Buried somewhere on a fifty acre stretch of woodland near Bouctouche, New Brunswick is a small, earthenware container no larger than a soap dish. In it are the tiny remains of the 8-week old foetus that my wife lost in the first trimester of her pregnancy— the second miscarriage that we’d suffered since the healthy birth of my now nine-year-old son, Samuel.
I remember the day of the burial well. Jasmine and I did triple duty as pallbearers, priests and undertakers— carrying the tiny box into the woods as the April rain soaked into a black, polyester jacket I’d unwisely chosen to wear that day. I remember the tangle of roots that made digging the grave difficult and irksome. I remember placing the little stone box into the crater that we eventually managed to trowel out of the mud and clay, finally covering it with a few spadefuls of earth. I don’t remember praying although I’m sure Jasmine did— a terse, non-liturgical prayer directed at a God whom I didn’t particularly feel like talking to that day.
It’s not that I was mad at God (although I certainly have been in the past). It’s not that I somehow doubted His existence (although I’ve done that, too). It’s more that I simply didn’t see the point of prayer. During the entire duration of my wife’s pregnancy, I had been praying for the health of our unborn child— earnestly asking God to spare us the pain of another miscarriage, hoping all the while that, on the day of our first ultrasound, we would finally get to see that little peanut-shaped blob on the screen, coming in and out of focus as the doctor slid the probe over Jasmine’s belly. I was praying that this day would be a day of joy and relief. It was not.
After that appointment with the OBGYN, Jasmine and I found ourselves out in the hallway weeping in each others arms. It had happened again and, this time, the experience was even more painful than it had been the first time. I don’t exactly remember what happened next but I do remember taking a week off of work to grieve. During this time, I slept a lot. Sleep gave me a periodic release from that implacable sense of grief that dogged me at every waking moment. When, after eight hours or so, my mind would inevitably swim back to consciousness, the grief would instantly return and, with it, a sense of dread: Do I really have to face another day?
There were many moments when Jasmine and I felt united in our grief— particularly in the immediate aftermath of both miscarriages. Jasmine was like a fellow soldier with whom I had just experienced a scarring ordeal. Nobody truly understood my pain like she did. After the first miscarriage, I recall asking her, over and over again, “What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now?” In hindsight, I’m not sure why that was such a pressing question for me. Perhaps it says something about my approach to life: I need to have a plan, a series of next steps, an ultimate goal to pursue. But, of course, there was nothing to be done now. No amount of strategizing could possibly bring this baby back to life and, as for the thought of trying again, I just wasn’t there yet. There was nothing we could possibly do except mourn together.
However, there were times when we simply could not mourn together for the simple reason that we— two different people with two different parts to play in the reproductive process— were grieving differently. For example, as a father, I found that the grief came in one, great initial wave— a wave that first broke upon me in the moment of that dreadful ultrasound but gradually receded to manageable levels as the weeks and months wore on. For Jasmine, however, the grief came in two waves— the first when we found out that we lost the baby and the second, several weeks later, when her body eventually passed the amniotic sac. Which leads me to another point of contrast. My grief, as a father, was more abstract. I was grieving the loss of an expectation and a hope— the expectation that I would, one day, hold a newborn in my arms again; the hope that, soon, my son would know the joys and irritations of sharing his childhood with a sibling. My wife was grieving all of these things, too but in a far more visceral way. She, after all, had been carrying this child in her very own body. This baby was a part of her in a way that it was never a part of me.
For that reason, there were times when I could not— and sometimes, would not— join her in her mourning. On more than one occasion I recall waking up in the dead of night to the sound of her crying. Sometimes, she was lying next to me in bed. Other times, she was in the bathroom alone, the sound of her quiet sobbing escaping with light through the small crack beneath the closed door. There were times when I had the strength and willingness to reach out to her and hold her. But there were also times when I shrank back, worried that, if I tried to offer any comfort, I would fall back into a level of grief and heartache that I hoped to leave behind.
To this day, I don’t believe I’ve fully left that grief behind. I, did, however— over a long period of time, in partnership with Jasmine and with the help of a few good friends— manage to experience a good amount of healing. I slowly learned how to pray again, beginning, at first, with the simple, daily recitation of a psalm of lament and gradually arriving at a deeper place of trust and intimacy with God. Eventually, I even began to receive the sacrament again— something from which I had fasted for roughly two months after the miscarriage.
And I won’t lie to you: The eventual birth of our second child— our now three-year-old daughter, Naomi— played an enormous part in our healing. Like every parent of a toddler, I’m at times driven to madness by her behaviour. But never, for a moment, do I take her life for granted. Her middle name is Joy— a constant reminder of the gift that her very life is to us. Sadly, I know this is a comfort which many couples who have experienced miscarriage have yet to receive and my heart goes out to them.
I won’t, however, say that I’m “completely over it.” I’m not and I never will be. Occasionally, when something reminds me of those children I’ve never met, I feel a brief stab of grief. And, from time to time, I’ll have dreams. In one dream, I’m in our living room, watching my children play. I see Sam and Naomi, horsing around together on the living room carpet, tangled together in a mass limbs and giggles. With them, however, is another child— indeed, a little boy, somewhere in-between their age, at one with his siblings in their play. I want to take that child into my arms and hold him. I want to feel his small, warm body clinging to mine in the same embrace that I now share with my living children. But, like everyone who mourns in faith, I must be patient with this longing and simply wait.