sharing your stories and remembering your children
By: Adam Carrington
Men don’t grieve well. At least not most of us. At least not me. I didn’t truly learn this about myself until my wife suffered through her three miscarriages. Each one deserved—demanded—sorrow for lost life, sadness for broken hopes. But each one failed to bring out in me anything approaching the grief I thought required. A barrier existed, one that kept most of the pain locked away, with only an occasional, intense, but fleeting leak soon patched up.
Some of the barrier was external, beyond my own psyche. First, it seemed that mothers could build a connection with their unborn children easier and earlier. I watched my wife bond with our lost ones from the first moments we knew our babies existed. She would tip me to her cravings by touching her belly and saying, “Baby wants pizza…and wings.”
I also witnessed her morning sickness, unable to be on the same floor as the kitchen when I’d cook meals she usually loved. And I heard her fretting over everything she touched, drank, or simply stood in the same room as. Each instance a piece of a bond so new yet already as broad as every moment and as deep as the fiercest love.
I had no physical connection. The pregnancies felt at times like an abstraction for me, mitigated but hardly eliminated by ultrasounds or relayed feelings from my wife.
Second, fathers do not receive most, sometimes much, attention in a miscarriage’s aftermath. Nor should they receive the main part. My wife suffered in ways I did not, in ways I could not. She faced the actual removal of our deceased child, the second time naturally—a grotesque mockery of labor that confirms death, rather than reveals life. She endured the loss of all the previously-described connections she had built with our babies, every one a stabbing memorial.
Instead of one of the grievers, fathers often serve as part of the support system. I sought to be a shoulder for my wife to cry on, to fill in on chores she normally would do, and to protect her from any hurtful comments from friends and family, regardless of how well-intentioned. Beyond that expectation from others, I felt it, too. I didn’t think I deserved to grieve as much because I knew I hadn’t suffered as much.
These reasons present barriers to fathers feeling and expressing loss. But mine were internal as well. If you show extensive attentiveness to your wife after a miscarriage, you may look like a loyal and loving husband to some; perhaps even your own spouse. In my case, there was truth to that perspective. I do love her and wanted nothing more than to protect her as she suffered.
However, my seemingly selfless actions hid much more mixed motives. I loved her. But I also was scared. I couldn’t face what happened head-on. I couldn’t contemplate that the death was real and the death my own child. I couldn’t handle the reality of fatherhood with two hands not in a cradle but in the grave. Just a glimpse of its magnitude, just an inkling of the feelings accompanying it, felt overwhelming to the point of utter, soul-rending despair.
So, I didn’t face it. Not full on. I poured myself into helping my wife, into keeping the house together, in working at my job harder every time my lost children came to mind. My supposed strength, whatever its solid substance, mixed with deep weakness. For all of my supposed support, in this point I failed. Not only to my wife, not only to my children, but to myself—the self I selfishly tried to protect.
I had a grief deferred. Over the years, it didn’t go away. Instead, it remained a dark, mysterious, foreboding mass welling deep in my soul. To this day, I know I haven’t fully dealt with the loss of our children. But, slowly, I am starting to do so. I don’t have any magic formula for it. I don’t have an easy set of proposals.
Instead, all I can offer is the call to fathers that we face our grief. Furthermore, that we do so in community—with our friends, our family, and especially the mothers to our lost children. Yes, we must hope for space from them and from society to mourn. Still, we then must do it. That process may not come naturally. It will not come painlessly. But in it is strength, not weakness. In it, ultimately, is hope beyond the despair.
Adam Carrington is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College.