**Please be aware that the content of this piece may be triggering for some individuals.**
October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss awareness month. At No Ordinary Women, we whole-heartedly believe in the power of learning from and supporting one another through sharing our personal stories, even when those stories are painful to tell, hard to hear, and so much to hold. We most often speak about pregnancy and miscarriage with our sisters in mind. This month we are honoring those women who have suffered immeasurable loss as well as the fathers, partners, and husbands who have experienced all the grief alongside them.
This piece is the first of what we hope are many stories from our brother's perspective.
I never imagined my wife’s trips to the bathroom would be terrifying, but there we were...middle of the night, early in the morning, mid-afternoon, it really didn’t matter. Each trip came with its own bit of terror, and not the kind you can air out for 15 minutes and be done with.
This is how I spent part of May, all of June, and a little of July, and I imagine my wife, Annie, did as well.
After we found out we were pregnant in May, each trip to the bathroom provided the opportunity for heartbreak, a moment in which we could learn that death had won again and our world was again about come to a crashing halt. I don’t know if it’s like this for every pregnant couple, or even every pregnant couple who has experienced a prior loss, but this is our experience and no matter how many times nor how many doctors tell us things are good, the “yeah, buts” always find a way to fan the flame of fear just enough to keep it burning.
Trauma is a beast like that.
It was about this time last year we experienced the loss of a child. A miscarriage is a weird, tragic situation because you’re mourning both the life of your child and also every single hope and dream you had for them. Like, they got none of that. Not even a first blanket. And honestly, there’s no real good answer for the question that looms over your life like a dark cloud – why?
As a society, we don’t really talk about it that much and even when we do, it’s so ingrained in our culture that babies are more a medical situation than a human at that stage, it makes for an awkward conversation at best. I mean, how do you fully express your mourning of your child when you know about half of the folks out here don’t even consider it that? I’m not writing this to make a political point, just trying explain how complicated this all felt to me.
Added to this complexity was the fact that literally no one that I could find was talking about it from the father’s perspective. That’s terribly sad because while in many ways my experience was much the same as my wife’s, in others it was totally different. That’s a big part of why I’m writing this.
We’d gotten pregnant shortly after getting married and were actually set for a cute Halloween-themed announcement that involved Annie dressing as an oven baking a bun and me as a baker. Not going to lie, I’m pretty proud of myself for coming up with that costume idea. We went to the doctor the day before the holiday and were scheduled to see our child’s heart beat for the first time. We were nervous, but more of that excited, I’m-about-to-get-on-a-roller-coaster nervous than that pre-natural-disaster-that’s-going-to-wreck-your-life nervous. We walked into the office, Annie got on that super awkward table with the stirrups, and we kind of kind of smiled at one another as the doctor began poking around.
“I’m sorry. I can’t find a heartbeat.”
Honestly those words didn’t make sense at the time. Like, I heard them, and even understood what each word meant independently, but not combined like that. Surely, there were words missing or out of place, I thought.
But the quick exit of the doctor and the ushering of us to another room with some other folks soon confirmed the reality of the statement.
We had what Annie told me later is commonly called a “missed miscarriage.” Our baby was dead, but his or her body had yet to make its exit. This was apparently what made the situation somewhat tricky because if it didn’t exit soon, surgery could be required, which came with risks including never being able to conceive again. We decided to wait a day or two to see if it would happen naturally before taking meds that would help the process. Yeah, that same medicine you hear about uber “religious” pharmacists occasionally denying folks. It’s couples like us, in moments like that, in which these folks are choosing to take a stand for their God. I’m not sure if it is out of ignorance in medicine or theology, but these folks make their colleagues in both fields look terrible. But I digress.
We got the medicine and waited. Tuesday, we revisited the doctor just to confirm our child was dead and the day passed with no signs of the actual miscarriage happening. Annie took the medicine the next morning and a few hours later, it did its job. There was pain. There were tears. And then then there was Thursday, when we went back to the doctor yet again, this time to ensure everything had passed. Needless to say, by Friday we were both exhausted, Annie from grief and me from the anxiety of trying to hold everything together and remain as positive as possible for her. Faking positivity is the worst, especially for someone like me who is more of a natural downer than upper.
That’s the part no one talks about. As her husband and our child’s father, not only was I mourning a loss, I was at the same time tasked with care taking of a person in the midst of a traumatic medical crisis. And on top of being physically ill, she felt like she was broken and there was absolutely no way I could convince her otherwise. I could only sit with her in the brokenness and attempt to keep all the things done, so she could have the time she needed to heal.
