“My Son is Gone” – My Husband’s Processing of our Loss

Recently, my husband wrote about our miscarriage.  I hope that this will be helpful for men who are also processing such a devastating loss.

Here is what he wrote (you can visit his new blog here):

My Son is Gone

(I wrote this February 25th but it has been hard to muster up the energy to revisit and edit it which is why I am only posting it today)

I am not sure how to go back and adequately explain how I felt 53 days ago when we found out that our second child – our little son Salem – had been miscarried.

Miscarried…I hate that word.  I hate what it means, what it represents, but even just how cold and how devoid of emotion it is.  The prefix “mis” is something we use to characterize small problems or something that was incorrect or wrong.

Mistake. Mistrust. Misuse. Misunderstanding. Misfortune.

There is nothing small about losing a child.  There was nothing wrong with him.  It wasn’t just some small error to be cataloged and anesthetized by medical terminology.  My son is gone.  He is dead.  I never got to meet him or hold him or play with him.

It seems like just one more way our society has found to treat miscarriage as if it is somehow less than death, less than losing a loved one.  There are those who would treat not getting a hoped-for job as more significant than miscarriage – losing a kid.  I don’t understand our world.

We found out we were pregnant right before Thanksgiving and our Thanksgivings (with both our families) were full of joy in letting our families know about this little life we had hoped for and dreamed of – a time to celebrate and imagine what he or she would be like.  A time of joy and hope.

When I got back on campus, I avoided answering any questions about my Christmas and winter break – each of those memories is too intertwined with joyful, excited dreams about our new kid…dreams that are now just pain and sadness.  I don’t want to remember what that felt like; I am not strong enough to confront the tidal wave of disappointment that threatens to newly pull me under with each remembrance.

It was Monday, December 30, my wife’s birthday, when we didn’t hear the heartbeat.  Don’t worry, we were told, it is probably too early; it doesn’t have to mean anything.  But it did mean something.  We had planned her birthday around hearing the heartbeat, going out to lunch or coffee to celebrate, spend the day delighting in this new life, and then going out to a fancy dinner.  Instead I spent most of the day trying to calm her nerves and assuage her worst fears.  “It’s too early to know.”  “If we hadn’t tried to hear the heartbeat, we wouldn’t have any concerns.”  “We can trust and believe that everything is ok.”

I was wrong.

It feels wise and helpful to preach patience and caution.  But fear is not patient and does not proceed with caution when flooding your reason, emotions, and intuition with panic.

Wait, we were told, in a few weeks have an ultrasound and you’ll know more clearly.  But we couldn’t wait.  We knew of too many others who had suffered the terrible and tragic loss of miscarriage and waiting weeks sounded too hard and so my wife scheduled a much earlier ultrasound for that Friday.

Again I tried to help her stay calm and try to trust the Lord.  But somehow between Monday, when I was the calm one, and Wednesday my misgivings had become complete terror.  My tiny little kid was in danger.  His or her life was being threatened (or had already been destroyed).  I am the dad.  I am supposed to protect my family – at the cost of my own life if need be.   I would do anything to protect my wife or our two year old…but how in the world could I protect this child?  I felt helpless.  I also felt clueless – my wife could get inclinations and gut feelings about the health of our baby based on how her body was feeling but I was completely dependent upon her intuition and medical science to tell me what was happening.

I remember laying on our couch on Wednesday weeping and begging the Lord to spare our child.  But, as it turns out, it was already too late.  He was already gone.

It felt very easy to cling to moralism – my wife and I were good people, we served God, we served others, we weren’t materialistic, we were good parents.  Surely, wedeserved to have a healthy baby.  And if we didn’t, then it wasn’t our goodness that had failed, it was God’s.  How could a good God bring such disaster and tragedy upon such obedient people?

