A Father’s Guide to Pregnancy Loss
Pregnancy loss is one of the most difficult and devastating experiences in a couple’s life. We eventually found healing and I want to share some thoughts and encouragement to help you get through the grieving process yourself and be a better support for your partner/spouse as they grieve. There are many resources and support groups for women, and men are usually welcome. But at least in my experience, it is awkward being the only guy there. So, my hope is that this post would be helpful for any dad’s out there in need of a little support.
I will always remember the emotional rollercoaster of our first pregnancy. We had been married for a year and found out Mary was pregnant on a Sunday morning and shared with all of our friends and family. Mary and I were so excited we couldn’t contain ourselves. We went to our first appointment with the OB/GYN and everything looked fine, two weeks later Mary started to bleed and in a panic, we got an appointment and found out that the baby hadn’t grown any from the previous visit and they told us that our worst fears were coming to pass.
We struggled after losing the baby that we named Rachel, we had discovered how much we both wanted a baby and our optimistic view was crushed. Determined to have a baby now, a month later Mary was pregnant again. Mary was really sick with this one, nausea and vomiting were a constant part of our life. We were so nervous that we really didn’t get excited and didn’t tell anyone until we were three months along and knew that it was a little boy. Unfortunately, two days later our world turned upside down again as we lost Enoch.
Mary’s blood pressure spiked and we went to the hospital. That night they were checking for a fetal heartbeat and found only silence. The doctor induced labor and our stillborn son was born about 6 hours later. We were destroyed, further testing showed early preeclampsia and a blood clotting disorder called Antiphospholipid Syndrome. We went to several specialists, a high-risk OB/GYN, a hematologist and a rheumatologist and found out that it was possible with blood thinners to have a successful pregnancy.
Six months later we were ready to try again. Mary did blood thinner injections twice a day and everything went smoothly for the first five months, almost no morning sickness and no real problems. Then suddenly Mary had side pain that wouldn’t go away and after several trips to the ER—where she was basically blown off— the hospital admitted her. Within 12 hours her lab reports were showing that her organs were shutting down, her blood wasn’t clotting, and she was unconscious. HELLP Syndrome is no joke. I will always remember my conversation with her OB/GYN. I pulled her into the hallway and told her to “…cut the sh-t and all the medical speak and tell me what I’m looking at….” She told me to say goodbye to my wife and son because I was going to lose them both. It was crushing blow, to say the least.
A few hours later they decided to try to induce labor and see if Mary could balance out and recover. It was a long shot but they wanted to try. I signed the paperwork ending my son’s chances in a desperate attempt to save my wife. About eight hours later, I held my dying son and we all held our breath hoping that Mary would pull through. She did, within 24 hours she was pretty much back to normal and we were informed that if she ever got pregnant again she would probably die. The roller coaster was even worse this time, grief over losing Joshua, the joy of Mary’s recovery, and the sorrow of the news that we’d never be able to have kids of our own.
You never really get over losing a baby, but you can move past it. Time, Communication and Love do most of the healing.
This is an incredibly emotional time for both you and your partner/spouse. My automatic response to emotion is to compartmentalize and “bottle it up”. It was a coping mechanism growing up with an abusive father and have carried it with me. I was hurting inside but never shed a tear or expressed my grief because I felt that my emotions were unmanly (dad’s words never seem to go away) and I told myself that I had to be strong for my wife. I believed that if I showed her that I was hurting that she would blame herself. I held her as she cried and tried to encourage her and just sucked it up myself. What I didn’t realize was that by not showing my emotions and opening up to her she felt that I was unaffected and didn’t care about the loss. She also beat herself up because she couldn’t get over it as fast as I did.
Tip #1 Emotions are ok, be real with each other and share your pain.
The most essential skill for a happy healthy marriage is also essential for dealing with grieving the loss of a child. Good communication between both partners will go a long way to prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings as you both work through your emotions in your own ways. Be prepared for long emotional conversations, be sure to participate in the discussion with more than a “yes dear”. Make sure she knows that you are not only listening but are feeling the pain and grief too. As hard as it is, share what you are feeling (even if it is tough to put into words), it will help you both.
Remember that you are both dealing with one of the most difficult situations that you will ever encounter and try to show grace and forgiveness for rude or snippy statements, they happen when people are hurting. Make sure to encourage each other and be ready for sudden subject changes and emotional outbursts.
