Husband miscarriage woe
January 31, 2009 12:26 AM   Subscribe

Post-miscarriage expectations.

Over Christmas we found out that my wife was pregnant. She miscarried this past weekend. I'm a bit of a rookie at the whole thing - it was to be our first. Consequently I told 10 or so of my close friends, my boss at work, a few family members etc that we were pregnant. I'd seen the stats, was such a new and different and exciting thing that I guess I didn't really temper my expectations.

I guess this will be long before the actual question, but hey - fuck it. I'd like to get this out and down 'cause I've had a shitty, shitty week.

I'm struggling to find a balance between the 'ah gee kid this happens all the time' and 'we had some and now we have kids' and 'it happened for a good reason' etc. I don't want to hear that shit. In some ways I know we've only had a 3-4 month setback (we got pregnant first cycle) but on the other hand I feel like we lost a baby, plain and simple...and I don't know how I'm supposed to feel. I don't really know what's appropriate. I know I should only answer to myself and my wife - but I'm struggling at work to even string 10 minutes of focus together. Is this something I should have expected? Rather than had to 'suffer'? Our culture tells us almost nothing about these things.

I just feel totally spaced out - that's the best way I can describe it. I've been shaken in a number of ways, most notably that I don't have any trust in this pregnancy process anymore. I don't know that it'll be any different the next time, and I've suddenly lost trust in a lot of things around me - in the way people's secrets leak out after something like this, as well as the slow, innocence-eroding realisation, since becoming an adult, that the world isn't quite as rosy as it's made out to be.

I've spent the week phoning it in at work (I took a day off on Tuesday - a few days after it went down to just hang out with my wife, go for breakfast, etc) and in a lot of ways we've really bonded over the whole situation.

Still, my wife's taking it really hard. She was travelling a lot over the past month and I think she's blaming herself for the miscarriage, despite my reassurances that it's not her or her actions and that even fucking heroin addicts have babies...but it's hard. She's a physiotherapist at a hospital and consequently works with a lot of women - a number of whom are pregnant. We're of the age and demographic and circumstance (both 33 and married for 8 months) where there are countless babies around and people constantly asking us when we're having kids etc. My wife's not good with telling people that she's been through this. I'm also afraid that what was initially supportive (doing everything around the house in addition to just sitting and listening etc) isn't gonna be enough.

I guess here's the main question: how can I align our next attempt (after she's had a normal period is when we're trying again) in such a way as to reduce her stress levels in general while trying not to seem like it's me reinforcing that it was indeed her stressful month that caused the miscarriage? I've told her that it's not her, and yet I'd like for her to treat herself better while we go through this for the sake of her mental well-being. Is this a good strategy? What are some nice things I can do for her to make her mentally more at ease?
posted by jimmythefish to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Miscarriage is truly one of the unspoken griefs of modern families. Miscarriage in the first six weeks of pregnancy happens in about 25% of cases, but even after that it's almost one in ten. This means that the odds are pretty good that most American women will experience at least one miscarriage during their lifetimes. And most of the time, when a miscarriage occurs it means that there is something significantly wrong with the baby, i.e. it's just not viable, and nothing the mother could possibly have done would have changed that. Procreation is far and away the most complicated thing human beings do with their bodies, and though we don't like to talk about it much, it's entirely unsurprising that this doesn't always work perfectly 100% of the time.

But if you look at what American culture and media has to say about pregnancy and childbirth, you would never, guess this. Yes, modern medicine makes pregnancy and childbirth a vastly safer enterprise than it was a century ago. But women miscarry almost exactly as much as they did a century ago. But according to the pop media concept of pregnancy, every pregnancy is carried to term and results in a healthy baby. As a result, couples who miscarry, especially those who miscarry more than once, can feel a tremendous sense of guilt and shame, even if cognitively they both know that it isn't their fault.

I'm sorry you're going through this. I'm friends with a couple that have been trying to have kids for years and have experienced almost half a dozen miscarriages. It looks like they might lose the one she's pregnant with now too. Breaks my heart, to say nothing of theirs.

