*warning this post could be upsetting to some readers.
Expect it to be hard as hell.
I don't think there's any other way to put it. Prepare yourself for hell.
A tad over three years ago my wife and I went through IVF. After months of shots and pills and constant probing the doctors had what they needed to begin creating life in a dish. From that first moment we started getting pictures almost daily of the progression. What started out as umpteen embryos ended with three healthy six day old babies. At the close of the first round we had two of those embryo's placed gently inside mama. And then, after close to 9 months we were blessed to welcome Logan William.
Afterward, Amber and I struggled with what to do with the remaining baby we had left behind. This child remained frozen. Quietly sleeping in suspended animation. Almost every day we looked at the pictures we had of the "embryos" and talked through our options. Earlier this year we decided that it was time to bring her home. And so we began the process. This time round was anything but smooth. The initial shots and pills and probing went well, but after implantation it was anything but.
Early on we were told that things were not progressing the way they should and we had lost the baby. I took that call. The doctor told me that we needed to schedule a DNC as soon as possible. I asked for them to give us one week and let us come back in for a second opinion. They reluctantly gave us this stay of execution. We spent the time between in tears. Crying out to God and pleading for our little girl.
On October 31, Amber and I went in to the office the next week weak and weary from grieving but somehow hopeful. When they started the ultra sound, the NP paused. She looked astounded. There was a heart beat. Against all odds our little girl had somehow regenerated. Words cannot even begin to express what it was like to see and hear that tiny little heart. They told us that it was shy of a miracle. They said to be cautiously optimistic. Weeks progressed and her tiny heart continued to grow stronger and stronger.
On November 13th we went in to see a specialist to get their take on our baby. What a day of highs and lows this was. We heard Nellie's heart beat at 152 beats per minute. So strong and beautiful, just like her mom. And then, the doctor told us that Nellie was growing very far down in Amber's uterus and had decided to grow in a place where she would likely grow into Amber’s body if she hadn't already. Obviously, this was a very dangerous pregnancy. He suggested that we should terminate immediately if Amber was to have any chance of survival. What a day of highs and lows it was. To go from hearing a strong steady beat to being asked what we were being asked was unimaginable.
I will not forget going out to the truck with Amber and her simply stating, "So I have a few months to live, what the fuck do I do with that?" Nor will I forget seeing my baby's heart beating so damn strong. Beating every odd thrown her way.
Things only got worse from there. On Wednesday night we were eating dinner. Amber excused herself from the table and went upstairs to hangout with our son Robert. At seven pm I heard her yell. I ran up the stairs to see amber standing there, drops of blood pooling.
Within minutes we were in the emergency room.
Here's the thing about losing a baby. It just happens. Sometimes there’s an absolute reason that can be dealt with and addressed, and sometimes, as we found, there is absolutely nothing that anybody—not the greatest specialists, pastor and prayer group, or psychic—can do to stop it from happening. While miscarriages are common, they occur in about 20% pregnancies, in our case we were at less than 8% chance of it.* But then add in the complexity of the pregnancy and science goes out the window.
In the end, no matter what anyone will tell you, there’s no reason. All you’re left with are questions and pain.
For every person enduring this, it is poignant to the point that you want to rip your heart out of your chest. As a man, we find ourselves in this strange place. We suffer, but we are called to be the rock, to be steady. But, I can attest, our hearts are broken and we are as lost as our partner.
As I was attempting my best to navigate I was called to task by my wife. I was not sharing, holding up in my own spirit rather than freely letting the tears flow. Attempting to navigate the necessary logistics as a hard-stoic man. But perhaps there is a better way. A way that I wish I hadn’t had to learn.
So how should we, how can we navigate this while supporting our partners?
Amber and I spent close to five hours in the ER room. Amber was laying on the table while I stood next to her softly stroking her hair. A slew of doctors came by to draw blood, poke and prod and ask cold-hearted questions. Each time someone new came in the scabs were ripped asunder as we had to recount everything over again. While there were times we were on our own, we did not talk much. The deft silence louder than our voices could overcome. Finally, the doctors were able to get an ultrasound machine from the labor floor. Three nurses came in, dimmed the lights, cracked the door and began the scan.
The ultrasound room was quiet as they explored the warm depths of our baby’s home. After what seemed like hours, the nurse cleared her throat. We anticipated the worst finding each breath harder than the last. I silently prayed for a miracle but there was none to be had. What, two days before, was a picture with a blinking, flickering heart, was now still. No heartbeat. Nothing.
I will never be able to describe the sense of complete and utter loss at that moment. There are no words to carry the feeling of the abyss.
After this, things only got worse. Without any time to cope with the loss, we had to schedule surgery for the next day. And since our children were home alone, I had to leave my bride there. Both of us in this together but completely alone. The next day, when I arrived we just sat together in the hospital room and waited. In silence, in tears, in anger, in pain.
They took Amber back and at 245pm on November 16, 2017 our little baby was born. Not the way we had intended, and perhaps not born to us. But she, we named her Nellie Abagail, was brought into this world none the less. At this point, nothing seems right. The past week has been a blur.
I wanted to give this little girl everything, but in the end the only thing I could give her was a coffin that my wife and I built.
I am still figuring this out. How to cope and what my place is. I know I didn’t deal with things the right way up front, and I am probably not dealing with it correctly now. I don’t consider this to be some kind of 12 step process for handling the loss of a child. These are simply my thoughts on it and things I wish I had done to be there for my wife. I hope this helps if you’re going through something similar.
Give time to grieve
It’s ok to let your emotions out. Yes, you are a rock, you are strong, you are man. But more than that you are human. You and your partner need to take time to grieve together. I don’t care how strong you are, or think you are, this will hit you square in the face like a truck. Accept it, expect it, and own it.
Offer assurance and be confident
Your partner will blame herself, you may blame yourself for the loss. Recognize that it’s no one’s fault. I’ve spent hours upon hours since we first thought we lost Nellie to the moment that we did, trying to figure out what I did wrong, what I could have done differently.
Whatever you do, come to grips with the fact and assure her that the two of you offered a safe home, love and support. Beyond that, there is nothing that we can do. The creation of the body is a beautiful thing. I know, through this process we’ve seen every moment of our little girl’s existence, from the moment that she was literally 1 day old to the moment that she was implanted, to the moment that she passed away. You were chosen to be a part of this for however long.
Simply love and love simply
There will be so many emotions during this. Both from you and her. As a man, chose to be a solid source of love no matter what. Even if it’s one sided for a period, be love. Affirm for her that you love her and you’re in this together. It will be hard but it will be worth it.
Remember and celebrate
As I’ve said, Amber and I were able to see the entire process of this child’s existence. From conception to passing on. We know firsthand the struggles she had to overcome to get as far as she did. We wanted to celebrate that struggle and this beautiful life. For us that means bringing her home.
There are many ways to remember the life you’ve created. It could be celebrating their birth day or getting a tattoo. Whatever you chose is right and special and holy and yours.
People are assholes, well meaning-but assholes all the same No one has the right words, but they will try. And they will fail. Miserably.
Recognize this early on and help to shield you partner from the onslaught of well-meaning sentiments. From “it’ll get easier” to “you can try again” you’ll hear it all. Expect it, and try not to punch anyone in the face, that never ends well.
Talk about counseling together
Working through this is going to be hard, there is nothing easy about any of it. You may find it helpful to seek professional help. This isn’t weakness. It’s meeting with someone that can help you navigate the waters you’re in and order things a bit.
Be in it for the long-haul
Recognize that this loss you have experienced together is going to color your life for years to come, maybe your entire life. Choose early on to let it be known, that come what may, you are in this for the long haul.