Tip #2 Communication is essential, be prepared to drop everything for long emotional discussions. Make sure she understands that you hear her and are feeling the pain of loss too.
Family, Friends, Church, and Support Groups are all potentially great resources when you are grieving. BUT, be prepared for friends, family, and church members to also be some of the most hurtful people because of their ignorance and lack of tact. I can’t tell you how many times we heard, that “It was God’s will” or “You’ll have another” or “I know exactly how you feel”. The truth is that they want to help but many don’t understand that those statements can be extremely hurtful. The best thing that they could do is give a hug and tell the grieving people that they are loved.
Support Groups specifically for parents who have lost children are truly the best place to avoid that mess. That said, family and friends are important, sometimes it’s easier to talk to one of the guys and your partner may need some time with the girls. Make sure that talking with friends and family doesn’t replace time talking with each other.
Tip #3 Community can be a big help, but, be prepared for ignorant people to say things that really hurt! They don’t know any better.
To Commemorate or Not to Commemorate
This is a decision that only you can make. We never had a service, memorial, or funeral for any of our losses. Instead, we planted trees in our yard and spread the boy’s ashes at the base of the trees. We get to watch them bloom every spring about the time we lost them. Mary also has a “Mom necklace” with each of their names, our adopted son’s name, and all of their birthstones. We also made a family portrait that shows all of the kids. This is how we remember them, but everyone has to make that choice on their own. What works for one family may not work for another. Many parks allow trees or stones to be marked in memory of a lost loved one. In Tyler, TX, there is a Children’s park that is specifically designed as a memorial with statues, pavers, trees, waterfalls, etc. It is all dedicated to children that have been lost.
Tip #4 If you feel like you need closure then do something, if not, that’s ok too.
After we lost our first pregnancy, I felt the need to apologize to everyone that we had told. They were excited and I felt guilty that we had somehow let them all down. This was a completely misplaced feeling and I want to encourage each and every parent out there, you don’t have to apologize because you lost the baby. It was out of your control and I want you to feel that burden of guilt lift off your shoulders. It is a hard enough time in your life without piling on more hurt.
Tip #5 You didn’t choose this, it was out of your control, Don’t Apologize.
You Can’t Fix It
My instinctive drive is to “fix things,” I see or get told about a problem and I try to fix it. YOU CAN’T FIX THIS! You can make it better by supporting your partner, listening to them, sharing your grief, encouraging them, etc. None of this will fix it. You can’t raise the dead. You can’t heal a broken heart. Don’t try, you will only cause the “don’t try to fix me” explosion and that won’t help either of you.
Hold her, let her cry on your shoulder, make sure she knows that you aren’t mad at her for losing the baby. (It’s probably a real fear in her mind. Mary assumed that I was mad and wanted a divorce so that I could have kids with someone else. She was consumed with this thought to the point that she considered committing suicide so that I would be free from her.) Encourage her to express what she is feeling, and show her love.
Give it plenty of time, it was just over a year after losing Joshua before things started to really heal. To use a wound analogy, it had stopped bleeding after a few months, but we had to get past his birthday before the wound finally closed up. The scars will never totally go away, but they become a part of your story and only really hurt when it rains.
Tip #6 You Can’t Fix It, Just Be Present and Loving!
Solomon asked me if there was anything that I wanted to add as his wife. One key thing that I want to emphasize is to let your partner know how you really feel. If you don’t, she is left to assume what you are feeling. Believe me she will think up something way worse than anything you would ever really say or feel. You are not protecting her, your silence is only allowing her mind to go wild with fear and doubt.
I also felt like I was crazy and had to get over my pain for him. He “moved on” so I needed to bottle up what I felt and try to be “normal”. I felt alone in my pain and resented him. I felt like I had to stop hurting for his sake. Eventually your pain will come out and if you wait until she has finally moved on it only wounds her again to find out that you didn’t trust her enough to be honest.
￼These are my tips based on our experiences of loss, grief, and healing. Every person’s experiences and situations are unique. I’m not an expert, I’m just sharing my experiences and the solutions that worked for us.
If you have been through this what helped you? What challenges did you face?
Are you in the middle of grieving right now? Feel free to ask questions, I am happy to help any way that I can.