Miscarriage is often not counted as anything much. The foetus is not really a child in medical terms and no one around you have got much of a relationship to this pregnancy yet. But for the woman, who was pregnant, it is big. Even if she is only 12 weeks, she has spend that time getting used to the fact that she is going to be a mother, she might have had morning sickness and sore boobs and she is loosing a baby, who was already created in her mind. It often feels very unreal and the feelings can be difficult to make sense of rationally. I found, in the middle of my sadness over our miscarriage, was worry about my body being able and worry about if I had done something wrong or had had emotions I shouldn’t have had. But I also felt relief because I deep down knew something hadn’t been right.
The Dads who experiences their women having miscarriages, do have some of those same feelings but also a whole range of different feelings and they are often a bit forgotten and not expected to grief and have big feelings. This is not something we talk about and I would have never thought about this before it happened to us. The following is a short story my husband wrote, based on his experiences, when I had a miscarriage back in Denmark in 1998. It’s not meant to be representative of Dads at all, it’s just one voice among many.
The building loomed tall and dark as we approached, and the sun fell into shadows. The autumn wind was suddenly that much colder, but we nevertheless hesitated outside the doors, looking carefully in each other’s eyes, seeking silent assurances.
‘It’ll be OK’, I whispered, hoping my voice sounded confident.
She smiled weakly, and we turned and entered the silently opening doors of the hospital.
The corridors were like that of any other hospital, shiny and blank – a clean slate for the pre-conceptions and fears of the patient or visitor. I had never been a patient here, and the only times I’d visited had been the joyful occasions of the birth of friends’ children. Somehow though, the place seemed to me like a trap, the walls sterile and unknowable, waiting to surprise us.
We found the right corridor and approached the main desk. The obligatory wait found us huddled in a corner of the ward, on blue plastic chairs screwed to the floor. We could not comfort each other in such a position, and the public surroundings silenced us from voicing our fears. Eventually a nurse came and led us to an examination room. The doctor came in a few minutes later, shaking our hands, his manner brisk and a bit distant.
‘Right. What have we got here? 12 weeks pregnant, spot bleeding a few weeks ago, more yesterday and then this morning, this time a bit stronger and darker. Hmm.’
He looked up from his notes and looked at us for a few silent seconds.
‘It’s probably nothing serious, but we should give you a vaginal scan to check it out properly.’
It wasn’t a question.
Rebecca hesitated, finding her voice.
‘I don’t really want to have a scan. Isn’t a physical examination enough?’
His seemed irritated. His brow furrowed a little and his tone became slightly lecturing.
‘No, it’s not. I can see here that your doctor did the same 2 days ago, and found everything to be fine. Obviously, me doing the same now would have similar results. We need to see what’s happening in there. What are your concerns regarding scanning? You know, it’s perfectly safe.’
Another statement. I checked my anger before answering. I focused on the ends of the stethoscope hanging around his neck.
‘Doctor’, I began, seeing the effect that one word had on his mien.
‘My wife and I do have reservations about the ultimate safety of scanning, but that’s not really the issue here. We only want to avoid it if possible. If such a scanning is unavoidable and the only way to obtain an accurate diagnosis, I’m sure Rebecca would reconsider. Do you consider it unavoidable?’
‘Well, yes, as you put it that way. That’s my professional opinion.’
‘Could you give us a few minutes Doctor?’
We were silent for a short while, until our fears got the better of us. It was easier to keep talking.
‘What do you think?’ I asked, reaching for her hand.
She sighed, but was silent. I could see the answer on her face long before she replied.
‘I don’t think we have any choice, do you?’
‘No. But he seems to have a pretty good point. Like I told him, we’re not against it to the point of stupidity.’
‘Yeah, I just didn’t want it to come to this.’
‘No, of course. Either did I, but if it gives us some answers and puts our minds at rest, then it’s worth it. The only other choice we have is to walk out, and then we haven’t achieved anything.’
She nodded her agreement, but I could see ‘what if’ was on her mind. Luckily, her speculations were cut short by the doctor’s return.
He was clearly pleased with our decision. His lack of respect for medical scepticism was hard to take, and I didn’t enjoy being under his control. I began to hate him.
The internal scanning head was larger than I thought it would be. He squirted some gel onto it, and in a few seconds there was a picture of our unborn baby on the monitor, though I couldn’t recognise it as such. I was holding Bec’s hand and trying to see around to the screen at the same time. I hardly had time to figure out what to look at when he pressed the freeze button, and withdrew the scanner. It had a fair amount of dark brown blood on it. My thoughts stopped, not wanting to process the information. Bec looked up at me expectantly, but I just squeezed her hand and kept looking at the doctor.
He looked clearly vindicated by the results. At that moment, I realised we had lost our child, and my larynx decided I should swallow. My eyes took a sudden, deep interest in the salt and pepper hairs of his trimmed beard, and though I could see his mouth moving I could not hear any words.
‘..of course I’ll have to get a second opinion from one of my colleagues’, he was saying, ‘but there is no life in there. I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone a moment. Please remain lying. I’ll be back shortly.’
I looked down at my wife on the examination couch, her teary eyes coming in contact with mine.
‘Oh Bec..’ There was nothing to say.
We sat holding hands, lost.