The truth of the matter is that this is not unusual, and the best way of getting that in your collective heads may well be to seek out some kind of support group. Even something less formal may help; talk to other married couples you know. Odds are pretty good that at least one of your close friends have experienced at least one miscarriage. Not being alone is perhaps one of the best things you could possibly do.

On another front, view this as an opportunity to strengthen your marriage. Relationships take work, sure, and people know that. But the best relationships emerge from adversity that is weathered together. Your instinct seems to be to look for things you can do for your wife. That's admirable, but the best thing you can do for her may just be to listen. Yeah, sometimes when we're hurt we want someone to do something specific for us. But most of the time all we really want is to be heard, to have someone who doesn't turn away from us when we're in pain. So literally just be there for your wife. Maybe she wants to talk about it. Maybe she wants a good cry. Maybe she doesn't want to do either of those things, but just doesn't want to be alone. Hell, maybe she does want to be alone. Communicate with her. She's likely to be the best positioned to know what you, in your relationship with her, can do for her.
posted by valkyryn at 12:59 AM on January 31, 2009 [4 favorites]

My wife and I had a miscarriage, too, and I'm so sorry. It's such a confusing thing to suffer through, because there is no common prescription for how to deal with it. A lot of people do try to pretend it's no biggie (LIKE THE WHOLE HOSPITAL STAFF, WHO ACTED AS IF IT THERE WAS NO NEED TO BE SENSITIVE AT ALL ABOUT ANYTHING IN THIS SITUATION), that it doesn't compare to losing an actual child, but the truth is it's a tragedy and it's something that does need to be mourned, plain and simple.

One thing that my wife and I did to help get us through the transition is we each wrote letters to the miscarried baby and had a private ceremony (just the two of us) where we read the letters aloud, and then buried the letters in a little box in a special spot in the woods near our house. It helped. Trying to pretend it's no big deal makes it more stressful. I would recommend doing something like this, so you can kind of mark the child. It was important to both of us that the child know that he was remembered, missed, and loved. Not sure why, but it was. We named him, too. That helped, as well. I wrote a song for him.

When we got pregnant again, I will admit that part of the unbridled joy and optimism of being pregnant was gone and replaced by worry and fear. I don't quite know what you can do about that, but maybe it will at least be easier if you know that might be the case. Also, I really do doubt the stressful month had anything to do with it. Truth is, the majority of miscarriages would not be able to grow into healthy births, for one reason or another, and that's why they miscarry. (I actually found that a bit comforting, oddly enough.)

So basically, we just prayed that it wouldn't happen again, knew that it could, dealt with the fear, counted the days, and eventually got through and had a baby boy. I will say that having that baby went a long way towards healing the pain from the miscarriage, though it does still come over me sometimes.

But I think the best thing you can do for yourself and your wife is to not minimize the sadness you feel now - it's a very real, very sad loss - and prepare for the fear and worry you probably will feel in the future when you try again.
posted by visual mechanic at 1:05 AM on January 31, 2009 [4 favorites]

I had three, a long time ago, when I was with someone other than Mr. Llama. It was very hard, and we, too did that thing of telling everyone because it's your first and you can't believe that you could have a miscarriage. It's a big fat drag and there's no way around it.

You've gotten good information and advice already, but to speak to the 'how do you try again' part -- when Mr. Llama and I tried, I got pregnant right away. It took me seventeen weeks, three ultrasounds, a first trimester screen, a physical scan, and an amnio before I told people, and even after that I think I didn't really totally relax until month nine, even though I was pretty assertive and lived normally and even went to the gym the whole time and ate soft cheese and had wine with dinner and all that--even though I didn't live like I was in a state of five alarm fire I kind of felt that the whole time, and I ruined a lot of the fun for Mr. Llama, who had never been through a miscarriage and felt the whole time that things were going to be just fine. I knew that wasn't a given.

And now here she is in front of me! Seven months old, eight years after my first miscarriage, so staggeringly smart and healthy and vigorous and funny and perfect I can't believe it.

