"I think something is wrong with the baby - I need you to come home right now."
That half hour drive to pick up my 32-week pregnant wife was one of the longest half hours of my entire life. The next few hours are a blur. Nurses and doctors in and out of the room, lots of different procedures trying to locate his heartbeat and eventually hearing the news that our baby that was healthy at her appointment three days ago was gone. I threw up and she, my beautiful wife, melted into the bed. We were given some time and then we were presented with a few options on how she could have our baby.
My wife decided that she wanted to be induced and deliver our baby vaginally. She was amazing. In between contractions, she wept. She was doing all this hard work but with zero light at the end of the tunnel, there would be no reward. I felt so many things all at once, but I felt the need to push them down and be there for her, to be strong for her. I know now that I hurt myself by doing that. I was allowed to feel the things I was feeling. It would have been ok for me to hold her WHILE I was a weeping mess.
When our son was born there was silence. And then loud cries from my wife and myself. There wasn't a dry eye in the room. He was beautiful and he looked so much like my wife and me. He was perfection. We got to hold him for a while, dress him and take his picture. Although we don't have his pictures up in our home, they are moments we treasure - holding our son for the first and last time.
The weeks following were what really broke me. I felt completely unable to grieve the loss of our child. My wife had just gone through the hard work of pushing out a baby: who was I to complain? Her body was feeling the effect of that (bleeding, vaginal tears and occasional contractions as her uterus was shrinking back to the normal size) and I felt physically OK, so I stepped up and helped her with everyday tasks, obviously. When her milk came in, because her body didn't know our baby had died, she broke down for a good day or two; there was nonstop crying from her. I just wanted to take all that pain away, but I couldn't. I took over all household tasks for the two weeks I was home. We had family and friends drop off dinners which was awesome. When I would answer the door, they'd ask "How's she doing?". There’s zero way to answer that without sounding extremely morbid or without lying, by the way. That question doesn't need to be asked.
After two weeks of helping my wife heal physically and holding her while she wept, I had to return to work. How could I return to work when I hadn't even had a chance to grieve yet? But bills must be paid. That morning I hugged and kissed my wife and told her I'd come right home after work and that her mom was on the way to our house to be with her. I wanted to cry on my way to work, but I knew I wouldn't be able to stop so I choked it down. When I got to work that day, I got a few side hugs and "Hey, man"s but that was about it - it felt so surreal. My son had just died, and I was getting side hugged?
A few weeks went by after that and I was just on autopilot. I'd work and then come home and care for my wife, watch cooking shows with her and then go to bed. I was starting to feel numb.
On a Monday, I got off work and headed home. When I got inside, my wife was sitting on the couch in her pajamas. On the coffee table was all my favorite junk food and a full french press. I went over, kissed her on the forehead and said, "What’s all this?" and she responded with such wisdom and kindness "Thank you for allowing me the space to grieve. I'm not done, and I don't think I ever will be, but I really appreciate you allowing me to start the process and supporting and loving me while I did. Tonight, I'm telling you it's OK, telling you that you can grieve and it's important to do that. I want to support you and be here for you like you are for me." And I melted into her arms and wept alongside her.
It’s been a while since losing our son, but there are still days and weeks where we feel completely broken and baffled and we take those times to sit in our grief, not shove it down. I can tell you that my wife saved me that day. I needed someone to tell me it was OK to feel my feelings, otherwise I probably would have imploded eventually.
So here I am telling you that it’s OK to grieve your losses and to make sure to give your partner room to grieve as well. Everyone grieves differently so make sure to have open communication on what you each need. Allow for people to make meals, clean your house, take your other kids for the day, etc. We still don't view pregnancy and infant loss in the way that we should, in America. It can be just as painful as any other loss and it's just as painful to have our feelings brushed aside.
I am so grateful to my wife for seeing my struggle before I could say it out loud. When it comes to pregnancy loss, fathers are experiencing loss too. I was trying to pretend that she was the only one that lost something and that was damaging. We both lost our baby that day and we are both still heartbroken by that.