Great news, ladies: there is finally more evidence to suggest menfolk contribute more to the baby making process than the ways we were taught in our sex education classes. While men’s contribution to a pregnancy was generally only acknowledged when it went well, for so long (and rather unfairly) the burden of ‘responsibility’ for an unsuccessful pregnancy and, in particular, recurrent miscarriages, lay at the feet of women.
Recurrent miscarriage, a painful condition for all involved, is defined as the consecutive loss of three or more pregnancies before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Anyone who has experienced the pain of one miscarriage, will know that one miscarriage is one too many. Recurrent miscarriage has the potential to inflict deep psychological trauma and without adequate investigation and support, render some couples without the family they so desperately desire.
Affecting 1-2% of women, we are still unclear as to the cause of recurrent miscarriage in most cases. There are some factors that we know increases the risk – advanced maternal age (medical speak for “older mothers”), maternal conditions including diabetes and thyroid disease, uterine anomalies and thrombotic disorders. Notice a strange absence however? In trying to discover the cause of recurrent miscarriage, women shouldered the brunt of investigations and ultimately, the need for “fixing”. The contribution of the male partner to this aching problem? Curiously absent.
However, a new study adds to the small but growing evidence that men and their sperm have a greater contribution to the miscarriage story than previously considered, with a team from Imperial College London finding the quality of sperm may be a factor in recurrent miscarriage. The study indicated that men who had experienced recurrent miscarriage with their partners were more likely to produce sperm with damaged DNA compared with men whose partners had not experienced the same.
This finding was particularly likely in cases where the primary focus for investigation was on the woman’s ability to conceive, with minimal testing of the male partner. The cause of the DNA damage is now under further scrutiny and male obesity is considered to be one possible cause. However, we already know that older paternal age (medical speak for “older fathers”), increases the risk of spontaneous miscarriage. Whether age, itself leads to direct DNA damage in sperm remains to be seen.
This information should not come as a complete surprise. Basic biology teaches us that it takes two to tango - so to speak. Somewhere along the miscarriage story we seemed to have forgotten this important part. Like all new medical discoveries, the importance lies not only in the potentially new information and treatments that may result, but also in the renewed desire to pursue previously unconsidered areas for new research. This can only be positive particularly when it comes to evening out the imbalance in the recurrent miscarriage narrative of sole female blame.
So where does this leave the couples caught in this nightmare? Firstly, seek help, early. This must include not only investigation and treatments but excellent psychological support. Secondly, both partners must be considered equally when there are problems conceiving. After all, as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.