This is the third post in a series — “#DadsHurtToo — A Father’s Memoir of Miscarriage.”
Our daughter—Living Child #4—entered the world in December 2008 with no complications. In the spring of 2009, we learned another baby was on its way, due in February 2010. On a family vacation in July, my wife experienced strange contraction pains. We saw her doctor when we returned.
The ultrasound technician didn’t deliver the news; she said the doctor would be in shortly to explain what we saw on the screen. His explanation wasn’t necessary. The image of that still, peanut-shaped body, settled at the bottom of her uterus told us all we needed to know. As my wife wiped cold ultrasound gel from her stomach and hot tears from her cheeks, the fact settled on us—the baby had died. Miscarriage #2.
We waited a week, hoping the baby’s body would pass “naturally.” When it did not, the doctor ordered a D&C.
An Unwelcome Guest
The doctor—one of the most compassionate physicians we’ve known—invited me to sit next to my wife during the procedure. I’d watched the full process of childbirth four times, without queasiness or flinching. As a pastor, I’d witnessed some gruesome things in emergency rooms and at hospital bedsides. Yet, I could not bring myself to sit next to my wife as this happened. I opted to sit against the wall, behind her. Even then, as the doctor made preparations, anxiety, nausea, dizziness crept up from my gut, through my chest, and into my head. I told her that I couldn’t stay and exited to the waiting room.
I found a chair in an empty area, hoping to avoid seeing and being seen by others. My strategy failed. A chatty guest took a seat next to me and started a conversation.
The Second Fox — Shame
“You call yourself a husband? What kind of husband leaves—no—abandons his wife in the midst of her suffering and makes her endure it alone?” it barked. “What kind of pathetic wimp can’t even hold his wife’s hand while she goes through this? You call yourself a man? You’re a loser.”
I recognized the voice. The craftiest of the foxes, shame darts in and out, appearing in the most unexpected of situations. It had gnawed on me before, chiding me for my inability to help my wife, to give input and counsel on decisions pertaining to the particulars of women’s health that I simply did not understand. Now shame insisted that I had failed—failed myself, failed my wife, failed my God.
A Persistent Visitor
Late that fall we received good news: another baby was on the way. Cautious, due to the previous miscarriage, we waited to tell our children until we heard the heartbeat. As the pregnancy progressed, so did our optimism. The anticipation of meeting this child would carry past February 10, the due date of the previous one.
On February 7, 16 weeks pregnant, my wife saw her doctor with a few concerns. The ultrasound confirmed the baby had died. The doctor presented the options of another D&C or inducing labor. To avoid the risks of the former, we chose the latter. Plus, the doctor suggested that we would be able to hold the baby after delivery, something we both desired. (My wife tells her story here.)
Two days later, she was induced. At 4:40 pm, turned on her side, she felt a gush of fluid. Our 4.5-inch, 0.8-ounce baby was born. We were alone, the three of us.
I saw the baby, lying there on the bed, wet with blood and amniotic fluid. My fatherly instinct told me to pick up my child, to cradle its fragile body, to not let it lie there alone. But I didn’t. I didn’t know if I was allowed. Shame whispered in my ear, “What the nurses would say if they find you holding the baby? Won’t they think that odd?” So, instead, I pressed the nurse-call button and explained what happened.
Waiting in Shame
As we waited for the nurse, the same voice that discouraged me from holding the baby now chastised me for letting it lie, “Look at your baby, lying there helpless and alone. What kind of a father just lets his baby lie there?”
The nurses arrived, attended to my wife, and took the baby. The doctor arrived. Concerned about a stubborn placenta and excessive blood loss, he rushed her to the operating room for a D&C, the very procedure we hoped to avoid. I waited alone, frightened and ashamed.
In the morning, as she recovered her strength and we prepared to go home, we asked to see the baby. Shame told me this was foolish, that the nurses thought we were crazy for wanting this, that they were probably rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.
A dear friend, a nurse who happened to be on duty, brought the baby to us and gently explained that our child might not look like what we expected. The soft, underdeveloped skeletal structure collapses as the fluids dry. We understood. We cradled the little blanket in our hands, unfolding its edges to reveal our little one—eyes still fused shut, a delicate nose and dainty mouth. We touched skinny arms and legs, counting perfect fingers and toes.
