Archive for May, 2011
I don’t know that I said these words exactly, but unfortunately I communicated this message to my wife. And eight weeks after our first miscarriage, this was not what she needed. Those days, when my wife would spontaneously cry, I would look on in confusion. Her outbursts of anger were matched by my own selfish and protective retaliation. She wouldn’t want to get on of beds some mornings, and I went on with my life shaking my head in confusion, thinking, “The best medicine for depression is activity. She should get out and do something!” Yes, each of my actions launched a message clear as agua, “Get over it!” “I’ve gotten over it, why can’t you?”
I missed an important concept for a marriage seeking to recover from miscarriage: processing hurts look different. My wife needed a few weeks for the reality of the miscarriage to settle in, followed by a more intense period of morning. I began the process of dealing with my hurt in the doctor’s office the day we learned the baby was dead. My wife spent much more time in the anger phase of mourning. I spent a good deal of time coming to grips with it (shock). My wife needed about four months to really hurt. I only needed a couple of months. My wife felt piercing pain seeing babies in little pink carriages. I was able to compartmentalize and even thinking about it when I saw babies.
None of these differences is necessarily wrong or right, but simply displayed our personalities. Where I really went wrong was imposing my own manner of mourning on my wife. The moment I began to impose my expectations for myself on her, I crossed an unhealthy barrier for our marriage.
A verse in New Testament commands its reader to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I now realize that what I wasn’t doing was weeping with my wife. Of course, I couldn’t force artificial tears, and she wouldn’t have wanted that. What she did want, and need, was empathy. When she couldn’t get out of bed, I should have let her be. When she lost her temper with me, I should have responded patiently. The spontaneous tears should have triggered hugs and kisses, not looks of confusion. Looking back, I probably should have bought a few more flowers too.
Yes we were different, and she hurt worse than I, but what she so desperately needed was empathy and compassion.
Miscarriages hurt. I remember the termination of our first pregnancy, when our doctor removed the ultrasound machine and shared that there was no heartbeat; our baby was dead. My wife failed to hold back her tears and I grasped her hand. Moments passed and I attempted to mumble something about how we were trusting the Lord in this moment. Our doctor wasn’t interested and responded rather curtly. “Hey, you just do what you gotta do to get through.” She summed up where we would go from there, encouraged a surgery as an alternative to natural miscarrying, and bolted along her merry way. Her coldness was difficult to swallow. We both had the sense that she had seen this so many times. Perhaps she had her own way of coping that included strategic emotional distancing. Perhaps she had tried to enter into her patients pain in the past and failed. Perhaps familiarity really did breed contempt for her. Or perhaps she just didn’t care. Whatever it was, she wasn’t going to be our doctor the next time around.
As a husband, I had my own distinct way of processing. I had learned in some of my studies in seminary that mourning follows a pretty typical pattern: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance. Whether I like to admit it or not, I followed this pattern for this loss. I’m guessing that most husbands process their losses like this.
For me, shock lasted awhile, maybe a couple weeks. I hadn’t really considered that miscarriage would actually happen to us. Sure, somewhere on the periphery, I had heard rumors of miscarriages. But like I said before, none of my friends and their wives had miscarriages. Of our some six or seven close friends, family planning was as smooth as silk. Forego contraception, try a couple time, and baby arrives healthy and happy. Most of them even had a nice house and dog to complete the perfect American dream. And yes, I was envious. Sure, we were last in line to give pregnancy a try, but why should we be any different? So I had to sit in shock for some time. Denial didn’t last long. Or perhaps the lines are blurred between shock and denial. Most of my anger was directed towards God. Since I believe in God, and I also believe that is good and in control of all circumstances, I had to face the frustrations of him choosing us out of all our friends to experience this loss. It took me some days with Him in prayer to arrive at acceptance. My heart settled on God having his way with us.
But, I also quickly realized that I traveled from shock to acceptance rather swiftly. It began on the day we received the news and probably came to completion around a month later. I also processed internally, on my own. I had a few conversations with some close friends, but in general, the majority of moving to acceptance was with the Lord, alone in my office, early in the morning. Yes, I really believed that I lost a child. It was a real person, a death, a real loss. But I had not had physical contact with this person. I had not carried it like my wife had. And there was little or no emotional attachment to a person, only to the dream of one.