One thing that did help me, help me function, is something I heard during the first: You can't shake good fruit from a tree. And I mean, yeah, a hurricane could come along and you could be some crack smoking alcoholic bungee jumping pregnant lady, and I guess that could shake it off, but in the normal course of human events if the baby is healthy it will be born, and if it's not it won't. Your wife didn't lose a baby because she got on an airplane. Please tell her that.

As far as what to do -- all the things other people have mentioned, and all of the things you normally do when you're down--you support each other, try to cheer each other up, watch some really dumb movies. You're not alone. It sucks and you're exactly right that the experience is troubling and sad, but it's a common one and you'll go on.

Also, it's normal to take it seriously--my first miscarriage was at eight weeks, I think, and it was twins -- I was devasted. I thought of 'them' for years. I don't any more--if they existed events would have changed and the Little Llama here now wouldn't. So I'm at peace with it. It took almost ten years to feel okay about it, though.

Maybe send your wife over to -- there are good forums with smart women who've had the same experiences and can help her feel less alone and give her a place to talk.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:47 AM on January 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

Aw, that sucks. I had two miscarriages before Wallababy showed up and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. And if miscarriages are so stinking common, why does no one talk about them or act like it's a big deal?!

Trying again was really hard for me. Getting pregnant again meant risking having another miscarriage and having to go through it all again. Pregnancy was no longer just about the possibility of life--it also meant the possibility of death. Once I was pregnant, I held my breath for nine months. It was just inconceivable to me that I was going to actually deliver a healthy baby. Now that Wallababy is almost a year old, people are asking me when we'll be having another one and I'm sooo not there yet. I'm just not ready to risk heartbreak again.

I love what A Terrible Llama said: You can't shake good fruit. When I was finally pregnant "for reals", I understood that logically, but it was hard to shake the feeling that I might have done something to cause the previous losses. (As an aside, I hate the vocabulary for miscarriage. To say "I lost a baby" already seems to be assigning some kind of blame.) I spent the pregnancy doing everything by the book--I took all the vitamins and supplements, avoided the bad foods, filled up on the good ones and took it relatively easy.

A close friend of mine was pregnant at the same time and would marvel at how "good" I was. I told her, "I need to know that if I lose this baby it has nothing to do with me."

Your wife may already feel an incredible burden to "do her next pregnancy right". Beyond the normal looking out for her, don't do anything to add to her guilt. Instead, when she's pregnant again, help her focus on the joy of the pregnancy and get her excited about the coming baby. Even if you yourself are having trouble getting excited, suck it up and be encouraging to her (or if it's really bad, help her surround herself with people who *are* excited.) That's the best thing you can do to keep her stress levels down.
posted by wallaby at 4:20 AM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

You've gotten great advice here...but one other thing...let yourselves grieve. You have lost a child. You've lost the hopes and dreams of this child. Yes, you will almost certainly have another child, but let yourself fully grieve this one. Some people even name a child that was miscarried, because it does help make it more tangible and easier to grieve ( I know that sounds weird to some, but it can help some couples).

Along with the grieving recognize that men and women grieve differently. Give yourselves space to grieve in your own way. One may feel that the other isn't grieving enough, therefore didn't care as much. Don't go there...just accept that we all grieve differently.

The next pregnancy is hard, at least in the beginning, but with support you'll get past that and enjoy it as time goes on. And once the next little urchin is in your arms, this all falls away.

Best of luck to both of you.
posted by Jandasmo at 5:01 AM on January 31, 2009

I am sorry for your loss. I have had a miscarriage too and concur it is sadly common. Be gentle on yourself, you sound like you might be expecting a bit much too soon. Accept that it will take time to work through the grief process. The three months between my miscarriage and my next pregnancy were the longest in my life. The constant stress was horrible and I mostly internalised it (as it sounds like your wife will do). What are her favourite things to do? Spaing, reading, hiking? Do that , take her out for dinner, try to get away for a long weekend. Maybe even hire a maid to clean your house while you are both at work. You will get through this, although you will never forget it it will not be as painful as it is right now.
posted by saucysault at 5:07 AM on January 31, 2009

I'm really sorry for you guys.

