It’s June 24th, and I am sitting in my office after an unscheduled early morning trip to the doctor. My wife and I are expecting a child in January, and we’ve been through the ups and downs of several miscarriages before now. Because of that fact we are understandably a little jumpy when it comes to cramps and pains and other symptoms that can be scary. Thankfully everything is okay, and we feel a great sense of relief having just heard our baby’s strong heartbeat for the second time.
We haven’t always had that sense of relief, however. In fact, we’ve faced some days during previous pregnancies where we felt almost inconsolable. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get after learning that the baby you have hoped and prayed for won’t be coming. The doctors use words like “chromosomal abnormalities” to try and explain why these things happen, but the truth is that they don’t always know. And that’s really very difficult when you find yourself powerless to prevent something like this from happening again. So you cry. You get angry. You blame yourself. Sometimes you blame God. It’s terrible.
I won’t try to speak for my wife, but I have her permission to say it has been agonizing for her. As a man, a certain amount of my grief has come from feeling confused about just what I’m supposed to do. I’ve wanted to be there for my wife, while at the same time I’m hurting too. How do we go about comforting each other? What does she need from me? At this particular point in time, is it okay for me to feel angry, overwhelmed, alone, hurt, sad, afraid, depressed, or lost? Of course it is, but it doesn’t always feel so.
As a counselor, you might think I’d have something very wise or profound to say that will break right through the confusion and provide immediate clarity, but I don’t. And I don’t think any other counselors have the magic words either. Grief is a unique and multi-layered creature, and easy answers are empty. What I can offer is an openness with my experience, and some gentle encouragement to share your own. Telling our stories to one another is part of how we heal. To that end, I will share a bit of our own personal journey, and I hope that some part of it will help you along the way in yours.
One thing that my wife and I chose to do was to tell our close friends, family, and co-workers about the miscarriage. Now, we didn’t make some grand announcement to everyone, but we did let our support system know what we were going through. I know that many people choose to hold back this information so they won’t have to deal with the subject being brought up over and over again. After all, people can say some pretty idiotic things when they’re trying to comfort you. While I certainly respect anyone’s decision to keep it quiet, for us it was incredibly helpful to know that we had the support of so many. The decision to go public and endure a few misguided comments was well worth the many other helpful hugs, cards, text messages, and phone calls we received. It surprised me to hear just how many of our friends and family had been through similar circumstances. Right now I can literally rattle off the names of seven or eight families–good friends–that told us they had been there too. That, to me, was oddly comforting.
The second thing we did was to give ourselves permission to feel anything and everything. Emotions will be what they will be. To ignore them or deny them simply creates a bigger mess. Instead, we let ourselves cry. We let ourselves feel angry. We let ourselves sit with the confusion and doubt. Sometimes just giving ourselves permission to have our own emotional experience was enough to eventually bring comfort. I can’t say that all of our grief was completely wrapped up in a nice little bow just because we allowed ourselves to experience it, but acknowledging it sure didn’t hurt anything.
The third thing we did was to remind ourselves that each miscarriage was something that happened to us (not because of us), and that we aren’t defined by the things that happen to us. It’s human nature to try to find a logical reason for tragedies like this, and in our effort to gain some kind of control we sometimes blame ourselves. The truth is that we didn’t cause this, and there could never be an explanation that would suffice. Though we have been through some absolutely terrible things, it doesn’t change our worth or value, and it doesn’t define who we are. This isn’t our fault. It can still be difficult to stay connected to that truth sometimes, but it is something we diligently redirect our thoughts toward.
Finally, we leaned into our faith. Our miscarriages were not the end of our story. At the time, we didn’t know if we would ever be able to have children or not, and truthfully we still don’t know for certain. Even so, we have this deep knowledge that we will be okay no matter the outcome. I can’t say why or how we know this, except to say that we somehow receive it as God’s peace. We have traveled a tumultuous road, but the powerful and comforting hand of God has always been with us. And it always will be. That is about the only thing that is certain in this life, and that is enough for me. I pray that this same peace will find its way into your heart, and that you will be able to feel its strong anchor through the storm.
May our story encourage you along your journey, and may you know that you are never alone.