The M Word - Coping With Miscarriage
By Joe Cassara
Before my wife had two miscarriages on our first two pregnancies, whenever I heard the word "miscarriage," I thought about an old baby carriage and a young couple living in the 1920s who lose a child, and how it must be pretty terrible for them to have to put the carriage back into a closet.
Some of these I've learned from my own experience; the rest are from psychologist Erik Fisher, Ph.D.:
• Remember the day of the miscarriage, and the original due date that the baby would have been born. Leave her a note that acknowledges the day and plan an outing to get out of the house, like going to the movies.
• Understand how your wife deals with grief. Sometimes people need time to process and then talk, and sometimes they process while they talk. Check in with your wife to see what would help her to talk it through.
• I've said it before–don't tell your wife that everything will be OK and expect to move on.
• Expect for both of you to cry, and be ready to hold her when she does–no matter how often or how long.
• Make time to talk or spend time together every day for at least a few weeks.
• Recognize that the pain from this does not go away in a few weeks; it can last months and years, especially depending on the efforts that were taken to
get pregnant in the first place.
• Don't expect her to be ready for sex for enjoyment or procreation anytime soon. Everyone is different, but a conversation can save a lot of frustration. She will connect sex with the miscarriage, and there is a lot of pain there.
• This is important: don't feel afraid to get counseling to work this through. It can really help to build a marriage, especially if it is worked through successfully.
For some reason in my mind, it was always the closet where they keep the wrapping paper, and they would forget it was there, and then over and over, while they were trying to rush out the door and needing to wrap a present really quickly, out falls the baby carriage and they just start crying...and they probably miss their party...and I always finished this whole thought process by thinking, "Just throw out the damn baby carriage!"
The thing is, when it happens to you (and then it happens again), the reality of losing two babies really sucks. The truth is there were times whenseeing a Huggies commercial or eating a baby shrimp would put us over the edge. We were the wrapping paper people, leaving parties early because someone brought their cute kid and going to Red Lobster for the Admiral's feast and beers on the days after both our miscarriages (making the best of being able to drink and eat shellfish for the first time in months).
Backing up...it started as something like this: dating, engagement, wedding, honeymoon, apartment, house, dog, vacations, and then "the itch,"pregnancy! Well what's so hard about making a baby? It only took us about 6 days, if that. Everything was filled withnewness–reading the books about trimesters and cravings and circumcision, arguing about names and joking about whether we would let him dance if he really wanted to. I'm not sure if as a couple we grew closer in that time of wonderment, but looking back, it just fit into the plan. For me there was more about ego and less of a sense of awe, which sounds really bad, but the truth is that there hadn't been much to disrupt our neat little plan of action thus far. I was king of my castle! Add making babies to the list of my successes. Believe me, I don't think like this now–not even close; I consider brushing my teeth twice a day a major accomplishment.
Then on December 28th, 2007, we went in for a routine checkup, and BAM! our baby no longer had a heartbeat. What followed was torture. There isn't much worse than sympathy from strangers, especially when they do the same voice that they would use for a 4-year-old who dropped their ice cream cone in the sand–stuff like, "Aww, it must be hard," as they rub your back. The next 24 hours were terrible. I wouldn't wish it on anyone to have to flush a 1 inch fetus down your toilet. I think I loved my wife more on that day than any day since.
I'll pause here for a second to try to explain what I've learned as a husband trying to support my wife through a miscarriage:
• It is not like a failed 4th down or a strikeout. There are deep, lasting
emotional scars for a woman that center on the question, "Am I broken?"
• Do not tell her it's OK. It's not OK.
• She needs you to be her rock during this time–not to give her puppy dog eyes and rub her back, but to hold her as she cries and make her feel safe.
Ok, fast-forward a few months, and she's pregnant again! But about two and a half months later, another miscarriage, this one with her ending up in the hospital for an emergency surgery after passing out at home. Talk about kicking a girl when she's down...
But then, exactly 365 days after that second miscarriage, my rock star wife gave birth to twins. Brett & Ella are an answer to many earnest and repeated prayers. They've softened my heart, given me a vision for our family, and have cut my free time by about 95 percent.
But your story may not go like mine. So I'm not going to give you an atta-boy speech about the little engine that could. The truth is that the third time might not be the charm for you. Your genetic testing might come back with some problems. You might turn to scientific help, adoption, or give up. You'll find most people are afraid to talk about fear and loss and defeat. Any stranger will tell you not to worry, that God has a healthy baby for you two someday. And that's BS, because there might not be a healthy baby in your future. You might face years of tests and expensive procedures that leave you with nothing.
You'll find statistics saying anywhere from 15-40 percent of pregnancies end in a miscarriage. So if multiple children are in your plans, the odds are against you, I'm afraid. As a guy, we're not sure how to handle a loss like this. But believe me, your wife has attached herself so much more than you have to this unborn child. There is some serious ongoing grieving that she experiences, much more than we as men can understand. But there are some practical things you can do to really be what she needs.
Recovering from miscarriage is never easy–for either of you. But together, you can rebuild your lives and begin to move on.
Joe Cassara is a husband, father, and thinker from Webster, NY. Special thanks to Erik Fisher, Ph.D, for his contributions to this article.
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. Copyright 2011.