After my miscarriage (at 12 weeks, after I'd told people), I didn't tell anyone about the next pregnancy until about week 13 or 14. (Which was after I was clearly showing, but at least I hadn't told anyone, so it wasn't really real, right?). (I now have two healthy kids.)

We started trying to get pregnant basically as soon as we could after the miscarriage.

One thing that was interesting was that it turned out that several of my friends---who had babies at that point---had also had a miscarriage with their first baby.

You didn't say how far along your wife was, but I at least had convinced myself that after about 13 weeks (into the second trimester), I probably wasn't going to lose the pregnancy. So I stopped stressing about miscarriage so much at that point.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:10 AM on January 31, 2009

You didn't say how far along your wife was,

Ok, I have poor reading comprehension. About 8 weeks, then?

posted by leahwrenn at 5:12 AM on January 31, 2009

Three lost children before my two were born. Remember that the loss is not just your wife's but yours also. A lot of people will forget that, some even callously suggesting that you are selfish to mourn. People seem to regard early miscarriage as a medical and not an emotional issue.

Oddly I was just thinking this morning, before I saw this post, about the first child I lost, 31 years ago. I still mourn that child and the other two. I wonder just as much who they would have been, and regret their loss as if they had had names and faces and lives. I have fantasies about the doorbell ringing and that child, all grown up, greeting me. I believe I would know him or her instantly.

Lots of good thoughts upthread: you're lucky to have a forum like this. In the dark ages of my pregnancies people did not talk about this issue; one doctor suggested that I lost these babies because I had smoked pot in college. Friends who never knew I'd been pregnant pressed me about why I wasn't having children yet because I wasn't getting any younger. I wish I'd known at the time how universal my feelings actually were.

Good luck.
posted by nax at 5:24 AM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

You lost a child. You have the right to grieve. You have the right to feel what you feel, period. Be gentle with yourselves.

And no, stress did not cause her miscarriage. Read that over and over again till it resonates.

My daughter had a miscarriage over a year ago-in fact from conversations with my friends miscarriages are not uncommon at all. I had a threatened one (thankfully I stayed pregnant) but even that was quite distressing to me-but again, stuff happens, because stuff happens. NOT STRESS.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:42 AM on January 31, 2009

Great answers above and I'll add a few more things to it.

I, too, am really sorry.

I've had two miscarriages, and they were some of the most trying times in my life. A lot of people say a lot of unhelpful, sometimes downright hurtful things.

"God must've not meant for that baby to be born" WTF? But "God" allows crackheads to have triplets?

"Ooh, I wish I had that problem, he just looks at me and I get pregnant!"

among other gems.

Avoiding pregnant women and baby showers became a part time job for me. It was just too painful to deal with.

I would gently suggest that the upcoming holiday of Mothers Day on May 10th will be very hard for her, and that you would be especially gentle with her on that day, bring her flowers and a card, and love her extra special on that day.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 8:38 AM on January 31, 2009

I am so sorry.

I just have to echo the above comments that this likely had absolutely nothing to do with your wife and everything to do with the health of your baby. This really is one of those things that no one talks about, which is a shame because it is so very common. The grief you feel is very real, but it does get better, like any grief does.

If you guys don't have any friends that have also been through this, I would encourage you to reach out for support online. For me, it really did help to know other people's stories and how they felt.

Fertilityties is a great reasource. It's a social network for people who have or are struggling with fertility. There is, of course, a lot of discussion about miscarriage, but also a lot of really good advice as well.

good luck to you guys.
posted by Edubya at 8:42 AM on January 31, 2009

I don't really know what's appropriate.

You feel what you feel, and you'll do what you'll do.

And it might feel like it, but in truth, you are not alone.
posted by trotter at 9:00 AM on January 31, 2009

I miscarried in February at around 12 weeks, after everyone knew. I'm now pregnant again and due in May. I'm so sorry for your loss -- it sucks, and it's painful.

