Dads Hurt Too: A Father’s Memoir of Miscarriage
JULY 7, 2022
My wife and I have nine children, but if you meet us, we’ll only say we have five.
That’s because we’ve only ever named five—the five we’ve met, the five who took breaths, the five we brought home. Four of our children died by “miscarriage.”
Medically speaking, miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy within the first 20 weeks of gestation; it is the death of a baby in the womb. As with most suffering, I did not expect to experience it personally; miscarriage happened to other people. I certainly never considered it from the father’s perspective. Miscarriage seemed to be—before it happened to us—solely a woman’s experience, a mother’s sorrow. Now I know differently. Moms hurt, and dads hurt too.
I don’t share my experience with miscarriage as definitive, as though I speak for every father. Each person’s experience with miscarriage is unique. This is mine. I share it with two hopes: First, to free other fathers to speak, to grieve, and to heal. Second, to help miscarrying mothers begin to understand and know how to relate to their partners in the midst of this painful loss.
In my experience with miscarriage, I encountered four little foxes in the vineyard of grief, unwelcome pests that gnawed on the vine of sorrow so that it would not blossom and bear good fruit. This is my story.
The First Fox — Comparison
Despite arriving pale, blue, and breathless—the umbilical cord cinching a death-grip on his throat—our first child lived, as did our second and our third.
We first experienced the death of a child in the womb in September 2007, a year after the birth of Living Child #3. We lost the baby early in the unannounced pregnancy, at only four and a half weeks. The bleeding started the day after a home pregnancy test. Had she not taken it, we might have thought her cycle had simply started late.
Around the same time, close family members lost their baby in an emergency procedure for a painful and life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. Another family member miscarried a baby several weeks further along than ours.
We discussed it and chose silence. We told no one. We feared drawing attention away from their loss onto ours. Others were suffering “worse” than we were. After all, how did the uncomplicated and almost unnoticed loss of an unexpected and unannounced pregnancy compare to their painful and public suffering? They “deserved” the sympathy and the support more than we did.
And there it was, that first little fox in the vineyard of grief—comparison. A ruthless enemy, comparison is quick to use your family, your wife, your children, and your friends against you.
Comparison sunk its teeth in deeper with each of the three subsequent miscarriages, further stifling my grief. I had not carried these children. I had not undergone a dilation and curettage (D&C), a doctor scraping the body of my child out of my own. I had not endured contractions, laboring to deliver a dead baby. I had not been whisked to the operating room over concerns of excessive blood loss. My wife had. She suffered. What was my experience compared to hers? Who was I to mourn?
Comparison pointed a paw at our living children—three of them, then four, then five—and demanded, “What right have you to mourn a child you never knew, when you have all these?” Comparison thrust the faces of friends before my own—friends who could not conceive, friends without a living child, friends whose children died in the crib or in college—and mocked, “You mourn, but not as those who have no kids. Others are worse off; stifle your sorrow.”
A Better Word
The gospel speaks a better word than the bark of comparison. It speaks of a Father who notices and values the minutia of his world—even the parts that others deem worthless by comparison.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered,” Jesus assures us. “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” The argument here is not: people matter, therefore sparrows are insignificant. Rather: sparrows are significant, so how much more valuable are those created in God’s image?
God’s voice—not the voices in my head or those of my neighbor—is the final word on the matter: If he values the hairs of my head more than sparrows, how much more must he care for my child—his own image bearer? And when that child falls to sleep, hidden in my wife’s womb, will the Father in heaven not notice the father on earth? God cares for these little ones. God cares about mothers. God cares about fathers. Both moms and dads have every right to mourn.
The Second Fox — Shame
Our daughter—Living Child #4—entered the world in December 2008 with no complications. In the spring of 2009, we learned another baby was on its way, due in February 2010. On a family vacation in July, my wife experienced strange contraction pains. We saw her doctor when we returned.
