On February 9, 2011, my wife and I drove to the local hospital and entered the labor and delivery ward. After she was admitted, a nurse escorted us to the room. We walked past empty rooms on each side to our room, the one with the rose taped to the door. No one else was laboring and delivering in this hall. They were in a different hall, the one where the babies were born alive.
We’d been in an obstetrician’s office the previous week looking at an ultrasound image. We didn’t need a technician or doctor to interpret what we saw. The tiny body of our child settled motionless at the bottom of the womb. A miscarriage — again. This was our third of what would be four miscarriages.
We’d hoped the miscarriage would pass “naturally,” requiring no medical intervention. When it became apparent that wouldn’t happen, our doctor presented two options: dilation and curettage (a D&C) or inducing labor to deliver. We chose the latter, and the doctor scheduled the induction.
The year before, we’d been looking forward to heading to the hospital the second week of February. Our baby was due on February 10. But that baby passed in the womb. In a cruel twist of fate, we’d hold the body of another baby on the due date of its sibling.
My wife and I both experienced that miscarriage, and the others too. And we certainly experienced them differently. She was pregnant, she miscarried, she underwent surgeries, she was induced, and she delivered a child. I did not and could not do any of those things. Nevertheless, we experienced these miscarriages together — as a couple, mother and father. It was our pregnancy, our baby, our miscarriage.
Though American culture and the church have come a long way in acknowledging miscarriage, it is still too often an overlooked loss. Miscarriage, by definition, occurs before the twentieth week of pregnancy. Waiting in Hope estimates that “10-20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and more than 80 percent of these losses happen before 12 weeks.” Despite its frequency, a 2015 study found that people in the U.S. believed it occurs in less than five percent of pregnancies. Many of these pregnancies are unannounced and often not yet showing visible growth. And many couples struggle with sharing the loss, especially if they had not yet shared about the pregnancy. It’s sometimes difficult for family and friends who haven’t participated in the joyful expectation to suddenly mourn the painful loss. And, because it’s rarely spoken of, few know how to speak to it.
Just as miscarriage is an overlooked loss, fathers are often the overlooked parent. This exclusion only compounds the pain. A 2019 study on men and miscarriage found that “social norms appear to perpetuate expectations for male partners to be unaffected by miscarriage. Yet, emotions and uncertainties among men who experience miscarriage may be intensified by marginalization.”At our hospital, fathers didn’t receive an ID bracelet until their living baby received one. Any trip outside the maternity ward required a long explanation of why I needed to be let, a phone call to the room so my wife would have to explain the situation, and an awkward wait until it was all sorted. I had to pick up my meals in the hospitality room, standing in line with all the fathers sharing pictures of babies and asking each other (and then me) what they had. Even at church and among friends, when the miscarriage was discussed with me, it was usually regarding how my wife was doing. Few, if any, checked on my heart. The responses I’ve received since writing publicly about miscarriage confirm that this experience is not limited to me alone.
All that feels selfish to say, as though I want to detract attention from my suffering wife to put attention on myself. But that’s not a correct (or helpful) perspective. For obvious and appropriate reasons, proper attention is given to the mother who miscarried. A mother’s body, soul, and mind experience something painful and traumatic. She carries life and then death. She should be seen, and she should be cared for. Yet we often forget that every child has two parents — a mother and a father. Both experience this pain. Both need to be seen, and both need to be cared for.
As Christians, we (rightly) emphasize the importance of the family — and the value of both the mother and the father in parenting. We grieve “absent fathers” who neglect their kids for their work, hobbies, or selfish pursuits. We want dads involved in preparing for their baby’s arrival. We now include dads in the labor and delivery room. We train dads to be actively involved in all stages of parenting. But we forget that dads also participate in the grief of an unborn child’s death. This is in no way healthy for the father or the mother.
A grieving mother generally wants — even needs — the father to grieve with her. She shouldn’t have to, or be expected to, mourn alone. A father whose loss is seen and acknowledged is freed to recognize and mourn his loss alongside the mother’s — something too many men feel they’re not allowed to do. When he is freed to grieve, he is free to grieve with her. Moreover, a father whose heart is cared for is able to care for the mother’s heart (and other children, when applicable).
Who we care for, the mother or the father, is not in question when it comes to miscarriage care. It’s a matter of both mother and father — a couple, a family. In most cases, the mother and father have a long life together after the loss. Walking through this loss together can do much to strengthen their relationship and keep them together for a lifetime.
The importance of caring for fathers grieving miscarriages should not be lost on Christian organizations and businesses either. Not only is a father a neighbor his employer is called to love, but the child is a precious human being also made in the image of God. Employers have a unique opportunity to uphold the sanctity of life in a world that often devalues the unborn and denies their humanity. Even the world’s workplaces that are not a primarily Christian community give leave to a miscarrying mother — she’s experiencing and recovering from a significant medical event. But when a company offers time away to a father grieving miscarriage, it sends a larger, clear message: that this is more than a medical event, that it’s the loss of a child, a real human being. This kind of care says, “We want you to grieve that loss, and we want you to care for her as she grieves.” That’s a counter-cultural message and an evangelical witness.
Seeing, acknowledging, and caring for fathers grieving miscarriages is a basic tenet of Christianity. “I give you a new command,” Jesus said. “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus saw our need, humbled himself, and bore that burden to the cross. Thus, Paul tells us to “carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). The loss of a child is a burden too great for anyone to carry alone. When we help another bear such a weight, we imitate our Lord.