When a Man (Mis) Carries
My experience of miscarriage and how overturning 'Roe v. Wade' harms our family.
We had a miscarriage last November.
It took several weeks for me to use the word “We”. On the rare occasions when I’ve spoken about this to others, I automatically say, “My wife had a miscarriage.” I do this because it creates a distance between the trauma and I. It wasn’t until I was able to internalize the “We”, that I was able to grieve. You see, as men, we are often conditioned to believe that pregnancy– the creation of a life – is a process that does not concern us directly. Even when we have partners embrace our involvement, we are unsure as to our role. Last fall, I discovered my role when we got pregnant unexpectedly and we lost a life that we wanted.
I am writing this now because my wife asked me to write this. I am writing this because of what the end of Roe v. Wade means for my family. I’m sharing this with anger, vulnerability, and love. I have written in previous posts that I don’t believe social media has the power to change anyone’s mind. My intent here is to give voice to my wife and I’s experience, express why abortion rights are fundamental to those who desire children, and provide a perspective that I hope goes beyond the political paradigm.
I discovered depths of pain I did not know were possible as a man. And yes, I do I believe that the tiny cluster of cells was a life. Yet, the experience has made me vehemently Pro-Choice, even as a Christian who wants children.
The summer after we got married, before we moved abroad, we decided to do fertility testing, as we planned (and still plan) on having children within the next one to two years. We chose a clinic in New York that had an intersectional approach to pregnancy, focusing on treatment for BIPOC & LGBTQIA+ couples and individuals. The reason was simple for us: No one in that clinic batted an eye at a mixed-race couple. In fact, they embraced us.
Yet, the process centered on my wife’s fertility assessments. While my body was taken into account, most of the focus was on her ability to conceive. I did, at times, feel like a third wheel. I believe many men feel this way. We are often treated as an “ingredient” in the process by many health professionals. Of course, my wife did her best to involve me in every step of the process, making me feel as equal as possible in the journey towards conception.
At the end of the summer we were told it would be incredibly difficult to conceive “naturally”, due to assessments of her body. I assumed this was “the way it’s supposed to be”, having been conditioned by American patriarchy assume that women bear complete responsibility for fertility.
We were given options to consider after “trying” for at least 3 months. IVF was among them. I am not sure how a post-Roe America will change the ability for us to access IVF treatments in the United States, and at the time, overturning Roe seemed inconceivable, so I took this option for granted.
As the summer progressed and we waited for more test results, we both decided that we truly wanted to conceive “the good old-fashioned way”, but if that wasn’t a possibility, we would consider other options. About two weeks before we left, we were told that she needed to get off birth control for us to have the slightest chance of conceiving within a year. Even then, the prospects weren’t likely.
That was difficult news, but we knew we had at least one year abroad, and we could use that time to consider our other options. We did as the good doctor ordered, assuming that if “it happened, it happened”, and if it happened, it would be a damn miracle.
Six weeks later, living in an apartment in Nantes, France, with a balcony overlooking the Loire Valley, we sat in our living room staring at two bright-blue lines on a pregnancy test from the Carrefour. It was as if my world dropped out from under me, replaced by new ground. My wife was so calm, that I had no doubt that she was going to be an incredible mother; patient, loving, joyful, fiercely protective. She was radiant and beautiful. I have no idea what my face must have looked like.
For those of you who haven’t experienced that moment, it’s difficult to describe. At once overjoyed, at once terrified, at once becoming a man in the time it takes to apprehend a color.
Then, the questions...
How would we manage a pregnancy and a year abroad?
How could an unemployed writer and a graduate student afford a baby?
What would become of my creative career?
What marital problems could arise due to having children so soon?
Would this baby have my eyes?
Would it grow up to be taller than me?
What kinds of games would we play together?
Son or daughter?
Would this baby call me “Dad” or “Papa”?
What was it going to feel like to get a hug from a person you helped create?
How could I live up to the responsibilities of fatherhood?
Was the unrequited love I had for my family enough to sustain the three of us?
My wife and I hugged, breathed, kissed, and vowed to “do the damn thing”. We would benefit from the inexpensive French healthcare, then give birth in Senegal. (As my therapist reminded me, “You know they have babies in Africa, right?)
Later, I called my best friend who has two kids. He congratulated me, and I cried. It may have been the first time I’ve cried in front of him. We had a moment of connection– Two very different men with this new shared experience... “Dads”.
I remember saying to him, “Dude, how do I do it? How am I supposed to become a good father?”
His answer: “You just do it, brother. One day, you’ll tell your kid about how you were in Nantes, France, with a thousand dollars to your name. Then, you’ll look around and say, ‘And look what we have now’.”
So, I decided that’s what I was going to do.
The happiest month of my life.
We made an appointment with a Midwife in Nantes. In France, Midwives are medical doctors who handle conception, pregnancy care, births, and pregnancy terminations. Their job is to facilitate the process of life entering the world. In the meantime, we worked.
My wife was an absolute BOSS at being pregnant. She went to do her research every day, taking natal vitamins and anti-nausea pills. My wife took hundreds of thousands of words worth of research notes while pregnant. While she worked, I worked. I wrote at The Café Le Printemps, and managed to complete new novel in four weeks. 150 typewritten pages, dedicated to my unborn child.