The ultrasound technician didn’t deliver the news; she said the doctor would be in shortly to explain what we saw on the screen. His explanation wasn’t necessary. The image of that still, peanut-shaped body, settled at the bottom of her uterus told us all we needed to know. As my wife wiped cold ultrasound gel from her stomach and hot tears from her cheeks, the fact settled on us—the baby had died. Miscarriage #2.
We waited a week, hoping the baby’s body would pass “naturally.” When it did not, the doctor ordered a D&C.
The doctor—one of the most compassionate physicians we’ve known—invited me to sit next to my wife during the procedure. I’d watched the full process of childbirth four times, without queasiness or flinching. As a pastor, I’d witnessed some gruesome things in emergency rooms and at hospital bedsides. Yet, I could not bring myself to sit next to my wife as this happened. I opted to sit against the wall, behind her. Even then, as the doctor made preparations, anxiety, nausea, dizziness crept up from my gut, through my chest, and into my head. I told her that I couldn’t stay and exited to the waiting room.
I found a chair in an empty area, hoping to avoid seeing and being seen by others. My strategy failed. A chatty guest took a seat next to me and started a conversation.
“You call yourself a husband? What kind of husband leaves—no—abandons his wife in the midst of her suffering and makes her endure it alone?” it barked. “What kind of pathetic wimp can’t even hold his wife’s hand while she goes through this? You call yourself a man? You’re a loser.”
I recognized the voice. The craftiest of the foxes, shame darts in and out, appearing in the most unexpected of situations. It had gnawed on me before, chiding me for my inability to help my wife, to give input and counsel on decisions pertaining to the particulars of women’s health that I simply did not understand. Now shame insisted that I had failed—failed myself, failed my wife, failed my God.
Late that fall we received good news: another baby was on the way. Cautious, due to the previous miscarriage, we waited to tell our children until we heard the heartbeat. As the pregnancy progressed, so did our optimism. The anticipation of meeting this child would carry past February 10, the due date of the previous one.
On February 7, 16 weeks pregnant, my wife saw her doctor with a few concerns. The ultrasound confirmed the baby had died. The doctor presented the options of another D&C or inducing labor. To avoid the risks of the former, we chose the latter. Plus, the doctor suggested that we would be able to hold the baby after delivery, something we both desired. (My wife tells her story here.)
Two days later, she was induced. At 4:40 pm, turned on her side, she felt a gush of fluid. Our 4.5-inch, 0.8-ounce baby was born. We were alone, the three of us.
I saw the baby, lying there on the bed, wet with blood and amniotic fluid. My fatherly instinct told me to pick up my child, to cradle its fragile body, to not let it lie there alone. But I didn’t. I didn’t know if I was allowed. Shame whispered in my ear, “What the nurses would say if they find you holding the baby? Won’t they think that odd?” So, instead, I pressed the nurse-call button and explained what happened.
As we waited for the nurse, the same voice that discouraged me from holding the baby now chastised me for letting it lie, “Look at your baby, lying there helpless and alone. What kind of a father just lets his baby lie there?”
The nurses arrived, attended to my wife, and took the baby. The doctor arrived. Concerned about a stubborn placenta and excessive blood loss, he rushed her to the operating room for a D&C, the very procedure we hoped to avoid. I waited alone, frightened and ashamed.
In the morning, as she recovered her strength and we prepared to go home, we asked to see the baby. Shame told me this was foolish, that the nurses thought we were crazy for wanting this, that they were probably rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.
A dear friend, a nurse who happened to be on duty, brought the baby to us and gently explained that our child might not look like what we expected. The soft, underdeveloped skeletal structure collapses as the fluids dry. We understood. We cradled the little blanket in our hands, unfolding its edges to reveal our little one—eyes still fused shut, a delicate nose and dainty mouth. We touched skinny arms and legs, counting perfect fingers and toes.
When we had finished viewing our baby, I called the nurses station to ask if someone could come take the baby back. A nurse, apparently unaware of our situation, explained that all the nurses were busy. She asked if there were a reason we didn’t want to keep the baby in the room. “Our baby…,” I stuttered. I didn’t know what the proper term was for this situation. Miscarried? Stillbirth? I finally finished, “…was born dead.” Shame whispered, “You’re such a nuisance. They have real, living babies to take care of and now she has to leave them to tend to you. She probably thinks you’re an idiot.”
