I suppose I can start with what I’m feeling, though it’s hard to qualify. Grief is probably one of the words, but also confusion, helplessness, frustration, impatience.
Normally, I don’t spend a lot of time with those emotions. I am the person you know who can be obnoxiously positive, the one whom hard times roll off of like rain on a waxed canvas. I believe everything will work out, and in my life so far, that has borne out more or less. I am the rock, the anchor, all of those cliche things that people say they are when they fancy themselves the “strong one.” But this experience is really challenging that perception.
Yesterday morning, my wife and I found out that our first pregnancy together was non-viable.
Anyone reading this who has been there knows how we feel. A kind user in a forum I post on sometimes offered: “welcome to the world’s shittiest club.” There are a lot of members, 1 in 4 pregnancies - 25% of all pregnancies - are nonviable. That’s a statistic that I’ve known since before we began our pregnancy journey, and yet, you never think it’s going to be you right?
K and I are in our mid thirties. Officially an “advanced maternal age” pregnancy, which ups the risk factor. We also are both much heavier than we should be. We wear it reasonably well, and our bloodwork tends to come back healthy when we have our annual physicals, but still the weight issue apparently adds risk as well. We got married exactly 5 years ago (today is our anniversary… though it’s hard to feel like celebrating), and we decided then that we needed to wait a while before bringing a kid into the world. There were a million reasons; at the time I was pursuing a career in the performing arts that I needed to find the organic end of before pivoting into something more stable, it was the Trump years and the idea of bringing a kid into that American life was one that wasn’t appealing, K was just finishing law school and wanted to get her career established, I could go on. End result was that we just weren’t ready for a while.
We spent those 5 years exploring. Exploring the world, exploring our relationship, we grew rich in experience, wealthy in love and health. Not so much in finances, but that’s another story. We had our struggles, fights that ran the spectrum from “way bigger than it should have been” to “this could end our marriage and we need to work through it together,” but to borrow a word from my jewish friends, every Tsuris that we faced ultimately paved a path for us to be closer, stronger. Every time we had a truly hard fight, the thing that ultimately saved us was the knowledge that at the end of it all, we believe in each other as the partner we each want to parent with. That has been our strength, and that strength has grown roots and made solid ground of us.
At this point, the only thing holding us back was the idea of financial stability, which seems ever elusive, but I got some advice from a respected mentor: “if you wait for the perfect time, it will never come.” So, K and I pulled the goalie (read: she stopped taking birth control). Our mentality at that point was along the lines of “ok, we’re in our mid-thirties, this could take a while.” We told ourselves that we wouldn’t “try” so much as stop “trying not to,” if that makes sense? We settled in to a process that we didn’t expect to move quickly, with a healthy dose of anxiety on if we could even be successful at all at this point. Societal pressure is a real bear…
After one cycle and a few weeks following the “pulling of the goalie,” I had to leave for a 20 day work trip. When I got back, K surprised me with a positive pregnancy test. It almost didn’t seem real to me, so much so that she was initially disappointed in my reaction. Reflecting now, I can see that I was just… in the best way, stunned. I didn’t expect it this soon, but the more I thought about it, the readier I was. I was going to be a dad.
K and I weren’t able to contain it, we had to tell people. We went back and forth on whether we should share it or not, and ultimately we decided that if we did have to deal with anything painful, we would want our immediate community to know, and so we started with a small circle. Some “chosen family,” some actual family, some close coworkers, that was it. Every day our joy and excitement grew. I started having conversations in my head with the daughter I imagined we’d have (yes I let myself go there, despite my better judgment). Planning how I’d teach her to be generous and kind, but also strong and self-aware. K and I even came up with a name, after a favorite song of ours by a favorite band of many. We celebrated. Every day.
We thought about all the things we knew. 1 in 4 pregnancies miscarry. 35 is advanced maternal age. But all of the joy we felt at this conception outweighed those things. We couldn’t fathom it going any other way than perfectly. I even said at one point “I know all these things, but I can’t help but feel like everything is going to be just fine.”
For scheduling reasons, we couldn’t get in to see the doctor for an ultrasound until week 10, so we waited with excited anticipation. The night before, two nights ago at this point, neither of us could sleep. All I could do was envision that ultrasound screen showing me the growing human life inside my wife. My first look at my child, the person I get to help shape from the ground up. Excited isn’t the right word, I felt… full. Like all of myself was ready to usher this new person into this crazy, mixed-up world. Like I was prepared to do the most righteous thing I could imagine.
So, we got up, went to the gym, and tried to contain our excitement/nerves as we made our way to the medical offices where the ultrasound would be performed. The ultrasound tech was lovely, but also very clinical in her approach to us. She didn’t gush with excitement, she was very much there to do a job, which I actually came to appreciate later.
