During our 20s, we usually have an experience that puts us in our place – and sometimes changes the course of our life. Most of my friends say this happened to them between the ages of 22 and 28. Something caused an imperfect storm that forced them to find out who they really are, what they are made of and where they belong. This is widely known as the Quarter Life Crisis. For me this plummet into adulthood hit when I was married, a recent college graduate, and about to move across the country for my first career job. Sadly, this came in the form of a miscarriage. Though I did not experience this miscarriage physically. As the father of the would-be child, I experienced it in many other ways.
If you’re visiting this website, you might have already been exposed to miscarriage – whether through a friend, family member, or your own partner. It happens to more women than anyone realizes or talks about. If you are trying, you are likely using pregnancy tests as soon as you can. So you know it wasn’t just a late, especially heavy period, but you were in fact losing a baby. In retrospect, not knowing would have been easier. Because a miscarriage – even an early one – is like experiencing the death of a family member, yet strangely one who only lived in your imagination of the future.
Though I did not experience this miscarriage physically. As the father of the would-be child, I experienced it in many other ways.
The idea of losing a pregnancy before you even hear that baby’s heartbeat is not something you think about when you see that first positive pregnancy test. Even if you know someone it happened to, you never realistically consider it’s going to happen to you.
Learning you are pregnant is an emotional roller coaster to begin with – for both parents. The flood of possibilities. Uncertainty. Excitement. Self-Reflection. All with hills and valleys, corkscrews and loops. But when the ride stops 10% through and smashes to the ground, it is an entirely different kind of whirlwind of emotions. Grieving is different for everyone, even for a married couple.
And yes, for a father there is grief in a miscarriage. The mother has to battle the physical, as well as emotional loss. But, the pain the father feels, while different still cuts deep. Empathy for the grief our spouse is feeling (though nothing compared to theirs) is stacked upon our own. There’s a frustration and even anger at not being able to “fix it.” So you might push down your own emotions, in order to be her rock. But still, there’s a feeling of inadequacy from not being able to do anything but offer support. Secretly hoping not only she, but we can some day get back to that place where we were.
There’s a frustration and even anger at not being able to “fix it.” So you might push down your own emotions, in order to be her rock.
For my wife and I, everything happened quickly. We were married for 6 months when we started trying to conceive. One month later we were pregnant. Then, at 23 years old, we were 6 weeks along. We were so young and so naive. Everything was a new experience to us – the marriage, the idea of becoming parents. But we thought it was all a simple progression. Simple decisions. Looking back, our simple weighing of adult decisions was immature. But we still had a lot of big and exciting plans ahead of us. I just landed my dream job as a network television editor across the country – in a city I’d never even visited. She was going to follow me a month later, once I got set up with an apartment. There was a lot of uncertainty to consider. But to me the pregnancy meant a baby and nothing else. Issues may come during the pregnancy and after birth, but a baby would be coming. No question about that.
I was getting on a plane the next morning, when at about 3am, I was woken up by her crying saying she was bleeding and it wouldn’t stop. My mother, who wanted nothing more than grandchildren, was sleeping in the living room. I had to support my wife, then the painful task of telling my mother we were pregnant and something was happening. Her eyes welled up right away and she came to our aid, revealing it had happened to her once before I was born.
We were only 6 weeks in, so the pregnancy was private. The loss was even more so, which limited where you could find support. I struggled to wrap my immature, low life-experienced brain around what was erupting around me.
After a terrible few hours my wife went to her mom’s house nearby, as I went heartbroken to the airport. I knew I wouldn’t see my wife for a month and I was in some state of mourning that I never experienced before and didn’t understand. My mother had already planned to come with me to New England for a week to help me get set up. I’ll never forget crying so hard my head felt like it would explode. The flight attendant was kind enough to keep checking in to see if I needed anything, assuming I was afraid of air travel. The next week was a blur of finding a new apartment, starting work, in an unfamiliar place. My wife and I talked daily, usually in tears.
When she finally arrived a month later, things were different between us. We had been together since we were 16, but had never faced this much adulthood. We were in new surroundings, both having been forced to grow in maturity by a decade. Quieter. Not as carefree. We were constantly out exploring our new city, unaware that we were avoiding dealing with our pain by staying busy. Instead of dealing with it together, or even separately, we just kept moving. Instead, the focus became trying for a baby again as soon as possible. Neither of us understood that we needed time to heal.
Neither of us understood that we needed time to heal.
Time went on. Not even months later, we started to try and conceive again. I wrote off my reservations to confusion from the miscarriage. Six months later, we were pregnant for the second time. But there was very little excitement, only a cautious understanding that what happened before could happen again. Then at 5 weeks, my wife called me at work, telling me she miscarried and I rushed home to be by her side. That winter was grey and happiness was a problem in our relationship. I started having doubts about our marriage. Those thoughts in addition to the pain of grieving through another loss took its toll. She thought that once we had a baby, things would be fine. I didn’t see any reason she could be wrong, no matter how I felt. But I had become depressed in my confusion of if I should be in the marriage. I had gone from 240 pounds to 165 in the short time we were in New England and should have sought help. Instead, we decided a move closer to home was the answer.
We left for Los Angeles hoping that a fresh start and a diversion from my depression might right our relationship. After being in Los Angeles for a year, we tried again for a baby and got pregnant. This time, there was no urgent call at work or a scream in the middle of the night. Despite us expecting and preparing for the worst, we were blessed with a beautiful and healthy baby boy.
Our first year with our son was maybe the strongest we ever had. But the distance created from our grief after the miscarriages remained. I didn’t feel connected with my wife because as we had grown through those experiences into adults, we had also become incompatible people. Maybe we always were. Me more outgoing. Her more introverted and reserved. It wasn’t a bad thing about her, it was just how she was as a person. But it took us growing up to find out who we were.
Over the next few years, we continued to try and make it work. We had another child. I sat by my wife’s side at the hospital the day he was born and struggled with mixed emotions. I felt intense joy and love for this boy. But, I also felt an incredible sadness that came with the realization that the connection between his mother and me was gone. I tried to stand by my commitments and be the man I set out to be. Instead, I acted out by lying, not wanting to come home from work, and making awful choices. I became a person I loathed. My undying love for my two children was the only thing that kept me alive.
After 6 years, the marriage ended and a new, healthier relationship with my ex began. Looking back, I think the miscarriages changed us irreparably. And out of that experience another man came out. The miscarriages were the worst thing I ever went through. And it was even worse for my ex, physically and emotionally. Life sometimes moves you to the place where you need to be. I’ll never know if the miscarriages destroyed the marriage – or if the experience just sped up the inevitable realization that we just weren’t compatible. But as painful as they were and the difference they made, I do not wish they hadn’t happened. They took us both to where we are now.
My ex-wife and I are now happily living separate lives as loving and involved co-parents of our two boys. Without experiencing the loss in our early 20’s, we might not have found the joy and success we now have 10 years later. For that, I am grateful. When I think of those first two possible children, they seem like strangers. But what their existence did to my life is extraordinary.