The head nurse, a compassionate woman, had made efforts to accommodate our circumstances before we arrived. She arranged a room on a wing with no other patients. My wife would not have to pass the nursery or rooms with “Congratulations” signs and balloons on the doors on her way in or out. A single rose taped to the doorframe explained our situation to entering nurses. But the process did not seem to consider the father.
This hospital only issued identification bands to patients—that is, mothers and living babies—and to the fathers of living children. This meant that when I left the maternity ward to meet a visiting pastor or took a walk down the hall, I couldn’t simply walk back to our room. I had to explain to the ever-rotating desk staff who I was and why I was there. Sometimes they made me wait at the door of the maternity ward while they called my wife to confirm I could go to the room. As I stood there, suspect in the eyes of new staff and a curiosity to people in the waiting room, shame nipped at my heels.
Meals were delivered to the rooms for mothers. Fathers could go to a hospitality room in the maternity ward to fill a tray from a hot buffet during set hours. This meant that all the fathers in the ward gathered in the small room at once, making small talk as they waited in line. Guess what fathers small talk about in a maternity ward. “So, what did you have!” “Is your wife in labor or has she delivered?” “You want to see a picture?” Getting food meant bringing my sorrow into a stranger’s joy, which meant more barks from shame. “Look at these smiling men, excited to talk about their babies. You’re such a downer.”
We left the hospital on February 10, the due date of the previous baby, our hearts doubly empty. When you walk beside your wife’s wheelchair as the nurse pushes her from the room to the front door of the hospital, people pay attention. Smiling staff stand to peek over the desk to see the little one in the new mother’s arms. My wife carried a potted plant and a sympathy card. Shame told me what a disappointment we were, a dark cloud in this bright place.
That next Monday, a sunny and warm Valentine’s Day, our whole family gathered around a little gravesite, where I read Revelation 21:1-5 and prayed, before leaving our child to be buried. Even making these arrangements brought shame. “They probably think this is ridiculous and can’t wait for you to let them get back to real work.”
How does a father trap and kill this little fox—the voice of shame, using miscarriage to tell him he’s but a weakling, a failure, and a nuisance? It’s not by “manning up” and “toughing it out.” It’s not by crawling into a hole and hiding in silence. What a hurting dad needs is to hear that there is one who sees and knows and is not ashamed to call him brother.
“Jesus wept.” He stood at the tomb of Lazarus and cried. Jesus, the one through whom God created the universe, stood at his friend’s grave and sobbed. Overwhelmed with the real experience of grief and loss, Jesus wept.
Those two words summarize so much of what the Bible tells us about God. He is the God who heard the cries of the Israelites in slavery, who saw, and who knew. In Jesus, this God became flesh and dwelt among us, experiencing our sadness.
To be our Savior, it was necessary for him to suffer. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He hungered. He thirsted. He grew tired. His told his friends that his soul was “very sorrowful, even to death,” begging them to pray with him—only to weep alone while they slept. He grew so physically weak that another man had to carry his cross to Golgotha. He died for us so that through his resurrection we might live.
The road to resurrection does not follow the path of strength and convenience. We, like Jesus, are “made perfect through suffering.” For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:10).
Does shame point out my sin? “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
Does shame point out my weakness? Jesus identifies with my weakness. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom” (Isaiah 40:11).
Does shame say that I am a nuisance in my grief? Jesus came to bear my griefs and to carry my sorrows (Isaiah 53:4).
Does shame tell grieving fathers to hide their tear-streaked faces, that no one wants to associate with a frail sufferer? The Gospel speaks a better word: “he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11).
Jesus wept. Moms, as you weep, encourage your man that he can too.