My wife had to process much, much longer. For her, shock carried over into the days when I had almost completely come to acceptance. Two full months after the miscarriage, her numbness lifted and anger surged to the surface. And I had moved on. She couldn’t believe that I was already fine and on my way. She had just begun to turn it over in her head. Her pain still cut deep, and due to the fact that a woman also must deal with physical discomfort of either surgery or natural process, it wasn’t only emotional.
I wish I have this time back. I want a redo. My wife was angry and hurting. Even though I had more or less “healed,” there were so many ways I could have loved my wife better. When her clouds of pain hadn’t lifted and mine had, it was unfair for me to compare my experience with hers. Sure, I had mourned or processed, but it wasn’t fair to expect that she should have. My responsibility at this time wasn’t to compare, to instruct, but to sit and listen. But, because that isn’t what I did, we were in trouble. Next week I talk a little bit about the hole I dug for us, and how we got out of it.
The majority of husbands have a special recording of circumstances surrounding the time they first hear these words, that is, if and when they are privileged enough to hear them. Movies and television dramas teem with these moments, simply because it is such a life transforming experience. So often, it’s such good news. Lucy tells Ricky that she’s pregnant and, of course, he faints flat over and the audience dies laughing. In the movie Father of the Bride II, Steve Martin’s character goes ballistic when his wife of 40 something declares these words. Every time it happens, husband response follows a pattern: shock, irrational behavior, unbelief, and eventually acceptance. Even if hard to swallow at first, normally the news turns out to be good. “I’m going to be a father.” Wow!
I can remember when my wife first told me that she was pregnant. We had been married for almost 3 years and trying for at least 8-9 months. Like most people, we planned to have a family because the time was right. Or so we thought. The possibility of infertility was there, of course. But just like you don’t set out on honeymoon vacation planning to lose your luggage, miss connecting flights, and getting 2nd degree burns on the beach, you don’t plan on fertility issues with family planning. We didn’t plan to have struggle through the initial months of trying. But we did. My wife struggled through every month without the good news. After a couple of months, she began reading about infertility. She had jumped the gun a bit, because (I think) fertility isn’t really in question until after a year of trying. But it’s hard not to hope. Eventually, she did get pregnant and dropped the bomb: “Honey, I’m pregnant.” Here we were, on our way to baby-world. Baby carriages. Car seats. Baby clothes. Toys. Cute little faces that reflect the eyes, cheeks, ears or smile of proud mommy and daddy.
But there were more shocking words in our future: not so fun sentences. “I’m sorry you guys, there is no heartbeat.” These words aren’t seen in movies or syndicated television. Maybe because it’s not quite tragic enough to garner an audience. Maybe it’s just not common enough. Maybe it is and it’s victims simply do not want to live it over again. Consequently, whereas television helps us husbands connect our eccentric (yet normal) responses to beginning fatherhood, many of us just don’t really know how to respond to the death of the dream of being a father. Even our trusted friends or the pastors in our churches don’t know how to prepare us. Am I supposed to treat this like a full-blown death? Should we tell our friends or just keep it secret? What should I do to help my wife? What id the deal with her emotions in this? This is just so sad, so awkward, so sickening.
11 weeks in, we had a check up to detect a heartbeat. After test number one, there was nothing. Test number two: nothing. The baby was dead. Of course, miscarriage is a possibility. But again, who plans on this kind of thing? How many friends did we have that simply (1) desired a family, (2) started trying, (3) have family without a problem. Bada bing bada boom. It’s as easy as that. Well, not for us. We were just getting started on our journey.
And so I begin this blog: not because I am expert on infertility or miscarriages (but we have 5 years experiences, and counting); not because I have many answers (I don’t); not because I am counselor (I’m not). I begin this blog because I pray it will be theraputic, healing, for me and for you. In addition, my hope is that you are encouraged to love your wives well in your own journey with infertility. Loving our wives in this sensitive trial is tough. My blogger name is based on a verse of the Bible, Ephesians 5:25. It says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” My conviction is that Christ loved us sacrificially and boldy, giving up his own life so we could have ours. As husbands struggling with infertility, and as husbands of wives struggling through infertility, we face a imposing task, very much requiring this kind of sacrificial love. I believe that if we love as Christ in this process, we win.
So, for what it’s worth, I offer our story: the good and the bad. And I offer my commentary on these events, looking forward to your feedback. I have written anonymously. For now, this will help me be more open about our story. We’ll see where this takes us. Husbands, let’s set out to love our wives well.