Miscarriages: A Father’s Perspective

Miscarraige photo by makelessnoise

 

Eric Shapiro went through a miscarriage with his wife. He would like to be able to talk about it.

—-

As a general rule, people don’t talk much about miscarriages.

You have a child because it inspires awe, lights up your heart, enlarges your mind, brings magic to the world, and brings precious life to a human. A miscarriage is an erasure of awe, magic, and life. 

One way to verify this is to look at the word itself: Miscarriage. There’s no other term for it. No slang alternative. No contemporary spin. When somebody dies, you can say they “died” or “passed away” or “got laid to rest” and so on. And surrounding death, the causes are in plain sight: illness, accident, murder. But it’s impossible to pinpoint the cause of any miscarriage. It happens in the dark, within that most sacred and intimidating of spaces: a woman’s body. The being that dies (if we permit that word) is alone, and unknown. No name, usually. No gender, often. Humanity can’t get its collective mind together on whether or not it’s a person that was lost, so we kind of avoid the topic altogether.

And we’re left with a single, cold term for it: Miscarriage. I hate saying it. It brings to mind the 1800s, when people rode around in carriages. The word’s overwrought formality is an insult to the ugliness of the experience it attempts to describe.

♦◊♦

So if you give me just a minute, I’ll attempt to describe my wife Rhoda’s miscarriage in less dressy terms…

We love being parents. Our son is a joy without limit, so we were beyond excited to be expecting a second child. Seven weeks into Rhoda’s pregnancy, we went for the initial ultrasound. Right away, things got difficult.

The doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat. Equally disturbing, he couldn’t find the right words. His tongue got tied as he simultaneously tried to reassure us and prepare us for the worst. Each word he said only drew the walls in tighter. It was arranged for us to go to another branch of the hospital for a radiological ultrasound. The heartbeat could indeed be found there, he explained.

The waiting put us through a shredder. It took over an hour to get the ultrasound, and the technician in the room was prohibited from answering questions. “ANY questions?” I asked.

She said, “Yes.”  Haha—I got her. She answered that one!

By the time we went back upstairs to the doctor’s office for the results, I was acutely aware that I’m not a kid anymore. At 35, I’ve got a body approaching middle age, and the fatigue created by all the suspense snuck up on me. I felt incapable of handling any real pressure. Forget about me ever serving in a war or signing up to be a fireman; my nervous system was a frayed, limp tangle.

The doctor looked at his computer. He made a low sound: Anguish. We winced. Then he said, “The results aren’t here yet.”

My wife and I held hands. It was hard to think. We watched in mild disbelief as he dialed up four different numbers to track down the results. My outrage over him calling us in unprepared was softened only by my freezing terror.

Then the news came: Heartbeat! “The baby’s alive,” he said.

We saved our tears for the hallway. Then slept pretty gently come the night.

♦◊♦

But that was the seventh week, and it was—as they say—still early. You gotta get past Week 12 to truly feel safe, and even then, no one’s invulnerable. But we set our sights on our Week 12 appointment, which was scheduled for September 19. That was the date that mattered. The one when we’d see a buoyant, healthy baby on the ultrasound monitor. We talked about names. We gathered guesses from our closest relatives: Boy or girl? We debated about what wording to use when we at last made the announcement on Facebook.

September 14 interrupted our reverie. I was in our bedroom. Rhoda walked in. “I’m bleeding a little,” she said.

Like it had never left, it came back hard: The terror.

Our day at the hospital was identical to the previous one. Only longer and slower. First a doctor check-in. Then a radiological ultrasound. Then back to the doctor for results. And this time we had our toddler, Benjamin, with us (he’d been with his grandparents the previous time), so we had to blend our out-of-breath fatigue with keeping him fed, changed, and happy.

Prior to the ultrasound, I said I couldn’t take handling Benjamin anymore. I was gonna faint. Rhoda’s bleeding, and accordant panic, were intensifying. So we agreed to take him to a kid’s care center, then go back to the hospital and finish up. The only problem was, Benny fell asleep immediately on the ride. And then the hospital called and said the ultrasound room was available half an hour sooner than expected.

So much for that plan. We turned the car around. Waking Benjamin up would have increased our challenges, so I had to drop Rhoda off to do the ultrasound by herself. “I’m in there with you,” I said as she left. “I’m there with you every second.”