Speaking in Shame
When we had finished viewing our baby, I called the nurses station to ask if someone could come to take the baby back. A nurse, apparently unaware of our situation, explained that all the nurses were busy. She asked if there were a reason we didn’t want to keep the baby in the room. “Our baby…,” I stuttered. I didn’t know what the proper term was for this situation. Miscarried? Stillbirth? I finally finished, “…was born dead.” Shame whispered, “You’re such a nuisance. They have real, living babies to take care of and now she has to leave them to tend to you. She probably thinks you’re an idiot.”
The head nurse, a compassionate woman, had made efforts to accommodate our circumstances before we arrived. She arranged a room on a wing with no other patients. My wife would not have to pass the nursery or rooms with “Congratulations” signs and balloons on the doors on her way in or out. A single rose taped to the doorframe explained our situation to entering nurses. But the process did not seem to consider the father.
Eating in Shame
This hospital only issued identification bands to patients—that is, mothers and living babies—and to the fathers of living children. This meant that when I left the maternity ward to meet a visiting pastor or took a walk down the hall, I couldn’t simply walk back to our room. I had to explain to the ever-rotating desk staff who I was and why I was there. Sometimes they made me wait at the door of the maternity ward while they called my wife to confirm I could go to the room. As I stood there, suspect in the eyes of new staff and a curiosity to people in the waiting room, shame nipped at my heels.
Meals were delivered to the rooms for mothers. Fathers could go to a hospitality room in the maternity ward to fill a tray from a hot buffet during set hours. This meant that all the fathers in the ward gathered in the small room at once, making small talk as they waited in line. Guess what fathers small talk about in a maternity ward. “So, what did you have!” “Is your wife in labor or has she delivered?” “You want to see a picture?” Getting food meant bringing my sorrow into a stranger’s joy, which meant more barks from shame. “Look at these smiling men, excited to talk about their babies. You’re such a downer.”
Going Home in Shame
We left the hospital on February 10, the due date of the previous baby, our hearts doubly empty. When you walk beside your wife’s wheelchair as the nurse pushes her from the room to the front door of the hospital, people pay attention. Smiling staff stand to peek over the desk to see the little one in the new mother’s arms. My wife carried a potted plant and a sympathy card. Shame told me what a disappointment we were, a dark cloud in this bright place.
That next Monday, a sunny and warm Valentine’s Day, our whole family gathered around a little gravesite, where I read Revelation 21:1-5 and prayed, before leaving our child to be buried. Even making these arrangements brought shame. “They probably think this is ridiculous and can’t wait for you to let them get back to real work.”
How does a father trap and kill this little fox—the voice of shame, using miscarriage to tell him he’s but a weakling, a failure, and a nuisance? It’s not by “manning up” and “toughing it out.” It’s not by crawling into a hole and hiding in silence. What a hurting dad needs is to hear that there is one who sees and knows and is not ashamed to call him brother.
“Jesus wept.” He stood at the tomb of Lazarus and cried. Jesus, the one through whom God created the universe, stood at his friend’s grave and sobbed. Overwhelmed with the real experience of grief and loss, Jesus wept.
Those two words summarize so much of what the Bible tells us about God. He is the God who heard the cries of the Israelites in slavery, who saw, and who knew. In Jesus, this God became flesh and dwelt among us, experiencing our sadness.
The Necessity of Suffering
To be our Savior, it was necessary for him to suffer. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He hungered. He thirsted. He grew tired. He told his friends that his soul was “very sorrowful, even to death,” begging them to pray with him—only to weep alone while they slept. He grew so physically weak that another man had to carry his cross to Golgotha. He died for us so that through his resurrection we might live.
The road to resurrection does not follow the path of strength and convenience. We, like Jesus, are “made perfect through suffering.” For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:10).
Does shame point out my sin? “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
Does shame point out my weakness? Jesus identifies with my weakness. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom” (Isaiah 40:11).
Does shame say that I am a nuisance in my grief? Jesus came to bear my griefs and to carry my sorrows (Isaiah 53:4).
Does shame tell grieving fathers to hide their tear-streaked faces, that no one wants to associate with a frail sufferer? The Gospel speaks a better word: “he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11).
Jesus wept. Moms, as you weep, encourage your man that he can too.
To be continued…
This series originally published at Risen Motherhood.
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