Tristan MacManus still remembers the gut-punch of emotion when his wife, Tahyna Tozzi, lost their first baby. “I was heartbroken,” the new co-host of Studio 10 admits. “It literally broke my heart. I’d waited for my whole life to be a father. When Tahyna told me we were having a baby, it was easily the best day of my life.”
The couple had suffered a miscarriage, an experience that is sadly all too common with between 15 to 20 per cent of pregnancies ending before week 20. The emotional toll of such a loss is increasingly acknowledged. Yet while a host of celebrities from Beyonce to Sharon Stone have opened up about their experience, the subject is invariably dissected from a female perspective. This is hardly surprising given that women are biologically obliged to bear the brunt of the child-bearing journey. Yet research suggests that men can also be deeply affected by miscarriage.
One British study of 323 men found that in the aftermath of miscarriage, men were initially more reticent about losing the baby and displayed less “active grief” than their partners. In the eight weeks following the loss, however, the researchers found that men were more vulnerable to feelings of despair and difficulty in coping.
Tristan talks about his miscarriage experience as part of a new film directed by his wife that’s now showing on Stan (we’ll come to the title later). “I remember being very confused as to what I should be doing after it happened,” he admits. “My way of handling the trauma was literally to put it to the back of my mind and not deal with it.”
What he did was overanalyse his behaviour in an effort to figure out if he’d somehow contributed to their pregnancy’s abrupt end.
“My wife was very healthy, while I used to drink a lot, smoke a lot and go out all the time before I met Tahyna. So my instant thought was: ‘Fuck, I’ve ruined this with my lifestyle and behaviour. So there was a kind of guilt there. You don’t know how common miscarriage is, so you just assume that you’ve done something wrong.”
Despite wrestling with these emotions, Tristan bottled them up. “I didn’t talk to anyone about it,” he says. “My attention immediately switched to Tahyna like: ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ I just felt like that was my role and that, in a sense, it didn’t matter how I felt.”
Sadly, this wasn’t to be the couple’s only bad pregnancy experience. While they eventually had two children (Echo and Oisin), they also suffered two further miscarriages. The film follows the pair through their wild highs and desperate lows, while also interviewing other couples navigating the issue.
When Tahyna develops gestational diabetes while pregnant with their son, the film shows her mounting anxiety. In one scene, Tristan is seen trying to soothe his wife’s fears as a reassuring voice of reason. Surely though he wasn’t that calm and level-handed beneath the surface?
“No, no, no!” he concedes. “I was like a duck in water – calm on the top, while the fucking feet are going like crazy at the bottom. I wasn’t in control of my emotions, let alone this situation. I felt heartbroken, sick in my stomach, sick in my head. I was beating myself up inside!”
Strikingly, the film shows that, for all the couple’s obvious closeness, Tristan attempts to deal with each of the miscarriages on his own. “Most definitely,” he agrees. “And I think that’s a problem that other people have as well: sometimes the support needs support as well.”
It’s this area that he focuses on when asked to give advice to anyone else confronting the same ordeal.
“I wish we talked a little bit more about it,” he says. “You have to listen to what your partner is going through. But you also have to listen to what you’re going through.
“Your feelings aren’t something to be afraid of, and it’s certainly not something that you should keep inside. I’ve done that too much. My way of dealing with all this now is to be honest. You’ll help each other get through it by telling each other what you’re going through.”
It’s advice backed up by wider research. Working through your grief is proven to be beneficial with one study showing that men who struggled to cope following a miscarriage were vulnerable to a “delayed grief response” two years later.
Avoiding the subject can also exacerbate the fallout for your partner. Another study showed that six months after a miscarriage, the women who were most depressed had the partners who were least willing to talk about the loss.
What the film highlights is that miscarriage affects both partners, albeit in different ways. “As the man you’re going to be the father just as much as your partner is going to be the mother,” Tristan points out.
Which leads us to the one dud note of the film. The doco is called MuM – Misunderstandings of Miscarriage and this is a problematic title. Despite the willingness to include the male perspective, the name sabotages that intent by pushing the subject-matter back into the female domain where it normally resides.
It’s a decision that feels bafflingly out of step with the film’s otherwise balanced approach. But don’t let it turn you off. This is a powerful and necessary film about a subject too often overlooked.
MuM – Misunderstandings of Miscarriage is out now on Stan