I think there's lots of good advice here, but I just wanted to second (third, whatever) that you -- and your wife -- take as long as you need to grieve. I took it so hard that I ended up seeing a therapist, and even though my doctor told me that we could start trying after a couple months, I didn't feel comfortable until after the due date of our first baby. It took me that long to heal and grieve and to forgive myself (although of course I did nothing wrong).

For me one thing that helped was a ritualistic goodbye. Part of the problem with an early miscarriage is that you're left with nothing -- no baby, no answers, no nothing. We didn't have a funeral, but what I did was write a letter to the baby and burn it with some prayers. It wasn't a public thing, but it helped me feel like there was a recognition of the loss.

Also, I know this isn't something that's helpful to hear right now, but I will say that now that we're pregnant again, we often talk about how losing our first baby has made us so much more appreciative of this one. It's just made us so certain that having kids is the right thing for us, where before we were so nervous and apprehensive.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:33 AM on January 31, 2009

So sorry for your loss.

The words of support and advice here really ring true for us. I've been there too. Just a couple of things to add, from my point of view:
- It was helpful for me to know that the due date of the baby would be an especially hard time for me. Be extra gentle with yourselves then.
- Similarly, it might be difficult to see women who are visibly pregnant and due around the same time your wife was. Expecting to experiencing feelings of sadness, anger, resentment when seeing someone in the place I "should have been" made it a little better.

Although was already had a young child when we miscarried, the event messes with your mind for real. I had basically given birth 14 months prior, and was convinced that it was a fluke and that I wasn't physically able to give birth ever again. So, these thoughts may not be avoidable, but it's good to recognize them for what they are.

A final point: as others have said, this is an issue that affects many, many of us, and few people talk about it openly. I chose to tell people because many women I know were trying to get pregnant at that time, and I wanted them to have me to talk to if anything happened, and in the telling, felt supported simply in hearing back from them that it had happened to them too. So, whether you choose to tell other people about what happened, just know that you may be unknowingly helping someone else simply by having told them of your wife's pregnancy early on.
posted by dreamphone at 10:42 AM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost a baby almost a year ago, and it's a terrible experience. (Like wallaby, I don't love the term "loss" either, but I've gotten used to it.)

Well-meaning people will say some horrible things over the next few months. All that you and your wife can do is to try to remember that their comments are based in ignorance and that their hearts are in the right place. I still have to fight back anger when people tell me that I should be glad about what happened to me because I now have "an angel in heaven." If you can find the strength to calmly tell these people that, while your appreciate their concern, you don't share their views, that's great. If that seems like too big a challenge right now, just try to ignore them. Clearly, they don't know what they're talking about.

Nothing makes everything better, but I found a great book that helped me a lot. The fiction author Elizabeth McCracken published a memoir last fall about her first pregnancy, which ended in a stillbirth. It's called An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. My loss was for different reasons, but McCracken's descriptions of her feelings and aftermath of the loss were so familiar that I felt as though I were not alone. Trying Again (Douglas and Sussman) and Pregnancy After a Loss (Lanham) were helpful, too, but they didn't come close in helping me to understand that my feelings were normal.

As an aside, I need to say that Terrible Llama's comment that "you can't shake good fruit from a tree" makes sense in the context in which she used it--a healthy pregnant woman is not going to lose a baby by going about her everyday life. However, it would be unwise to this comment as a blanket statement, especially when talking to someone who has experienced a loss. My daughter was in perfect health when I lost her--it was a problem with my body that ended the pregnancy.

Good luck to you both.
posted by TEA at 11:56 AM on January 31, 2009

Doh--sorry. I meant to say, "a healthy pregnant woman is not going to lose a healthy baby by going about her everyday life."
posted by TEA at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I don't have time to respond to everyone, but I'd just like to thank everyone who took the time to respond - often in great length. It means a lot.

I would also like to say that I don't think I made myself clear that of course we know that it's absolutely nothing to do with what she may have done that month - but at the same time it's hard to separate what you know in your head with all the stresses that have come.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:02 PM on January 31, 2009

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