The stats say miscarriage happens to one in four women in Australia… but a lot of people seem to forget it happens to dads, too.
“The day we found out we miscarried’, by @Curtis Wiklund – Photographer and Illustrator
First off, this isn’t a sob story. Nor is it a ham-fisted grab for attention, or in any way to take anything away from my wife’s mental and physical ordeal when we lost what should have been our second kid.
But it’s a story that needs to be told – because going through a miscarriage is a brutal, horrible ordeal that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy in the world.
No one deserves to go through a miscarriage … but the fact is, it’s really, really common. Depending on the stats you read, one in four pregnant women will miscarry, or one in five viable pregnancies end in miscarriage. Either way, those aren’t the greatest of odds.
Think it through… if you had a 20 to 25 per cent chance of not making it home every time you left the house, it’s pretty safe to say you’d become a hermit. Those are the odds that we’re looking at here.
Some people are ‘lucky’, in the sense that a miscarriage happens really early in the pregnancy, without them even realising they were expecting. At that stage, it’s a whole lot of cramping, a heavier-than-normal period… and then it’s life as usual.
When it happened to my wife (let’s call her Renee, because that’s her name, and she’s cool with me writing about this, because she’s awesome like that) and I, we knew she was pregnant.
She’d missed a period, peed on a stick, we’d been to the doctor, and we had less than a week to wait before we hit the magic “12 weeks pregnant, so it’s time to tell our folks they’ll be grandparents again” moment.
Something’s not right…
It started with a twinge. A sharp pain in Renee’s belly that wasn’t quite right.
We were lying in bed, very early in the morning, when she woke me up to say she was in pain – which steadily got worse. I did the only thing I could think of at the time – hold her hand, have cold sweats (I worry a bit at the best of times) and hope, like most men, that even if it’s a serious medical condition, maybe it’ll go away on its own.
So… we parked our one-year-old son (let’s call him Blake, because that’s not his name and he’s too young to say it’s okay for me to write about him like this…) with Renee’s folks, and drove to hospital. The pain was that bad.
Me? I was having a quiet panic on the inside, but on the outside, I was doing what ‘real’ men do – outwardly calm, business-as-usual, driving my wife to hospital. On the way, she realised she’d started “spotting”, which is like having a light period. As a standalone symptom, isn’t a sign of impending doom. But it’s not always nothing, either.
An inner-city Sydney hospital, at any time of day, usually means hours of waiting in Emergency. Renee said the magic word: “miscarriage” – and we were ushered through straight away.
It was the first time either of us had said it out loud.
Stethoscopes. Specialists. Questions… so many bloody questions… and then the pain just stopped. We were sent upstairs for an ultrasound.
“Just to see how baby is doing…” they said.
“Just to see if it’s still moving…” I knew.
Everything seems okay!
I saw on the ultrasound our little peanut – heart going a billion beats a minute, and it even wiggled its butt a few times… so it was doing it’s thing in Renee’s womb. The pain had subsided. The spotting had stopped.
So we were sent home, with instructions to come back if anything else happened.
Back at home, Renee went to take a shower, while I pondered the wisdom of cracking a ‘thank god that’s over’ beer at 11.30 in the morning. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was shaking.
“Gotta be tough. She’s been through a rough few hours… so be a good husband, yeah?”
That’s when Renee called out from the bathroom.
I opened the door, and all I could see was blood. It was everywhere. Renee was crying, doubled over in pain… but already saying she was feeling a bit better. I cleaned her up as best I could, and told her to get dressed so we could go back to the hospital.
And that’s when I spotted it on the floor.
Before we left the hospital, one of the doctors had pulled me aside, and told me if anything happened once we got home, I should try and collect “anything solid” and bring it back to the hospital. That way, the doctors can run tests on it to see if it’s a one-off problem, or if it’s something more long-term.
So I went to the kitchen, got a plastic sandwich bag, and picked up what was clearly a foetus off the floor. I stuck the bag in a takeaway container, helped Renee into the car, and spent 15 minutes driving to the hospital again in grim silence.
We both knew what had happened – and the doctors confirmed it pretty quickly when I handed over the plastic bag.
They called our foetus “the issue” – clearly an attempt to dehumanise it, both for our sakes and theirs. It got taken away somewhere.
Renee and I were left in an Emergency Room bed, between someone dying of a heart attack and an angry old drunk who’d hit his head on a bin. There was a lot of crying.
Renee and I did some crying of our own, as well. But there were things to do. Renee had been given some pain relief, and wanted to sleep – so I went outside for a smoke, and to make the phone calls that needed to be made.
I rang my mum. And I had a quiet sob down the phone as I told her the news.
I rang Renee’s work, got hold of her boss, and told her what had happened.
“… okay … call me in a week and let me know how she is. She can take whatever time she needs,” was the reply.
I rang my boss, and told her what had happened.
“… oh no! That’s terrible! … You’ll be back at work tomorrow, though, right? We’re on deadline, remember?” was the reply.
“Uhhh… Sure. Of course… See you in the morning.”
The benefit of hindsight
Looking back on this, because it’s been a few years since this happened, I can see what I should have done.
I should have been open about the fact that I was absolutely emotionally crushed. I’d spent nearly two months being hyper-excited about becoming a dad again, and suddenly it was gone.
I should have told my boss I would be back at work when I was good and goddamned ready.
I should have let my emotions do their thing – go through the stages of grieving, been there to support Renee… and above all, sought some help.
The few people I told about what happened instantly asked how Renee was doing. Renee, her folks and my folks were the only ones who ever asked how I was doing.
I wasn’t doing well, and I really should have said something. But I didn’t – and that’s something I still regret.
Yes, when a miscarriage happens, you and your partner will “get through it together”… but it’s a very common thing for guys to bottle this particular event up, because a lot of people seem to think that it only happens to mums.
It’s deeply, deeply personal, and horribly tragic. But that’s no reason not to speak up. Like I said, one in four pregnant women will miscarry… which means a whole lot of men are going to go through it as well.
When I finally did open up about it a few years later, I discovered a lot of my friends and colleagues had been through the same thing – and I found a fountain of advice and support I wouldn’t have if I’d kept it to myself.