Of course, at this time I was also playing the PR role, fielding calls and texts from family and friends asking how she was doing. Truth be told, answering questions like that in the midst of struggling with the situation yourself sucks. It felt kind of like our house burned down and everyone forgot I lived there too.
That PR game really sucked because it’s times like these that well-meaning folks say things that make them look like callus jackasses. Bad theological stuff like, “Don’t worry, it’s all in God’s plan,” or “God’s in control,” both of which allude to the idea that God killed our baby for some higher purpose. The God I’m familiar with only did that once, and it was His kid.
The other most common shared thought, also well-intentioned, was, “you know, so and so had X number of miscarriages and now she’s got X number of kids.” Ugh. That’s when you just struggle with all your might not to say, “I really don’t give a f— about so and so.”
I should mention though, there’s a huge difference between that comment and someone who has been through a miscarriage opening up to you about their personal experience. I’d imagine it’s the difference between me telling a veteran my grandfather served and my grandfather simply looking at another vet and saying, “I know.” Those folks were a blessing to us and each time that happened, I felt a slight reprieve from feeling as though I was the only one who understood what was happening with my wife.
Honestly, the worst part of this whole thing was folks trying to give us hope and that’s really because the vast majority of them don’t know the entire story. They didn’t know this wasn’t our first miscarriage, so there’s no way they could have applied the knowledge that each miscarriage drastically decreases a couple’s chances of having a baby. It makes the intensity of the situation, much less thinking of the future, that much more painful.
Unless you’re one of our very closest friends, that first miscarriage is probably news to you. That happened a few years ago, long before we tied the knot. We didn’t share that burden with many folks, quite honestly because we weren’t sure everyone, and especially those within our church circles, would handle it in a helpful manner. We couldn’t risk adding the burden of their judgment and/or “helpful discipling” to our struggle. We couldn’t risk, and frankly didn’t need, love and grace with one of those all too common clauses attached. You know, “Oh, Jesus loves you and we love you. And we’ll be there to help you all overcome this struggle.” Perhaps that’s a little too honest, but I felt this in part because I’ve regrettably been a part of that crowd in the past and while I don’t think it was ever in a harmful manner, I know it wasn’t in a helpful one.
And by the way, if you’ve gotten to this part and you’re wondering more about if Annie and Travis made their peace with God in regards to premarital sex than the darkness of suffering alone out of the fear of judgment, you’re a part of the culture that creates this climate. Also, we did, but it’s none of your business how we handle the specs in our eyes.
Honestly, it still bothers me that I felt I had to keep it a secret. It haunts me that in my darkest moment I didn’t feel I could go to some of those I was closest to at church, much less the body as a whole. As much as we talk about wanting to create a culture that accepts everyone no matter who they are or what they do, I think we all know that often comes with strings attached, many of which are far too weighty for a person carrying a burden. I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing that and I wonder how many times others have suffered in silence because of this same fear.
Anyway, we suffered the first miscarriage mostly in secret and I can’t speak for Annie, but I was filled with a mixture of sadness and relief, the latter of which I still feel tremendous guilt over. The second miscarriage was more public, but with a hidden weight that made its true intensity unknown to many of those around us. And of course, those two experiences combined add to the fear we’re currently facing.
I mentioned earlier that “why” is the question that weighs on our minds. Having graduated a Bible college and having read plenty of good books on theology since, I like to think I have a pretty good thought process when it comes to talking about why bad things happen to folks, even little innocent folks who hadn’t yet had a breath. But knowing the right answer and applying it to your feelings is a whole different ball game and honestly, one that you can’t put on a clock.
Real talk though, there probably isn’t an answer. It’s probably just one of the many things that falls under the blanket of this is a fallen world and shit happens.
Sometimes I think we get the concept of faith mixed up in these types of situations. I think we assume that faith is having an answer to all the tough questions when in reality I think it’s more about being able to move forward without an answer.
So, that’s what we’re doing, we’re moving forward. We’re hopefully going to have a son in January. He won’t be the answer to our “why” question and he’s not going to erase the memory or pain of our first two children, but we’re excited to meet our third child. As for our first two, they’ll always be a part of our family. We’ll hang stockings for all three children each Christmas and hopefully one day get to tell their little brother about them.
My wife going to the bathroom is a little less terrifying these days, but we’re not foolish enough to think we’re completely out of the woods just yet. And that’s OK because fear is part of what makes any journey worthwhile.
I just hope and pray we reach the destination, which of course is the beginning of a whole new journey and a whole new set of fears.
About the Author: TRAVIS WILLIAMS