Other times during that interminable week I found myself despairing over my great sin and depravity – I wasn’t a good person, I was selfish and lazy and self-centered and uncaring and judgmental.  Maybe if I was a better person than God would not punish me by taking my child away.  If only I had prayed more, then God would have answered those prayers and protected my kid.  If only I had fasted more or served more.  If only…

I knew none of this was true – that my moral depravity did not get the last word; Christ’s perfect righteousness on my behalf did.  I knew that God treated me according to Jesus’ moral purity and would not condemn me/us/my kid because of some inadequacy on my part.  I also knew that God is good and just and loving and wonderful and is redeeming all things and will put an end to death and suffering and tragedy… only He hasn’t yet.  Jesus hasn’t come back.  Bad things still happen.  Awful, horrific, unimaginable suffering still happens.

And I was scared out of my mind.  Some of my fear came from false beliefs that didn’t so much creep in as they kicked the door to my mind wide open and set up shop in the living room.  But some of the fear came from a right understanding that being a Christian absolutely does not mean a perfect, pain free life.  Jesus was our perfect example, the perfect human, had the perfect heart and mind… and His life was one of suffering, betrayal, poverty, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, recrimination, insults, constant demands, torture, horrific pain, and death at the hands of those He came to rescue.  To say that following Him will somehow not include at least a taste of those things is not only unbiblical but completely illogical.

All people on this planet experience pain and suffering to some degree.  Before losing Salem, compared to the rest of the planet, I had an unbelievably easy life.  Yes there was pain.  Yes there was true hardship and conflict.  But I had it good.

Not anymore.

I don’t know if there is any sense or wisdom or fairness in trying to rank who has suffered more – as if we can compare the levels of horror found in rape, murder, losing a loved one, abuse, being trafficked, starvation, terminal illness, etc.

I think our world would say that miscarriage is among the least of those.  After all, you never met the baby so you don’t know what you missed.  Plus, you can always have more kids right?  As if those future kids can replace the one lost.  As if it is somehow a guarantee that you can have more kids.  No one would say that if we lost our two year old.

It also seems like such a disgracefully individualistic way to view death – as if all that matters is how it affects me.  As if my son’s loss is meaningless.  As if he didn’t lose the chance to live and learn and grow and play outside and read books and fall in love.  He lost his whole earthly life.  Imagine if your entire life was erased and you never were born – that’s what he/we lost.

I am not saying I have suffered as much as anyone else.  I’m just saying once you are afflicted with admission into this horrible club, it doesn’t really matter who has it worse.  It’s all awful.

At one point during my praying and sobbing Wednesday morning, I recalled the story of Hannah and Samuel (1 Samuel 1).  Hannah was barren and desperate for a child and vowed that, if God gave her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service.

This story isn’t recorded in the Bible to give us some formula for negotiating with God; it’s simply a record of what happened.  And so I don’t know if this was my mind grasping for something or if it was the Lord speaking to me but I wondered if God was asking the same of me.  I got the sense that our kid would be called into some sort of dangerous (it very clearly felt dangerous) service to the Lord.  Through tears and with a lot of fear (I wish I could say faith), I told the Lord that – if this was really from Him – He could have our kid if only he’d/she’d be ok.  I got the sense that this could be significant for God’s Kingdom.

Losing Salem, finding out that he was long gone before I ever prayed that to the Lord, has made me wonder if it was real in the first place.  Was that really the Lord or just all in my head?  It made me question everything I believed I had heard from the Lord about our unborn child – after all, how can he serve God if he is never born?  It felt cruel at first.  I was mad at God.  I (somehow) didn’t believe that God is cruel even in those moments…but I didn’t understand.

I still don’t know if it was God but now I have a different sense.  The things I felt like God revealed to me about our kid – mostly small little feelings, a sense, a hope, that kind of stuff – I am thankful for them.  They are all I have of Salem.  I didn’t carry him in my body (which has strangely been one of the hardest parts because it means I have no physical experience of him).  I have no memories of him.  I don’t know what he looked like.  What I have are these strange, intuitive experiences of him (parents – I think that will make sense to you; if you aren’t a parent, I don’t really know how to explain the sense of connection parents can – but don’t always – have to an unborn child.  These “experiences” for lack of a better word were definitely stronger for Salem than for Riley so who knows how valid they are but I definitely don’t believe they are completely without meaning).

