You probably know more than a few couples who have lost a baby at some stage of pregnancy. The chances are also good that you aren’t aware of that fact about most of them. Even though up to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, most people seem to consider it a private topic. If they mention theirs, it’s only when you tell them about yours – which is how my wife and I have learned, in recent weeks, about multiple past and unspoken losses among friends and family. Our personal choice is to talk about ours.
My wife and I are blessed with one son, over a year old and full of energy. In January we were excited to begin anticipating his first little sibling. All seeming normal, we spread the word to friends and family so they could be happy with us.
In February, a routine first ultrasound brought our expectations crashing down. After a week of uncertainty, we were diagnosed with what is known as a “blighted ovum” or “anembryonic pregnancy.” (Literally a pregnancy lacking a viable embryo. By the time of the scan, there’s nothing to see but an empty sac.) Our newly-conceived baby, we learned, didn’t make it past the earliest stages of life. This type of loss is particularly disappointing because the pregnancy can seem perfectly normal up until the first ultrasound, and sometimes for weeks thereafter before the miscarriage actually plays out.
Julia and I were probably better prepared than some. Before our marriage we had discussed how we would handle this circumstance, should it ever arise. Rather than burying the memory as a medical mishap, we chose to remember our baby with a name (“Tryce,” pronounced like peace) and a keepsake display. Believing as we do that life starts at conception, we have accepted what happened for what it was – the sad and all-too-early death of our second child.
Where does this leave us as parents? Where does it leave me as a dad? For now, sad and disappointed. The death of a child you’ve never met is its own peculiar kind of grief. My wife describes it as missing the company of a loved one you had expected to see soon but now won’t see for a long, long time.
My success-oriented male brain tends to interpret this feeling as defeat: We tried to have a baby and couldn’t make it to the finish line; we spent two months with Julia feeling sick and me doing double-duty around the house, and we have nothing to show for it but disappointment.
And yet we do have something to show for it, don’t we?
We believe our little one is safe in the arms of Jesus, not just in a hypothetical or poetic sense, but literally resting with Christ, awaiting resurrection and reunion on a day the Father already knows. Can I tell you what it will look like to meet up with your miscarried infant in heaven? I cannot. But I can tell you that I serve a God who judges innocent souls justly. I can tell you that the Lamb in the midst of the throne will one day wipe away all tears from our eyes. And that, for now, is enough for me.
It has been truly stated that the troubles of life will either pull a marriage together or tear it apart. In our three years, Julia and I have faced nothing so difficult as the loss of our baby – and yet at the same time, nothing so deeply sweet as the comfort we find through Christ in each other’s love. In growing closer to each other, we also grow closer to our extended families and to the Church, all of whom have gathered to help and support us during this difficult season. And that is worth something.
What would I tell a dad going through this?
Take time to grieve, and own your feelings. Society encourages women to talk about their emotions and cry on each other’s shoulders, but men seem to feel pressure not to feel much of anything. (“Men don’t have feelings,” quipped a comedian. “We have a remote.”) Bad news: You’re going to have feelings anyway. You can choose to bury them, in which case they’ll likely resurface in another form such as anger, or to own them and express them in a healthy way. Jesus said “blessed are those who mourn” – not those who stuff their grief behind a happy or hardened face.
We have been thankful to hear only kind, considerate, affirming voices in our grief. Many couples, however, have to endure the pricks of well-meaning but clueless attempts at comfort.
“At least you didn’t get attached to your baby.”
“The baby would have had health problems anyway.”
“You can always have another one.”
I think we can safely say that remarks like these do nothing to make a grieving couple feel better. However, it’s my view that a faulty attempt at kindness is better than no attempt at all. As the parents in that situation, I think we should give grace and remember that people aren’t trying to be mean; they really just don’t know what to say. In the would-be-comforters’ role, it might be better to stick with “I’m so sorry” and a hug if you don’t feel sure of what to say.
Or, don’t use words at all. Julia and I have more than one friend who said almost nothing about Tryce with words, but with actions let us know that their love and presence are with us. And that is worth something.
As we move forward from here, my overarching goal is to take good care of Julia physically, emotionally, and spiritually. My male success impulse wants to “achieve” another pregnancy for her as soon as it’s safe and humanly possible, returning to “win” in a rematch what we “lost” the first time around.
But at the same time, I know that this hurt is not something I can “fix” with any amount of effort. (A bitter pill for a guy, but my heart’s got to know the truth.) Even if Julia and I have more babies – and prayerfully we hope to – our second child will always be Tryce Carlin, a life that sparked, faded, and left small but indelible footprints in our hearts.
While finishing up this essay, I paused to sing baby Matthew to sleep in his crib. The closing words of Stuart Townend’s hymn The Perfect Wisdom of Our God spoke to me more than my lullaby spoke to him:
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace
So through the trials I’ll choose to say
Your perfect will in your perfect way