My First Experience of Fatherhood Was Loss

The unique thing about Portland is that we hardly ever see snow. My wife, Rachel, and I live an hour from the mountains and an hour from the beach, but the valley we live in means our winters are typically pretty mild. If we do see snow, it’s usually an inch or two here or there, and they close schools and we stay home from work and drink coffee and watch movies.

This storm wasn’t like that. My wife and I went to bed one night to the news saying there was a “chance of some snow, possibly an inch or two.” We woke up in the morning to almost a foot. It didn’t stop snowing for nearly 2 weeks. Never a ton, but never enough for us to get out from under. We lived on a dead-end cul-de-sac, so getting out to go anywhere was nearly impossible.

I decided to brave it and take the bus to the train station, hop the train to work, and save my PTO for a day when I actually needed it. I worked in downtown Portland at the time and we lived about 15 miles away in the suburbs. Normally, I was looking at about a thirty minute commute, but it was closer to an hour this particular day. I put on my suit, my warmest coat, and went to stand at the bus stop.

Rachel stayed home from work, uncomfortable driving that day. I don’t even remember what time it was, but I remember my cell phone ringing and picking it up. What I heard on the other end will be in my head for the rest of my life.

“Stephen, I’m scared. I’m bleeding a lot and I don’t know what to do.” 

I told her to call her doctor. She did. Her OB/GYN wanted to see her as soon as she could get there, so she put on her coat, and walked to the train station. We didn’t live far from the train station, but in that weather, the two or so miles was a formidable walk.

She called me again about an hour or so later, and to this day, I’ve never felt anything like my reaction to that call.

“We lost the baby.”

It was like someone had crawled into my soul, beat it within an inch of its life, and left it to die. I was numb. I had no reaction, no words, honestly, no feelings. I was completely numb. As I write this, I can picture Rachel, having just received the worst news a mom can possibly hear, walking two miles in the snow, trying not to completely break down in public. It ruins me to this day.

I shake as I write these words, because I’m somebody who doesn’t like to think about past grief. I don’t like to bring it up. I don’t want to be writing these words, but how can I fully appreciate being a father if I exclude my very first experience of fatherhood: loss.

The next month or so was the worst month of my life to this day. It was as if someone had completely deflated our once happy home. Every ounce of joy, life, and happiness had been taken from us in that moment. It’s all still a blur, and I’m okay with that. The fewer details I remember about that time, the better.

The worst part about suffering a miscarriage, at least for me, was the fact that all of these people that we had told our incredible news to, were now wanting updates on our pregnancy. How do you tell somebody who is genuinely excited for you that you lost your baby without making them feel like a complete jerk?

“Stephen, how are you? How excited are you to be a dad?!”

“Well actually, this is kind of awkward, we lost the baby a couple of weeks ago.”

I don’t blame people for not knowing what to say. I wouldn’t have known. To be honest, the less people said, the better. I had one friend who simply sat on the phone with me in silence for nearly half an hour. He didn’t say a word. I knew he was there and I knew he was grieving for me. That did more than anything anybody could have said. I didn’t need answers. I didn’t need an explanation. I already knew why.

The world is evil, and bad things happen.

That’s it. Period.

I think the people who have to put a silver lining on everything and spin it to good, aren’t living in reality. They’re fooling themselves into thinking that the world operates on some sort of cosmic karma, and that in the end, it all comes back around to be good. This may be true in a some sense, but as cynical as it sounds, sometimes life sucks, and then it sucks more, and it never stops being hard. Some people seem to have an easy life, and some don’t seem to have that luxury.

I will say this, however: I believe that going through that together strengthened my marriage in a way that nothing else would or could have. We had only each other. Nobody else understood what we were going through. At the end of the day, all we could do was collapse into each other’s arms and cry until we either fell asleep or felt like we were going to throw up. Every day was a battle to get out of bed, but we got up. We went about our day. We leaned on each other, and as much as was humanly possible, we tried to move on.

I’ve tried to find a “reason” for what happened. Tried to put a “well at least ____ came out of it,” and I can’t. It sucked. It was awful. It chipped away at my absurd optimism. I’ve spent the last five years trying to dig some shred of positive light out of the whole experience. There are no canned answers. There was nothing that would go on a Hallmark card, no life lesson, no greater appreciation for the world around me, etc.

Except for this one thing:

You are not alone. It was going through this experience that taught me to grasp this. You are not alone. If you’re anything like me, you tend to categorize pain, and think that if someone hasn’t experienced exactly what you have, they can’t possibly understand. There might be a degree of truth to this, but in a much more grandiose way, I disagree.

Pain is pain. Pain is personal. That lost job, the cancer diagnosis, the divorce, the eviction, the addiction, whatever it is. It hurts. Your pain is yours. Own it. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that your pain is minimal, or that “you’ll never know real pain until______.” Those people are trying to make themselves feel better.

Everybody carries pain with them. Everybody has something that has deeply wounded them. To assume that my pain trumps someone else’s pain is selfish of me. So often I get focused on my own hurt and my own pain that I trivialize the hurt of those around me, whether I can see it or not.

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats put it beautifully,

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.