes to men and miscarriage, the conversation isn’t always entirely open.
Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of three, creator of the fatherhood blog, The Daddy Files, and author of the book, “Raising Boys to Be Good Men: A Parent’s Guide to Bringing up Happy Sons in a World Filled with Toxic Masculinity.” He set out to discuss how miscarriage affects dads in his new book, “Men and Miscarriage: A Dad’s Guide to Grief, Relationships and Healing After Loss.”
Together with his wife, MJ, Aaron uses his signature casual, engaging, conversational tone to share the story of their pregnancy losses, abortion, and male-factor infertility. He also interviews nine other fathers to share their perspectives on surviving the emotional fallout of pregnancy loss.
I got to have a beautiful discussion with Aaron and MJ for Scary Mommy.
We talked about their experiences, and the complicated process of building a family when your joy is entangled with so much loss and sadness. Aaron and MJ have three beautiful living children, and they consider themselves the luckiest parents in the world. They recognize that not everyone ends up with the family of their dreams on the other side of infertility and pregnancy loss.
But their luck is mixed with deep sorrow. They lost five out of their eight pregnancies over a span of eight or nine years, including making the heartbreaking decision to terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester.
“It really messed me up! I knew if I was this messed up as a very, very average guy, I was sure other people were,” Aaron explains.
Aaron felt that, as a non-birthing partner, he needed his wife to participate to make this book happen.
Aaron worked hard to get MJ on board. “As a cis white guy, I didn’t want to do this without including my wife. Miscarriage is harder on the birthing partner. That’s just a fact. I am not trying to corner the market on miscarriage. I’m just trying to share my story to hopefully open the door, so that more non-birthing partners can express themselves and support their partners in their grief. It may not be happening to their body, but it’s happening to them, and there can be some pretty serious negative repercussions if they don’t deal with it,” Aaron warns.
“It was hugely out of my comfort zone, but I wanted to do it because it was such an important topic. For me personally, the abortion aspect of it—I needed to tell that story,” MJ shares.
In Men and Miscarriage, the Gouveias share openly about Aaron’s journey with male-factor infertility.
“In some ways, [the infertility diagnosis] was harder than the miscarriages,” Aaron admits. When their fertility specialist determined that it was Aaron’s infertility that was affecting their ability to start a family, he was “obliterated.”
“It was a sledgehammer to everything that’s ‘supposed to’ make a man, a man, and I felt decimated and had no idea how to deal with that,” he admits. “It still stings. I have an unexplainable shame over it, still. It’s less than it was, and I deal with it, I go to a counselor on my own now, and things are better, but it’s still there. I think the more men talk about this, the less shameful it’s going to be. If we would never blame our partners for infertility, we shouldn’t blame ourselves. We need to get over the toxicity of thinking there’s something wrong with us as men if we need a little help in that department.”
Throughout the process of treating the infertility and losing so many babies during pregnancy, Aaron and MJ admit that they struggled to stay on the same page.
“I needed Aaron to be honest with me about his feelings. Instead of opening up to his blog followers [by writing about his story] I really wish he’d sat me down and told me what he was feeling and what he needed. I would have said, ‘Well, this is what I need from you, and this is how we need to handle this,” MJ explains.
“It was far less painful for me to write about it and hit publish and have a bunch of nameless, faceless people reading it than it was to sit down and relive that shame with the person I love most in the world. I wasn’t capable of it then, but I really wrote all of those things for her to see, but the ironic part is, she was so mad at me, she didn’t read any of it!” Aaron exclaims.
MJ agrees. “We had a breakdown in communication during the miscarriages and the abortion, and the only time I saw any insight in the full emotions that he has was when he chased protestors away [at the abortion clinic.]”
Their second trimester abortion was devastating, but it turned out to be a turning point in Aaron’s grief process.
One of the Gouveias’ babies was diagnosed with Sirenomelia, or Mermaid Syndrome, in utero. Aaron and MJ learned that the baby’s legs were fused, and their child didn’t have a bladder or kidneys. The congenital anomalies were, sadly, completely incompatible with life. If they continued the pregnancy, MJ would have to deliver their lifeless baby down the line. The Gouveias made the impossible choice to terminate their desperately desired pregnancy to reduce the physical suffering MJ and the baby would experience.
When they arrived at the clinic and were confronted by anti-choice protestors, Aaron “saw red,” he explains. He turned on his phone camera and confronted them. That interaction ended up going massively viral.
The immense publicity resulting from that viral encounter became kind of a silver lining for Aaron. He realized he could help other people who were struggling like he and MJ were with loss, infertility and building a family. “That’s what really started to get me through it,” he admits.
Aaron and MJ interviewed nine other people who were willing to share their loss stories for Men and Miscarriage.
A common theme they found among the men who responded was that their initial sadness often gave way to anger at the complete lack of control they felt during pregnancy loss situations.
“If the person we love has a problem, [a lot of men] want to solve it immediately,” he says.
One contributor, David, describes his experience with a support group for couples where the women and men met in separate groups before coming together to discuss their experiences. David’s wife described a cathartic, emotional experience where she felt surrounded in love and support. David’s time with the other fathers was nothing like that. He said they spent the entire time talking about the possibilities of what went wrong, even blaming their doctors.
“He equated it to kicking the tires and looking under the hood to diagnose a car. Nobody shared any feelings. They all just wanted to blame someone. It was a group of ‘fixers’ frustrated that they couldn’t fix anything, and that theme pops up time and time again,” Aaron shares. “It’s so much harder to sit with the uncomfortable, helpless, sad feeling and just try to deal with it than it is to try and pinpoint a cause or find a way around the grief. A lot of men don’t have the tools in their emotional toolbox to deal with grief and that’s really, really tough.”
Aaron and MJ want to be clear that, although it’s called Men and Miscarriage, this book is not just for men.
“This book is very much for women who have partners who don’t seem emotionally invested in what’s happened. It’s hopefully a peek behind the curtain for women thinking, ‘Oh my god. Does my partner just not care at all about what’s going on?’ The answer is 99 times out of 100 we care very much, we just know how to grieve, if we’re allowed to grieve. We can feel like a burden if we speak up because this is something that’s happening in someone else’s body,” Aaron explains.
Although any non-birthing partner can likely relate to a lot of the experiences that Aaron and the other dads in the book describe, Aaron and MJ decided to focus on men and miscarriage for this one. They recognize that toxicity of the definition of masculinity in our culture has robbed a lot of men of the ability to express and sit with their grief. Your Average Joe American dude has not had the freedom and nurturing necessary to be comfortable admitting and showing deep emotion. Aaron and MJ hope to bring this into the light so more men might be able to admit that losing their baby during pregnancy– even though they weren’t the one carrying it– can come with life-altering grief. They need permission and encouragement to admit and address that pain.
“Men and Miscarriage” can be just the encouragement they need.
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