The experience of the ultrasound feels like a nightmare at this point. The tech smeared that blue goo on K’s belly, and started looking for images. Nothing but gray formless shape showed on the display. The tech told us that due to K’s physiology, we need to do a transvaginal ultrasound. Ok, that explains the lack of shapes. Phew.
As the tech worked on taking pictures via the TV ultrasound, she remained quiet. I struggled to see what the apps told me I would see, a fetus with eyes starting to develop, and ten little fingers and toes starting to separate. I listened closer than anything I’ve ever listened for in my life, not wanting to miss the first heartbeat of my child. I saw… nothing. A bubble, eventually, but small, and with nothing inside it. I heard only the submarine-like sounds of the ultrasound, like water bubbling about, but no heartbeat. I held K’s hand, but we didn’t make eye contact, we were both glued to the screen.
At one point the tech switched to a display that showed a gray bar across the bottom of the display. A bar, I think, that would have visualized a heartbeat if there was one. There wasn’t.
The tech, to her credit, said nothing. Shared no emotion. She just said, “Ok, we’re done, please get dressed and I’ll meet you in the waiting room to go over the scans.” So, we waited.
The lights of the waiting room were fluorescent. You know the kind, that pale sickly light that if you listen close enough, you can hear. I could hear it. We talked a little, but mostly I just heard the sound of those lights, droning in my ears like a flat line, an absence of sound. It felt prophetic.
After what felt like an eternity but was likely only 5 minutes, the doctor came to the waiting room and beckoned us into her office. I knew immediately that the news wasn’t good.
What followed still feels like it happened to someone else, and I watched it on replay. The doctor started with “I hate meeting you under circumstances like this…” I felt numb. She told us that although K was at 10 weeks, the fetal development was measuring at 6. My mind raced: “it has only been 8 weeks since the last possible time we could have conceived, maybe that was it? But no, if the doctor was telling us it was nonviable, there was no talking her out of it. But it didn’t hurt to ask right? But what was the point of asking, the doctor knows. Ask anyway, you don’t want to leave with doubts.” I asked.
She shook her head, she was completely sure the pregnancy was nonviable.
In my life with K, there has always been a way for me to help her with what she’s feeling. I’ve always been able to make it better somehow. Whether it was as simple as apologizing for my part in a stupid fight, or as grand as making a career shift so we could build a more comfortable life together, there has never been a challenge I couldn’t solve in some way. But this time, when her tears came, I couldn’t solve it.
Helpless isn’t a feeling I’m used to. But I was helpless here. I could only squeeze her hand, pull her close, and feel this with her. And that’s what I did. That’s what I’m still doing.
It’s been less than 24 hours. She’s cried a lot. I haven’t cried at all. In some ways it feels stuck in my throat.
She’s scheduled for a DNC on Monday, and we’ll try again when she’s ready.
It’ll be different this time, we’ll have the dread of having experienced a miscarriage hanging over our heads. It’ll be impossible to feel like “this couldn’t happen to us,” instead it’s going to feel like every twinge, every variation in how she’s feeling, is a sign of something titanic and terrifying.
So here I am, trying to find some way to process what I’m feeling. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this, to try and make sense of it. I’ve gotten some really lovely support from a lot of people, and it helps, not being alone. My boss had flowers on our doorstep within 30 minutes of me telling her why I was taking the rest of the day off. That forum I mentioned above, r/tryingforababy has been immensely supportive. Still though, I feel topsy turvy. I feel… in some ways impatient? Like we need to catch up?
We have a bunch of close friends who are pregnant right now. One of them was only 11 weeks ahead of K, and we were excited to have that parallel pregnancy life. Still grieving that, haven’t told them yet. Hard to think about.
We are resolved to try again. Our wedding song, “through the ages” by the band Cloud Cult, has the following lines in it's chorus:
“I don't know where we're from, but we came here to be. We came here to be Courageous
I don't know what's to came, but I'll stay beside you
I'll stay beside you through the ages”
Courageous. That’s what we have to be now, and what we will be. It’s what we have to be because if we have learned anything from this experience, it’s how badly we want it. Bottoming out emotionally has shown me how high the potential made me feel, how right it felt. So I will be courageous. I will be strong for K, for myself, I will walk forward. I will feel what I need to feel. I will acknowledge the pain, but I won’t let it define me, and I won’t leave K alone in hers either. We will be courageous, and we will succeed.
If you’re reading this, thank you for taking the time. It’s long, I know, but it somehow still doesn’t feel like it captures everything, maybe just a corner of how this all feels. I wanted to write it because I want the other future dads out there who are on this journey to know that you’re not alone. I’m here. We’re here. There are so many of us, remember 25% of all pregnancies…. Your pain, if you’re in this place, is valid and fair. You are not alone. I am not alone. My wife isn’t alone, your partner isn’t. Let’s all be courageous together.