The doctor returned, quickly reinserted the probe and began to consult the screen picture again. After a few slow nods, the second doctor assured us that the first’s diagnosis had been correct, before leaving quickly, obviously uncomfortable in our presence. Our doctor had no such qualms. He motioned us to chairs and sat at his desk. Numbed, I helped my wife up and we sat in silence. Tears welled in my eyes. He reached over and patted me on the shoulder.
‘You’re looking a bit stunned there’, he commented, before continuing with some paperwork. If I hadn’t had been so dazed I would have punched him then and there. I had just lost what would have been my first child. My mind understood that the worst had happened, and that our sorrow would eventually ease, but staring at the unadorned walls of the examination room, I knew the day would be a very long one. A few minutes later we ended up back in the corridor with an appointment on the fifth floor later on in the day. There, they would remove our dead baby, our little peanut.
The seemingly endless corridors and halls of the hospital were well suited to the aimless wandering we did in the following hour. We didn’t speak much, just held hands and slowly roamed the various wards and corners of this strange world. At one point, a newborn baby’s cry announced we had entered the maternity ward, and not feeling strong enough to face others’ happiness, we turned and fled.
I led my wife outdoors. We sat on a strange multi-coloured art installation – a huge freestanding staircase, like an open-air grandstand. The wind had picked up, but the sun suddenly appeared from behind a bank of clouds, making the colours of the sculpture blaze with delight. Its weak heat slowly warmed our bodies and minds, as we watched autumn leaves gather and dance, in beautiful flurries and eddies of the wind’s design. A nearly constant stream of people entered and left the great grey building, their lives huddled deep in their coats. I felt miserable, yet also strangely happy. I knew that I would cope and that I’d just been given a major dose of life itself. I felt somehow, weirdly honoured. Life had humbled us with its unguessable design, and I tried to accept it with a smile and a sigh.
‘How are you?’, I asked Bec.
She had tears in her eyes, but squeezed my hand strongly.
We sat in silence in the sunshine, soaking up its fading warmth. I tried to joke.
‘You’ve heard of life after death? Well this was death before birth.’
Bec smiled wryly and hugged me.
‘That’s not funny’, she said.
She looked up at the hospital.
‘They haven’t been very nice, have they!’ she continued. ‘The way they treat you, as if this is all just happening to me.’
‘Yeah well, to them I suppose it is. But it doesn’t make it any easier. I could have belted that doctor.’
A dark cloud suddenly covered the sun, and we headed back inside for what we thought of as the vacuum-job.
My period of mature reflection came to a sudden end as we arrived at the appointed ward. Suddenly I was panic stricken that something was going to happen to Bec in the operation, and I felt my control give way. Much to the surprise of the nurses, who were used to voluntary abortions and selfish boyfriends instead of miscarriages and broken husbands, I began to cry. It seemed we were taking it in turns to be strong. I had held her when we got the news, feeling her weaken, and then rally and hold her feelings off. She was an emotional woman and I knew that she would break sooner or later but I was never sure about myself. I was surprised when my defences fell so suddenly.
‘I’ll be OK’, she whispered to me, instinctively knowing my fears. ‘It’s totally routine.’
‘They’re going to knock you out completely. Haven’t you heard how many people die under anaesthesia each year?’
‘Hey, I’m going to be OK. Relax. Just be here for me when I wake up.’
The hospital’s authority quickly reasserted itself. The nurse was suddenly all business. Another nurse marched in wielding a syringe – a sedative for Bec – and informed us that she would be taken to the operation theatre in 5 minutes, and that the procedure would take 30 minutes. They neglected to tell me where the operation theatre was, or whether I could go with her, but knowing how hospitals operated, I knew I wouldn’t be allowed. Suddenly an intern was there to take her away, and I walked to the elevator alongside her bed, my mind a total mess. All of a sudden the steel doors closed on her, and I found myself alone for the first time that day.
I returned to the room, with its white walls, and single chair. A girl who had just had an abortion occupied the other bed, and I had no desire to speak to her. We had just lost our peanut, and her choice suddenly made our loss feel that much worse. I thought the hospital should have put us in another room. In the strained silence, I became sure that she felt the same way. The next thirty minutes were horribly long, as I sat and waited for Bec to be brought back to me. Don’t panic, I told myself.
The door finally opened and there she was. Her eyes were groggy and half-closed and she reached out for my hand. I sat down on the bed and lifted her in my arms, and it was then she broke. Finally it was all over. She cried deeply. I tried to be strong for her, holding back my own emotions, but then realised it was OK that we were disconsolate together. I cried again, but my confusion quickly stopped me. I was suddenly feeling sorry for the girl in the next bed.
‘Hi Bec, I managed, trying to steady my voice and focus my thoughts. ‘I’m so happy to see you. I’ve been so scared.’
She murmured her love for me, as her tears broke off and she fell asleep.
‘It’s OK now Bec’, I whispered. ‘It’s all over now. Just sleep a while. It’s OK..’
I lay, propped up on the bed, and held her head in my lap, while the day quickly faded and the sky darkened. Finally, I spotted the icon of hope I had been waiting for. Venus, the evening star, the protector of lovers, appeared low in the sky, bright and strong, and I relaxed back against the pillows and slept.