I watched her go, then parked and awaited the call. As I waited, I bawled, and woke my son. He looked at me with lowered brows, knowing something was wrong. I told him we were checking on the little baby in mommy’s belly. He went through this, too. Rhoda called me fast: a bad sign. The ultrasound had been way shorter than the one from weeks before. I gathered Benjamin and placed him in his stroller and wondered how I was actually able to stand up and achieve locomotion.

I wish I could say the doctor saw us right away, but we waited 90 minutes for him to show. Since it was a Saturday, we had a different doctor from our regular one. We prayed for a better communicator—at least give us that much.

As we waited, Rhoda kept making trips to the bathroom. Came back shaking her head. Describing strange gobs and darkening blood.

The doctor’s appearance was like something out of a dream—like being on an airplane in turbulence for five straight hours, followed by a sudden alignment. Only in this case the sense of stability was an illusion. Sure, the suspense of awaiting his presence was over, so our nerves could at last shift gears, but we still had to navigate the sharp thorns of The Moment.

Earlier, out in the waiting room, we’d made grim predictions. We figured we couldn’t be lucky twice in a row. Could this day really end with another heartbeat?

It didn’t. The doctor was a good communicator, but it fell on him to give voice to the old word: “Miscarriage.”

Twenty-four hours prior, I’d been fantasizing about being Chevy Chase in “Vacation,” at last with two kids in our backseat. But instead of that reality, we got tears. And tissues. Gloom. And long stretches of unblinking stares. 

Twenty-four hours prior, I’d been fantasizing about being Chevy Chase in “Vacation,” at last with two kids in our backseat. But instead of that reality, we got tears. And tissues. Gloom. And long stretches of unblinking stares. I hate admitting this because I like to think of myself as a bright person, but I’d underestimated the gravity of miscarriages beforehand. For one thing, they’re common: One in five pregnancies goes that way. For another thing, they’re not the end of the road: When we try again, our odds will be just as good as they were at any previous point.

Yet those two factors—which are partially to blame for people’s general disinterest in talking about miscarriages—are born of logic. And having a child is not a logical act. You don’t do it to check something off your list (I hope!). You don’t do it because it serves any reasonable function. You do it because it inspires awe, lights up your heart, enlarges your mind, brings magic to the world, and brings precious life to a human.

♦◊♦

A miscarriage is an erasure of awe, magic, and life. To use less elegant words, it felt like being smashed in the mind with a baseball bat.

And while we walked around in our daze (which still comes and goes now, some weeks after the fact), we encountered the inevitable: People’s Reactions. I’m being dramatic now; it wasn’t bad. Most of the friends and relatives we told were great. Sentiments were expressed. Presents were sent. No fistfights or screaming matches erupted.

There were, however, two common sentiments that I objected to. Should you walk down this misfortunate road—and, naturally, I hope you don’t—you are all but guaranteed to come across them.

The first is that the child is now with God, and eagerly awaits our presence.

Well, I don’t know, maybe that’s true. But let’s calm down and be honest for a second: We don’t actually know that, now, do we? Seems to me—having had a front row seat to this dark spectacle—that the whole ordeal is shrouded in mystery. Was it a person? Was it shy of a person? An entity? A spirit? A mass of physical matter? Damned if I know. All I know is we had something wonderful and we lost it. I believe in many a metaphysical thing, but for me, discussing God at that juncture was about as constructive as discussing Batman.

The other thing that got repeated is more delicate to discuss, and I almost avoided going near it. But I’m going anyway:

People will point out, in the wake of a miscarriage, that the mother is suffering more than the father.

Now, let me be clear here: I think that’s true. On a grounded, physical basis, the mother’s undergoing the ugly business within her body. Any father who tries to override that fact is a first-class schmuck.

I’ll even go farther: I love women. Most of my friends are women. I have a problem getting close to men. I worship women. I think they’re more intuitive, by and large, than men. I think they’re more fascinating conversationalists than men. When it comes to this topic, I am so sexist against men that I might be wise to someday take up the matter with a therapist.

That said, I humbly propose that it might not be the best idea to draw a distinction between the mother’s pain and the father’s pain after a miscarriage. Reason being, it serves no purpose whatsoever. What are we doing here? Building a pain hierarchy? Did Rhoda undergo ten units of pain while I only made it to six?

After labor, I’ll be the first mofo to line up with the rest of humanity and say, “That woman just worked her ass off in there, while I — the stupid, useless man — just sat there like the ineffectual sperm dispenser that I am.” No problem. Sign me up!