The Third Fox — Culture
The day we returned from the hospital, I headed to store to fill a prescription for my wife. As I drove, I turned on the radio, set to my usual public radio channel. A state lawmaker and the host were discussing some bit of abortion legislation. The legislator quipped something like, “You know, it’s not a big deal. We’re only talking about fetuses up to 18-weeks.” These words hit my heart like salt in a bite wound.
There it was, the little fox sent to choke out grief and stifle the growth of healthy mourning—our culture. We live in a culture where politicians can reduce my baby to an “only” for the sake votes. Where corporations press the language of “no big deal” so that they can cut big deals trafficking the body parts we just buried. We fathers are denied entry into the conversation because we lack the proper anatomy.
How do we mourn what leaders label an “only” and a “no big deal”?
The Indignant Boy Who Lived
Christmas rebukes our culture. The nativity scene speaks hope to the grieving father.
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her” (Luke 1:41). Not an “only.” Not a “no big deal.” A baby leaped inside her.
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). Not an “only.” Not a “no big deal” A baby will be lying in the manger.
The same Greek word for baby (brephos) is used in both verses, assuring us with divine authority that what is in the womb is every bit as much a baby as what is lying in the manger.
That swaddled baby faced a similar culture, one in which a lawmaker, driven by the desire to preserve his power and profit, would decree the child’s death via the murder of all the young boys in Bethlehem. But that fox did not win.
The boy who lived grew to be a man who fought to the death for life. At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus witnessed his friends weeping as he approached the burial place of his friend. John twice records that he was “deeply moved,” translated from a Greek word used to describe a horse snorting, which indicated being moved with indignation or anger. So we find Jesus, staring death in the face, full of indignation, snorting in anger at his enemy.
Dads and moms are right to be overcome with emotion in the face of death. Jesus joins them. Death—from the womb to the tomb—is a big deal. It is not an “only.” It is an enemy, a foreign invader, smuggled in on the back of sin, wreaking havoc in our world. It should be stared down with snorting indignation.
Only let us entrust our indignation to the hands of our Warrior King. For while our anger cannot resolve the problem, Jesus’ anger did. He demanded, “Lazarus, come out!” And the man who had died came out.
Not long after this, Jesus cried out again—“It is finished!”—as he succumbed to the wages of sin on our behalf. There, in his death, death died. And in his resurrection, he won the resurrection of his people—of all those who trust in him (and, I would argue, all the little ones we’ve lost in the womb).
Fathers and mothers resist the culture of death by being firm in their faith in the Lord of Life.
The Fourth Fox — Loneliness
In God’s kindness, we survived that year. Our son—Living Child #5—was born February 8, 2012, allowing us to spend the anniversary of our loss enjoying our newborn. With his birth, we were finished having children—miscarriage and the little foxes were not.
In December 2014, I accepted a call to be associate pastor at new church. We packed and moved to a new city, to this new congregation, filled with new people.
We discovered in January that, despite our decision to be finished having children, my wife was pregnant. We hit a wall of conflicting emotions. Pregnancy had grown increasingly burdensome and destructive to her body, especially in the summer heat. We hadn’t wanted another child. Yet, we treasure children. We knew we should want this child.
It didn’t take long for our hearts to change. We grew excited about the baby; we wanted this. No sooner did our hearts warm to the reality of a new baby than the baby was gone, miscarried at 5 weeks.
Waves of grief and emotion crashed over us. Grief over feeling grief at the news of the pregnancy. Grief over losing a baby that we now wanted. Relief at avoiding a painful and hard pregnancy. Guilt over feeling relieved. Shame had a field day. “What kind of a parent doesn’t want a baby? Who feels relief at a baby’s death?”
Shame didn’t arrive alone. The old fox brought a new friend to the party—loneliness. And she had a whole litter of pups.
We hadn’t told family about the pregnancy yet; it was too soon. Shame whispered, “Can’t you hear them now: ‘Don’t you know what causes that?’ ‘Weren’t you being careful?’ ‘Ah, well, at least you have those five! No big deal!’” So, we said nothing and suffered alone.
