“As a man, I felt alone in this experience.”
Her name was Claire and while I’ve never actually met her, I could tell you what she looked like from my dream. Same as I dreamed about my first before her birth. In my dream, Claire was about three or four. Her hair was light, but still darker than her older sister’s. Her smile and laughter, however, was just as infectious. We were at her grandparent’s home and Claire and her older sister Hailey, ran giggling through the warm summer evening. They chased after blinking lights that appeared and disappeared like phantoms—hoping to catch a piece of lightening in their hands. Hailey was proud to be a big sister, I could tell. She yelled, “Claire, over here,” as she ran by, directing her younger sister through a strangely coordinated dance along the hill next to the pond. Claire called me “daddy” in my dream and ran to her mother and grandma as soon as she caught the flashing bug. In my dream, I was happy.
I had this dream after my wife and I had gone to the seven-week checkup. It was there that I was able to see Claire’s heartbeat and see her, the size of a peanut, inside her mother’s womb. Seven weeks was the farthest we had come in several previous pregnancies and so I began to allow myself to think about our daughter. There is a guard that goes up for families after several lost pregnancies. To guard against any emotional connection, you don’t think of names, you don’t begin to plan, you barely do so much as even acknowledge there is a life forming—it’s life as usual until you get to a certain point that feels safe. You certainly don’t dream about them before that time. So this time felt safe.
I answered the phone call that morning, a week later, and I could tell immediately that something was not right in my wife’s voice. Her voice was cluttered—the way a voice gets shuttered after a difficult crying spell. I can’t recall what she said in that conversation really except “didn’t see the heart beat this morning.” Then I sat in my office and listened to my wife stutter through emotion. She sobbed, paused, and breathed. I imagined her alone in her hospital gown in the examining room and I immediately felt alone too. I told her that everything was going to be okay. That we knew this was a possibility. I told her that we can get through this. I had not told her that I had dreamt about Claire and was now certainly not going to visit that conversation. My heart was simultaneously filled with guilt and sorrow and for about five minutes after hanging up the phone, I sat quiet and cried, considering what we’d lost.
This was not our first lost pregnancy. We had been through this loss before, several times. I found out when I became open with our friends about this experience, that we knew A LOT of couples that have gone through similar and greater loss. I came to truly garner a deep awe at the miracle of the formation of human life. So much needed to be right in order for a pregnancy to occur, much less carrying a pregnancy to term. I learned that we had very little control over what happened and that the loss of a pregnancy was something that “just happens” as our doctors told us. I hated that I had no control over what happened. I hated that this loss was felt as a secondary reaction in support of my wife. I hated that the loss felt more like her loss and less like our loss. I hated that every time I spoke to others about this experience, little to no one asked, “and how are you doing?” It was limited to questions regarding my wife. Granted, such questions are important, but to me, it felt equally important to justify the pain I was also feeling. This burden of wanting to fulfill some socialized, masculine super-hero need to make it all better and save the day was met with the stark reality that I cannot.
As a father, I knew that during this time while my spouse, whom I love with my entire heart, went through the depressive stages of loss and grieving that come with a miscarriage; I needed to continue addressing the needs of our daughter. My daughter, Hailey, did not know about Claire. Nor did she know about any of the other six lost pregnancies that her mother and I had experienced. Since Hailey was three she has been telling her mother and I that when she grows up she wants to be a “big sister.” Laura and I had made the conscious decision, until we knew that the pregnancy was sustainable, we would not introduce our five year old daughter to the potential of being a future big sister. As a result, Hailey knew mommy went to the doctor and underwent several surgeries post miscarriage and tubal pregnancies but did not know why. We attempted to keep her sheltered from the sessions of tears and when Laura needed time, Hailey and I left to attempt to give time.
As a partner, a husband, I knew that at this time I needed to love, hold, cry, wipe tears, listen, work to remove the guilt and speak reasonably in thinking, and attempt to walk with Laura through the grieving, the journey back to a greater sense of normal- addressing doubt, fear, and seeking answers to questions that had none. My greatest pain in the experience of our miscarriages was within this role. I wanted so to remove the pain, the doubt, the blame, the fear, the loss. I could not. It is difficult watching the person with whom you’d committed the rest of your life go through a journey of pain and grief and not have answers, not be able to console, and to not have a truly shared experience. Laura’s loss was not only psychological and emotional as was mine, but her loss was also physical. I lost nothing physically and I felt guilty for that. Somehow in my own mind I felt I could do more if I had also experienced the same physical loss. My experience was not similar to hers in many ways and I had to accept that the most important and useful thing I could do was simply be present and hold her. Somehow, while I know that’s what she needed from me the most, I felt guilty I could not offer her more. As a partner, it left me feeling incomplete and I think as a result, early on, it caused me to emotionally distance myself—a response that caused more harm than good.