After a miscarriage, I say any dividers whatsoever between the mother and the father are destructive. Don’t remind the father that the mother’s taking it harder; that’s just a way of avoiding the topic’s discomfort while engaging in some overeager feminine-aggrandizement program.

The father is real. He takes the loss. And if he’s like me, he loves being a father.

Missing a chance to be one is a terrible thing.

Photo: makelessnoise / flickr

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About Eric Shapiro

Eric Shapiro writes as an essayist and film critic for THE GOOD MEN PROJECT. He works as a filmmaker, screenwriter, author, and ghostwriter. His first feature film, RULE OF THREE (2010), was released to iTunes and Netflix after winning Best Actor at the Fantasia International Film Festival and Best Acting Performance at Shriekfest. His second feature film, LIVING THINGS, was endorsed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and released by Cinema Libre Studio in 2014. He wrote the books LOVE & ZOMBIES (2013), THE DEVOTED (2012), STORIES FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (2010), and SHORT OF A PICNIC (2002). His novella IT'S ONLY TEMPORARY (2005) was on the Preliminary Nominee Ballot for the Bram Stoker Award in Long Fiction and appeared on Nightmare Magazine's list of the Top 100 Horror Books. The two novels he edited for Evil Jester Press -- CANDY HOUSE by Kate Jonez and MALEDICTION by Lisa Morton -- were both nominated for Bram Stoker Awards in 2014. He has had short stories published in fiction anthologies alongside work by Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, and many others. Eric lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Rhoda Jordan, and their sons, Benjamin and Henry Shapiro.

Comments

  1. So tough to think about, talk about, write about. My pain was so much different and more amorphous than my wife’s. Hers was palpable and easily understandable, physical and emotional. A part of her had been ripped away. For me, it was still theoretical. But it was just as real. I also had to be there for her. We were able to conceive after the miscarriage. For me, it turns out to have been a bump in the road (at the time a very painful one). I only really think about it when it comes up. She has more reminders. That’s usually when my son gets an extra long hug.

  2. Melissa Doroquez says:

    I agree. Men and Women both grieve the loss of a baby if they were looking forward to the baby. After four losses, my husband and I have both grieved differently but we have both grieved. As a man without living children, my husband has lost the chance to father a living child. But, I don’t agree that he lost the chance to be a father. He has been a wonderful father to our babies that were lost in miscarriage. We lost them between 9 1/2 and 19 1/2 weeks and each was photographed and named and buried. We have cherished every moment and memory we have of them. I have so many issues with people that will talk of miscarriage as if it wasn’t really a baby yet. Really? I counted fingers and toes on every single one of mine, two boys and two that were too young to tell. I know that each of them had noses like their father. I know that our oldest son had his father’s build, long torso and short legs. I know that the oldest two had my ear lobes and not my husband’s. We didn’t ‘miscarry’, we didn’t drop them, we didn’t lose them, we know exactly where they are. Our babies died. And we didn’t just lose a baby each of those days. We lost a toddler, a teen, a chance to celebrate a college graduation. We lost grand babies. We lost the chance to be ancestors.

  3. Tom Brechlin says:

    When you lose a child, I can’t imagine the heart ache. Society appears to minimize the dads feelings in situations like this. The moment I found out my wife was pregnant the fantasies started rolling around in my head. It took us several years to get pregnant …. yes “we” were pregnant and at that moment we found out, we considered ourselves being parents. We almost lost our first child (daughter) when my wife was in her 6th month. We almost lost her again at delivery where they had to do an emergency C-section. Just thinking of that day brings back some very scary moments. When a person loses a child, they lose a future. I’m sorry to hear of your loss and you and your family will be in my prayers.

  4. Venestina says:

    As a woman who miscarriage at 8 weeks, I really like your post. I like to see more posts like this one, in my opinion even when we go though the most physical transformation, the whole process is equally absorb by both parents, I cant imagine doing it by myself, I know I can, but I refuse to think of that. Having my husband’s support is the best thing that I have. I also know it hurted him more than I can imagine when we lost our baby, as a mother of a 2 year old, miscarriage never crossed my mind. I had a healthy pregnancy so everthing was going to be ok, and it didnt. And we both suffer thought the whole process, the ER trips, the stayed in the hospital , the D&C procedure, everything and still 5 months later we still think of that little baby sent to heaven in my opinion too early. Thanks for your prespective and I wish you both the best.

