'I could have done a better job': A dad reflects on the aftermath of miscarriage
You're at the 12-week scan when the technician tells you that 'something isn't right' and they can't find the heartbeat. You struggle with your own intense pain and ineffectively comfort your wife, whose heart has just been shredded into a thousand tiny pieces.
Nothing prepares you for it.
Miscarriage is something that you simply cannot be prepared for. Throughout the first trimester I was almost constantly soaked in a panicky sweaty sheen because I knew we were in the danger zone. As we approached that 12-week stage we started to relax a little bit, when BAM. Guess what. You don't get to have a child this time. Try again.
This was a savage blow that hit in an instant and only got worse as the afternoon wore on, while the strangled sound of my wife's voice as she tried and failed to keep it together repeated in my mind.
The days between the ill-fortuned scan, discussing options with our obstetrician, and staying by my wife's side for as long as possible before the D&C procedure were some of the most difficult that I have ever managed.
I was fixated constantly on her physical and emotional wellbeing while riding the verge of a tearful breakdown myself, and also making sure that I was as emotionally available as I could be. To this day I feel like I could have done a better job of being there for her and delaying my own grief, but I recognise also that adding to the guilt is deeply unconstructive.
Then there's the awkwardness and shame.
Telling people your great news only to have to un-tell those people was incredibly awkward, mind-numbingly sad, and made us feel a deep embarrassment. I felt like a giant dickhead, having just told everybody I knew and then saying "no, wait a minute, I was mistaken, this one isn't happening". I felt foolish and ashamed, but with the benefit of time and reflection, I know that sounds so ridiculous. I feel stupid just writing it, but there was no escaping it.
We did nothing wrong except allow ourselves to be excited about our child.
Then you begin to realise how common it is, but how little people discuss it.
Despite how common first trimester miscarriage actually is (conservative estimates are one in five of all pregnancies), it was absolutely incredible to discover that so few people knew how to approach us about it. Few people regardless of their experiences knew how to talk to us about it.
Most avoided us, changed the subject, walked past us in the halls at work, give us long and lingering meaningful glance that filled us with a piercing and impotent frustration, or they said the most annoying things possible.
All you want them to say to you is, "Boy, geez, that does suck the big one, miscarriage is the worst and nothing makes it feel better, but I am here for you."
You tend only to hear that sort of thing from a precious few though. Instead, you get variations of the following:
"Well at least you know you can conceive …"
"You can get pregnant again straightaway …"
"It was just her body's way of telling you both that something was wrong …"
"I'm sure it was for the best …"
And you know they mean well, but instead maybe they could have placed their own feet in their mouths, rather than opening them and letting the words run wild and free.
As time wore on we learned many things, including all about the insidious guilt. The second you start to feel even slightly less sad, or spend 10 minutes not thinking about it, you actually feel bad for having that reprieve. Of all of the possible guilt trips, this was by far the most relentless.
We also learned all about the anger. And damn, you get angry. It's unfair. We had plans. The feeling on top of this when your friends and family announce their own successful pregnancies is often too much to handle, and that's okay. You're allowed to sit in muted teary frustration when you have to sit at a staff baby shower. Nobody should expect you to feel any other way.
It isn't a life sentence, but it does stay with you.
It's true that past losses have no influence on your reproductive future. That next pregnancy really could be just around the corner.
Nine months after we lost our baby, my wife found out she was pregnant again. It was a nice little gift on a difficult anniversary from a world that had kicked us around more than once in the months prior. On the anniversary of the D&C procedure last year, we instead went for a 20-week scan.
The final thing that we have learned is, despite this positive news, we will never forget our first pregnancy. Try as we might to be happy and excited for the arrival of our child, our past experience has coloured our perceptions now. We can't help fearing the worst at every turn.
Too morning sick? There must be a problem!
Not morning sick enough? Oh no we're going to lose this one too!
These are things that we want people who are experiencing something similar to realise: that you are not alone, many people are going through something similar, and no thought or feeling that you are having is something to be ashamed of.