As a man, I felt alone in this experience. The few men I talked to about our loss, even when acknowledging a similar loss in their own relationships, never talked in terms of their personal experience. They talked in terms of supporting their spouses- being the strength, being the nurturer and provider- all roles that I too felt. However, I also felt a deep emotional loss and I struggled at the same time with my own doubt, my own internal aching. I assume that other men also felt this, but it was not discussed. The depression I was feeling seemed to be rather unremarkable and I felt, as a man, very alone in this experience.
Statistically 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s a staggering number and with those miscarriages, presumably, there was a father. Fathers grieve during miscarriage and emotionally, we also feel distraught, depressed, confused, and experience anxiety. I can say from experience, that although not necessarily talked about among men, we go through all of those emotions. While what we experience is remarkably different than the mother, it is important to acknowledge our loss as fathers as well. Furthermore, that sense of loss and grief as fathers is okay. I think we need to hear that.
After going through six lost pregnancies, I find myself filled with anxiety at the thought of going through this process again. Reason tells me that we could just as easily succeed and have another baby, but experience tells me that the pain of loss is a difficult psychological hurdle and when I consider again attempting to have another child, I am doubtful and fearful. It was recommended to us, soon after the loss, that we don’t even discuss whether to continue again- wait until we are in a better frame of mind to have that critical discussion and to make that ultimate decision. We have chosen to do so, but that does not relieve what is an extremely deep sense of anxiety on my part about the prospect of losing another. I don’t believe I’m the only father that has experience the miscarriage of a child that has felt this doubt and anxiety. I have learned, that these feelings as a father, partner, and man, are also okay.
My anxiety manifested itself into nightmares that I suffered on and off for several weeks. I actually just had one last night. In those nightmares, I again see Claire although this time she is angry with me. I again see Hailey, our daughter, only she is blaming me for the loss of her sister. And in my nightmares, I watch my spouse crumble into ash. There is nothing I can do. Unlike in the evening I met Claire in my dreams, in my nightmare, no one is happy. The nightmare ends with me wandering away from home and being lost. I hesitate to discuss these events because it seems, through the socialized lens of masculinity and fatherly duty, to be weakness, stupid. It seems to be unjustified—your wife had the miscarriage so why are you anxious and sad?
I struggled with thoughts that I was less of a husband or man if I in any way attempted to express my feelings of loss. Furthermore, as I considered doing so, I realized that the one person I wanted to do that most with at the time, my spouse, was not in a state herself to have that discussion. I needed an outlet of my own that felt safe to process my own emotional confusion and anxiety. Ironically, where I found that was not in other father’s but in women; family friends that had experienced miscarriage and recovered that themselves acknowledged the shared pain of loss that occurred. It was never; however, from another man or father that I heard these words. I found myself reflecting and asking, “why?”
These experiences have taught me two important things. First, I understand why men are quiet about the emotional experiences they have with pregnancy loss in which they were the father. While there is fear and anxiety in the loss, there is also a strangely ingrained sense of responsibility and failure. There exists this strange failure of being judged. My grief, my loss, my depression, my doubts, fears, and anxieties felt unremarkable not because they were, but because in the society of men, they are seen as such. The silence tells us the story. We are silent because silence in emotional distress is the one control and show of strength we have. We are credited more with being the shoulder to cry on, the hero of the family, the one that held it together than with being someone with whom our partners shared an emotionally distressing experience.
Secondly, I understand through my own experience the need for more men to become vocal about their personal experiences dealing with miscarriages in their relationships. The socially constructed definition of masculinity and fatherhood that necessitates we remain emotionally detached and strong in the face of such loss; the wall that necessitates I view this miscarriage, in terms of my own experience as non-noteworthy or unremarkable must be redefined. To do so, it requires a willingness to share those experiences, those voices, and those lessons with other men who are going through the same. Before speaking up in this post, I consulted with Laura. After our fourth miscarriage I actually talked with her about wanting to share this with others. At that time, she was not prepared for that painful honesty and she asked me to wait until the right time to do so. However, after now experiencing our sixth miscarriage, and with both of us coming to a greater recognition of not only her loss, but our loss—she gave me the blessing to come forward. I encourage more men to do so with their partner’s blessing.
I never met Claire in person, but I could tell you how she looked. I can tell you that I loved her before I even held her and I can tell you that as a father, losing Claire has been painful. The loss of all our pregnancies has been painful in some way but this time it hurt more because I feel I met her. I am glad, if but for just that one evening in my dreams, I met Claire and saw her smile. If but for that one night with Claire, I was happy and it’s okay that currently, I feel a loss. As a father, spouse, and man, I should.
—photo by I Should Be Folding Laundry/Flickr