If that connection to Hannah and Samuel’s story was actually real and from God – again, I may never know – then maybe the Lord, knowing that Salem was already gone, graciously and mercifully was trying to tell me that Salem’s life (cut so short though it was) served a purpose on this earth.

No amount of purpose or meaning will ever validate his death.  Nothing will ever make me say, oh it was awful and tragic but now it’s all worth it because of x, y, and z…. Never.  To do so would be to diminish his loss; to act like we can place a value on a human life.  So I am not saying that at all.

What I am saying is – given that he had died, given that we had lost him, believing that there might be some good that comes out of that has nothing to do with balancing the scales (impossible – I would take my son over any amount of good that comes to us or others through his death… call that selfish if you want, it’s honest).  But I believe that God brings meaning into meaningless tragedy, that He can grant to a little baby, lost far too soon, a life of impact that far outlasts his scant few weeks in the womb.

 

I left that couch on Wednesday not sure whether to have hope or despair.  But I was not prepared for Friday.

I think I was in shock when the ultrasound tech (without an empathy whatsoever) told us.  I know I was in shock until we got into the car and both lost it.  When we got home, I went to the bathroom to wash my face and couldn’t stop crying.  My child was gone.  It was final.  Done.  Whatever bit of hope I had held on to was gone.

The weekend was a blur.  We wept.  We (barely) took care of our kid.  We wept more.  We held each other.  We talked and cried.  We let family and friends know… but we couldn’t really let them know.  We could only share the facts, not the agony.  We (somehow) survived.

The next week, mostly because we were in shock and not thinking straight, I went to a work conference from Tuesday-Saturday in St. Louis.  What was I doing there?  I couldn’t think about my job.  I couldn’t think about campus or students.

One of the greatest gifts of this job is the amazing people I work with – at UNC but also around our region and around the country.  But it was nearly impossible to be around even these great people.  I avoided the ones who didn’t know – if they asked me questions, I was going to lie… there was no way I could open up so raw a wound again and again.  Even though these are colleagues I like and respect, I barely had the energy to ask them questions or even care about their answers.

The people who did know – I wanted them to ask, to acknowledge the crushing reality that was staring me in the face every waking moment.  But I didn’t want them to ask because I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to start sobbing in public and have all the people who didn’t know suddenly wonder what was going on and ask.

God bless my friends that week.

I got back home that Saturday night – eight days after we found out.  It has been an exhausting and emotional week for both my wife and I.  Being home wasn’t easier but it was better to be together.

I went to work on Monday.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe to feel – in some tiny way –normal?  In control?

That night, this happened.

The following two weeks, as my wife was anemic from blood loss, I shoved the pain down to take care of her and our daughter.  At least one of us had to be physically functional.

It’s now been nearly three months since we found out.  Our baby boy has been lost to us for much longer than we had him.  And I have found that I still have not processed like I need to.

So that’s what this blog is:  an attempt to process; grieve; memorialize; heal.

The most helpful thing anyone has said to me during all of this is that, “If death is really what we think it is… what we say it is, then you should be falling apart.  You should be having a hard time being a good husband, a good wife, a good father, or a good mother.  Your daughter won’t remember this time, but if she did, it is probably good for her to see that you had a hard time caring for her.  Because it shows her that the loss of her sibling is real, and it is painful.  It makes it hard (almost impossible) for life to move on.  Death affects us.  We are not strong enough to handle it.  And if we try to act like we are, we are ignoring what death really is.”

My hope in making this public is that I can help others feel permission to fall apart, to grieve, to hurt, to not just repress and move on, to confront death for what it really is – horrible; tragic; wrong; not just something to power through.

My hope is that in some small way this can be helpful for others – especially fathers – grieving a similarly horrific loss.  If that is you…. I am so, so sorry.

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