A dad's reflection on pregnancy lossMay 22, 2022
[Originally published on LinkedIn,
Today is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Today, I haven’t seen the usual flood of social media posts that a day of awareness like this usually brings. In fact, after several minutes of scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I only found two posts on this topic, both featuring mums sharing their experience of pregnancy loss.
Sadly this lack of visibility on such an important topic actually mirrors my own experience of pregnancy loss. Most stories of miscarriage remain unspoken. Those few stories of pain that are shared are typically spoken by a brave and heartbroken mother. The voice of the heartbroken father in today’s world remains especially silent. So today I want to share mine.
In early March 2015, my wife shared with me the incredible news that we were pregnant for the first time. Our road to this point wasn’t smooth. We had been trying to fall pregnant for some time. With every month that went by, we felt the recurring disappointment upon realising that yet again, this month wasn’t going to be the month. We were in our 30s and feeling the increasing pressure to fall pregnant before our age and risk factors increased too much. And then it happened.
I can vividly remember the short-lived joy. I had just started a new job, joining my wife at the same firm. I remember walking down the hill on my way to the office in the morning, hearing the voice in my head saying, ‘Wow, you’re going to be a dad’. I remember trying to conceal the big goofy smile that was growing across my face as these words repeated over and over in my head, then trying to hide the grin so as not to draw attention to myself amongst the hoards of pre-caffeinated faces filing into the surrounding inner city high-rise offices.
We also found out right before my mother’s birthday. We decided to tell my parents on my mum’s birthday, even though it was still early in the first trimester. But I knew the news would bring tears of joy to her eyes. We found wooden cubes that we used to create a word puzzle, that eventually spelled out ‘Grandchild coming Nov’. I can still clearly see the look on her face when she deciphered the code and realised she was about to become a grandma again.
I remember the freak out moments I experienced in the following weeks when I started realising how much of my world was about to change. I kept asking myself whether I was really ready. I wanted to be an all-in dad, but was I ready to give up the nights out with friends, the spontaneous date nights with my wife, or even the ability to travel the world together with ease? Even though I had thought I was ready, a sense of panic was setting in now that I realised there was no turning back. This was a forever change… until the day it wasn’t.
I remember the moment my wife called me at work to tell me she was heading home immediately. She had started miscarrying. I was working on a big proposal due the next day. We were short staffed, with no one else available to take over. I didn’t feel like I could walk away at this critical time without good reason, but also felt like I couldn’t say what was happening. I was only a couple of weeks into my new job and, at the time, I was worried what the impact would be for both our careers if word got out that we were trying to start a family. I was ignorant to how incredibly supportive my new employer would have been had I asked for support, as they were in the years following when we eventually did have children.
So I stayed at my desk and kept working.
Shortly after lunch my wife called to say she was taking herself to the hospital. I tried to be as supportive as I could from the other end of the phone and asked her to keep me posted on her situation. She told me there wasn’t much I could do for her anyway, but it didn’t take a degree in rocket science to know she needed me there. Though having trouble focussing, I kept working.
Evening came and the proposal still wasn’t finished. My wife called to say she had been discharged and returned home. I remember how quiet she sounded. I could hear the tears she was holding back. She muttered that she was ok and asked when I would be home. I assured her I was doing all I could to be home as soon as possible.
Midnight came and went before I finally finished and could leave the office. I took a cab home, snuck in the door and found my wife in bed. She was facing away from me, quiet as if she was asleep, but I knew she wasn’t. I tried to cuddle up to comfort her, but she didn’t respond. We were alone in bed together.
I remember the range of emotions I felt the next day when the reality sunk in that we had lost our first child. I still feel the shame of the first feeling. It was the feeling of relief. Relief that our life wasn’t going to change after all and we could return to our lives as normal. This only lasted a microsecond before I was overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt. How could I be so selfish? How was going out on a Friday night more valuable to me than my firstborn child? The miscarriage had occurred before I had reached the point of accepting and embracing how much my life would change, but my reaction still left me feeling horribly small and selfish. I couldn’t have been more wrong about our lives ‘returning to normal’. My whole perspective on the world had changed forever. I was filled with a constant sense of loss. Almost harder to grasp because it was a loss of something unknown and unrealised. Going to work that morning, the voice in my head repeated a different line. ‘You’re not going to be a dad. You’re not going to be a dad.’ And the grief set in.
In the coming days when my wife and I were able to talk about what had happened, she told me how abandoned she had felt. I can still see the tears in her eyes and remember her words clearly. I had promised to be actively involved throughout the pregnancy and beyond, yet I went missing at the first hurdle. How could she trust my promise that we would actively raise our family together if I prioritised work at her first hour of need?
I also remember my reaction. I was upset. I felt helpless. I argued that I stayed at work to protect her career, so no one would find out without it being an intentional decision we made together. I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, with no choice. And besides, every time I asked if she needed me, she said she was ok. What was I meant to do?
I knew I was wrong, even though I believed I was trying to do the right thing.
I remember how differently our grieving processes were. My wife was grieving the loss of the child that she had physically felt growing inside her. A sense of emptiness. She was grieving emotional and physical pain. She was grieving the fact she didn’t even get the chance to know if it was a boy or a girl. Grieving what this potentially meant for our ability to ever have a family.
My grieving felt more abstract. We weren’t far enough along in the pregnancy for me to physically see a change. There was no pregnant belly. It was way to early to feel a kick and we didn’t even make it far enough to hear a heart beat. In fact, my experience did not involve any sensory interaction with my child. For me, the grief of losing our child felt somewhat intellectual, or even conceptual, albeit still deeply emotional.
The experience exposed some critical hurdles in our marriage and our individual values that we realised we needed to work through together before being ready to start trying again. The experience also exposed how hard it was to talk to other people about it. My wife asked me to be the one to tell people, as she found verbalising the loss almost as painful as going through it. Telling my mum that she wasn’t going to be a grandma after all was horrible, but the support she and my dad offered in return was invaluable.
At the time, we had only told one set of friends that we were pregnant, ‘just in case it isn’t successful and we need your support’. I still remember the hug my mate gave me when we told them the sad news. It took a long time to share our story further. I never even told my old colleagues at my (now previous) workplace. Knowing now how supported I would have been and how common an experience this sadly is, I regret that I wasn't more open.
Reliving these memories as I write still brings tears to my eyes. Sadly, my account is one of the only stories of miscarriage through a dad’s eyes that I have heard or read. It impacted my marriage. It impacted my work. It impacted me personally and led to some much needed growth. It helped me be ready to become the dad that I now strive to be each day for my son and daughter. But I know my story isn’t the only one out there. According to Rednose.org.au, around 110,000 Australians have a miscarriage every year. 2,200 more endure the pain of stillbirth, 600 lose their baby in the first 28 days after birth and many more face the grief of termination for medical reasons.
That’s a lot of mums, dads, birthing and non-birthing parents experiencing grief, mostly unknown and unnoticed to even those closest to them. Today, let’s break the silence and acknowledge the heartbreak happening too often, and for too many.
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