With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in February 2013.
Expect a rollercoaster ride.
That’s all I can say. Climb into the car near the front of the rows, buckle your seatbelt, then grip the chrome handle in front of you. Clack. Clack. Clack. The car is nearing the top of the first high hill now. Get ready to raise your hands and scream.
The first time we were pregnant was 10 years ago. The very same day we first announced the pregnancy to friends, my wife, Mary, began to bleed. What a day of highs and lows it was. That morning, people were so happy for us, then that afternoon we stood at the front counter of an emergency room, our faces ashen. Mustering the lowest, most-controlled voice I possess, I said to the receptionist one short sentence I will remember forever: “I think my wife is having a miscarriage.”
It’s an odd thing about miscarriages. They just happen. Sometimes there’s an underlying cause that can be addressed, but often there’s virtually nothing that anybody—no medical doctor, minister, or magician—can do to prevent them. They occur in about 1 in every 5 pregnancies. Doctors will tell you that it’s the body’s way of cleansing something that wasn’t meant to be. There’s no rhyme, nor reason. Just mystery, and vagueness. Something to wonder about, but not understand.
Yet each one is heartrending. And a man finds himself in a unique spot. He’s often the silent sufferer, the one called upon to support and encourage and comfort. Yet inside he’s as equally torn up as his spouse or girlfriend, as unsure of what to do next, as grief-filled, discouraged, and aching. How can a man navigate this difficult season?
Mary and I spent four hours in the examination room. Mary lay on a gurney. I sat on a chair beside her. Doctors and nurses came by to draw blood, ask questions, write on forms, look, probe, touch, and talk. During those hours there were uninterrupted spells of quiet. Mary and I sometimes looked at each other, but it was hard to talk. We were sure we lost. There was just too much blood.
We learned a lot during that trip to the E.R. Normal gestation is about 40 weeks, which we already knew, but, technically, if the pregnancy ends prematurely, it’s called an “early pregnancy loss” up to about week 6, a “miscarriage” up to about week 20, a “stillbirth” up to about week 37, and a “premature birth” from then on (it’s called a birth even if the child dies). This was week 10 for us.
Toward the end of our stay, the doctor scheduled an ultrasound. I have often wondered why he didn’t do this first. I surmise he was convinced the situation was hopeless. But finally he did. Mary and I were emotionally pushed over the edge by then, completely exhausted, and anticipating a slew of sad phone calls to family and friends.
The ultrasound room was warm and dark and quiet. Then, to our complete surprise, the doctor cleared his throat. “I don’t know what to tell you, but there’s some other unknown reason for all the blood today.” He pointed to the monitor and grinned. “Because there’s your baby’s heartbeat. Strong and healthy. Your child is still alive.”
I will never be able to describe it. I could write until I run out of words, but I will never convey the emotion of hearing those startling and wonderful words. This is a rollercoaster experience, remember, this process of having children. Sometimes it’s best to just hang on for the wild ride.
We named that child Addy. Today she’s in fourth grade. Loves drawing and Barbies and reading. Just last night she sidled up to me on the couch and gave me a mischievous wink. “Dad—” she said, “what’s a horse’s favorite thing to put on his sandwich?”
“Neigh-o-nnaise.”She whinnied like a horse, grinned big teeth, and added in her best Las Vegas comedian voice, “You’ve been a wonderful crowd. I’ll be playing here all week.”
That was our first pregnancy, the one where we nearly lost Addy. To me, that put all future pregnancies into perspective: it’s such a fragile thing to have a child. And when you see your child growing up, you can more easily imagine your other children, the children you’ve lost. Stay with me here, because there are huge highs and huge lows, like I mentioned, and it certainly hasn’t been all after-dinner jokes for our family.
A year and a half after Addy was born, my wife became pregnant again. This time, again, she started to bleed. We anticipated the worst.