At our previous church, a community of people we’d known and loved for years, loneliness had been my companion in miscarriage. The Sunday following miscarriage #3, most of the women talked to my wife offering sympathy; friends attended to her. I only remember one or two men giving me a hug. One met me at the door, waiting for me. His infant son had died in his arms on Christmas Day a decade before. Other than those, while a few men may have asked how she was doing or offered a quick “we’re praying for you,” I can’t recall anyone asking how I was doing. Being burnt out from several years of church conflict, I was in no shape to ask for help. I don’t remember anyone following up with me in the weeks that followed. (I admit my memory may have failed, and ask forgiveness of any sympathizers I’ve forgotten.) I don’t blame them; I’m certainly not bitter. I’m guilty of the same response. Too often, I’ve awkwardly avoided or simply overlooked such suffering brothers. We just don’t know how to deal with it, if we notice at all.
But now we were in a new church, full of new people, too new to have any close, time-tested friendships. So, while my wife confided in a few, I stayed silent. Shame whispered, “They didn’t hire you so that they could carry your sorrows. You’re here to carry theirs. If you share this, you’ll just be a disappointing nuisance.” This wasn’t true, of course. But shame is never one to let the facts stand in the way of an accusation.
The loneliness multiplies. How can I talk to my wife about my loss? Loneliness. How do we mourn the anniversaries of loss in a community of people that never met the one who’s missing? Loneliness. What’s a man to do?
You Are Not Alone
“I am with you always.” This is Jesus’ promise to his disciples in this world. A promise he kept when he poured out his Holy Spirit at Pentecost. A promise he keeps as his Spirit dwells in our hearts through faith.
In the midst of my shame, Jesus dwells in me.
In the midst of grief too deep for words, the Spirit intercedes on my behalf.
In the midst of a hostile culture, Jesus is with me.
In the midst of unthoughtful words, Jesus hears and sees and knows.
Fathers, as we trust that the Spirit of God dwells within us individually, we must also believe that Jesus dwells in his body corporately—specifically in the local church. Christ indwells all his people and, through them, ministers to us.
There is much grace to be found in going to church. Listen to the congregation sing the gospel, pray to a listening Father, and confess the faith. Hear the Good News declared as the word is read and preached. Watch a baptism, take the Lord’s Supper, and remember that Jesus died for you and rose from the dead.
The Foxes Still Bark, but the Lion Still Roars
It’s been almost three years since our last miscarriage. Wounds are healing. Yet, I’d be lying if I said those foxes don’t still bark and nip from time to time.
Even as I write this, those foxes run circles around my chair, barking for attention: What will happen if this is published? Will I be rebuked for speaking of my own suffering when others have suffered more? Accused of downplaying how mothers suffer by highlighting a father’s pain? Will I be whispered about in secret for the ways I’ve failed? Ridiculed online for mourning a person that was never born? What if someone takes offense, thinking I’m calling them out in some way? What if people use past weakness to form future accusation? Perhaps I should delete this now, stay silent, and alone?
But those voices won’t win. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, roars louder than the foxes. He has proved over the years that his power is made perfect in my weakness. The accuser, who dispatched the foxes, is overthrown not by my silence, but by the Lamb of God who took away my sin by faith in him.
Over the past decade, I’ve tried to be intentional in speaking of my afflictions—miscarriages, conflicts, depression, anxiety, weakness, failing, disappointment, and loss. I know there are men who simply don’t understand. There are men who roll their eyes. But then there are those men who pull me aside at conferences, who drop me an email, who meet me for coffee, who call me and say in quiet tones, “We had a miscarriage. I don’t know what to do. I know you’ve been through it. Could we talk?”
So we talk. I listen to their grief. I offer what little wisdom and practical tips I can. I speak of Jesus, the Son who roared in the face of death and crushed its head. Then we ask the Father who hears and sees and knows to give us faith and hope and love.
It is with that hope that I publish these words—that grieving fathers and mothers might hear and find the freedom to speak, to grieve, to believe, and to heal.