  5. I had a miscarriage in September as well, my D&E was on September 17, I was 13 weeks pregnant, so your wife and I were neck and neck. It was devastating. 6 weeks later, I’m still struggling. I wrote on my own blog a post about our experience. I noted at the end how sometimes I think it may be harder on my husband (and fathers in general) because not only do they experience the loss, but also have to watch their wife go through the loss, the physical pain/discomfort, feelings of inadequacy, feeling like they did something wrong…the list goes on. How difficult it must be to watch the person you love and chose to spend your life with go through all that anguish. Both parents suffer. You’re right, not one more than the other, but in different ways. I welcome you to read my posts about my miscarriage: http://this-is-my-life-30.blogspot.com/2013/10/i-refuse-to-be-ashamed.html
    and http://this-is-my-life-30.blogspot.com/2013/10/dear-angel.html

  6. Andrew Goins says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this devastating time in your life with us. My wife and I went through this hell four times, but luckily we found a doctor who tracked down the cause and we were able to address the problem medically, so now we have two wonderful children that we are able to cherish and appreciate all the more for our losses. But while the pain subsides, it never completely fades. Our oldest would have turned 10 this year had he survived, and I wonder occasionally what he would have been like, as well as the others. I felt a particular resonance with several parts of your story. Like people’s reactions to the news, which always range from awkward and uncomfortable to unhelpful to inadvertently painful to downright mindless drivel. The one that always made me cringe was, “Well, at least you two are young and you can try again.” Like we’d been passed over for a promotion or outbid on a house or something. Would you say that to someone who had carried their baby to term and then had to sit helplessly and watch their infant die? And the inept communicators in the medical field, we had one of those, too. I took my wife to the emergency room of a local teaching hospital when she had sharp pains and spotting during her first pregnancy. The student doctor came into the room and told my wife she had had a spontaneous abortion (yes, there is another term for it, but it’s so ugly that no one uses it). Thanks for choosing to slap us in the face with a clinical term that allowed you to keep an emotional distance from our deeply personal tragedy. Oh, and the ultrasound technician that can’t answer any questions? Yep, we had that adventure, too. Our last miscarriage was a shock – no pain, no blood, no signs of trouble whatsoever. We went in for a routine ultrasound, and we were talking and laughing between the two of us. Then we noticed the ultrasound technician was silently weeping, and we knew immediately what that meant, but we still had to wait in agony for the hammer to fall. As far as comparing the mother’s pain with the father’s, you’re spot-on. Emotional pain cannot be quantified, and the comparisons are more than useless. It’s a trap that can lead to resentment and drive a wedge between a couple at a time when they need each other more than they ever have or ever will. My advice to anyone who’s never been through this, if someone tells you they had a miscarriage, use these six words, no more, no less: “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” Then shut up. If the silence that follows is uncomfortable, just remind yourself that anything else you say will only make things worse. It’s okay to give a reassuring touch, a hug if that’s appropriate, but no more words. No, I know you can’t imagine what that must be like. I hope you never do.

  7. Melissa Streeter says:

    Thank you for sharing this and talking about things that are difficult to talk about.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m very sorry that you and your wife experienced this. It’s true that there are often differences (real and/or perceived) in the ways that the mother and the father experience and process a miscarriage. From my experience, you have no idea how much it means to me to read the stories which men choose to share from their perspective of this. In fact, the relief and gratitude of reading mens’ perspectives here in this article and in the comments is breaking my heart (in a good way – in an “ahhh!! thank you for your brave!!!” way).
    Please know that sharing your honest experiences regarding miscarriage is empowering…. it empowers you, your partner, and other men to do the same. We all have unique experiences and aftermath, but sharing is very very helpful and part of the healing process.
    Thank you again.
    Men, it’s so meaningful and valuable to the women in your life when you open this door to them.

  9. I had to go through a miscarriage on my own and it has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my 32 years. However, the reactions of my female friends and relatives were amazing in a really bad way. I miscarried at 8 weeks and the commets I had to listen to were “oh, that was not a baby just yet so it is ok” or “well, at least you didn’t feel him kick or move” or the worst one “well, the pain cannot be that bad like a delivery because the baby’s pressure is not there”. And then to make it even worse the miscarriage is sometimes called “natural abortion” and I simply refuse to use that term to describe something I did not choose. Oh my God! It is such a devastating loss and hearing those comments minimizing the pain are absolutely heartbreaking. It has been two years almost to the day (August 13th 2012) and I am still grieving (inside of my head and heart, quietly). Stay strong! I do believe the babies are waiting for us up there!

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