I had a new found motivation– Our family of three.
I cannot tell you how beautiful those days were.
At night, I sat on our terrace, smoked my pipe and prayed. This was the time when I truly re-discovered my faith, realizing that I needed a relationship with God in order to be the Father I needed to be.
Looking back now that we’re living in West Africa, I the beauty of Nantes is selfsame with the beauty of our pregnancy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was blissful
We nicknamed the baby “Poppy” because it was the size of a poppy-seed.
Then, the first ultra-sound. In the room I found myself trying to understand the Midwife’s French, but my wife still had to translate. With her lying on the table, I held her hand as a black and white screen showed those most intimate parts of the person I love.
Then, we saw it: A tiny circle; a white-grey outline, black in the center. This was the ovum which would become our baby.
She got dressed, and we sat across the table from the Midwife. I listened to a language I had yet to comprehend, watching my wife’s face fall. Then, my wife translated for me: There should have been another shape– White in the center of the black circle. The ovum appeared empty. There were two possibilities: Either our conception date was off by nine days, or the baby was not developing. We prayed for a mistake in the timing, and she told us to come pack in two weeks.
Four days later, we took the train to Paris. At least I had its beauty to mitigate my fear. My comprehension of Being and Meaning were split. I distanced my emotions from Poppy– The tiny cluster of cells we had given a name. I began to think of all of the ways having a child would complicate our lives... My life. I resented those fertility doctors, I resented this stress, and I resented the fact that our newlywed year would be cut short by the greatest of all responsibilities.
After a fight, my wife asked me directly, “Do you want this baby?”
My answer was, “Of course I do,” with the caveat, “but I don’t want this.”
It took a tense week for me to explain what I meant by “This”. After an argument, I finally spat out, “I don’t want to lose Poppy.”
Then I wept harder than I’ve wept in my entire life. The reality that this Being that I had come to love, could be taken from me in an instant, was a knife in the chest. I curled up into a ball on our bed, shaking and sobbing. My wife held me as I cried. I wept for so long that she drifted off to sleep, still curled around my back.
Finally, I got up and went over to the coffee table by our window that overlooked our neighborhood in North Paris. I didn’t know the meaning of “cry out to God” before that night. I know what it means now. I begged God– begged Christ– to let us keep our baby. I didn’t bargain. I just pleaded.
A week later, we went back to Nantes. It was the most gorgeous day we’d seen in that city. My wife and I had coffee, lunch, loving conversations about philosophy, history, and all those other ideas that brought us together. The things we wanted to share with “Poppy”.
Then, we went back to our midwife. My wife had the ultrasound. I held her hand.
The grey circle appeared just as it was during the last ultrasound. A white circle containing a void. It appeared to be waiting. Waiting for something to cradle, to keep safe, to help grow.
Afterwards, I didn’t need her to translate the conversation. We knew our little person would not be arriving in that liminal space.
The diagnosis was a “blighted ovum”. In French, it’s “Fausse couche”.
However, my wife’s body was not releasing the cells that we’d fallen in love with. I’m not sure, but a part of me still feels like it’s because she took such good care of herself. Because she was so damn talented at being pregnant. Because we wanted Poppy so badly. I have no medical basis for those sentiments.
Our midwife wrote a prescription for Mifepristone. It was necessary for her to pass the ovum, otherwise her uterus could become infected. This is life-threatening and could have killed my wife.
Mifepristone is the “abortion pill” quickly becoming banned across the United States.
The “good news” was that the “fausse couche” would not affect her ability to get pregnant again. Blighted ovum’s are spontaneous occurrences, and as long as the material is passed out of the body, there is little risk going forward. Little is known about the causes of blighted ovum’s.
They just happen.
I cried for two of the three hours on the train back to Paris. I slept that last hour. My wife was quiet.
In France, you must see a medical professional at least twice before being provided with pregnancy termination care. Due to hiccups with paperwork, we had another two appointments in Paris. That meant my wife had to have four intrauterine ultrasounds. We saw the baby that would not be four times.
I held her hand in the examination room each time we went to those appointments. The examination rooms were in the maternity wards. Over the hours we spent in that Paris hospital, I counted four men amongst the dozens of women who came and went.
I did not understand, or perhaps did not want to understand, how this process of gestation worked. Though I had high school anatomy, I believe that because our society isolates men from this process, which is why I kept hoping for the possibility that that ovum might start growing.
For many women reading this, my understanding might sound ridiculous. Yet, that’s how ignorant men can be of this process. It took two sessions of couple’s therapy for my wife to understand what I did not.
It was more than ignorance of biology though. I was still holding out hope when there was none. I finally internalized that it was done.
I was not going to be a father.
Finally, she was given the Mifepristone prescription. We went back to our small studio, and she decided she would take it the next day to pass the cells out of her uterus.
The next morning she took the Mifepristone along with pain medication. She began to bleed within an hour. It was a Friday. It was raining. Throughout the morning, we watched Netflix, ate takeout, and drank tea. She would nap. I would go downstairs to smoke my pipe, then come back up to check on her.
Then, at two in the afternoon, she passed the ovum, or sac, in the bathroom of our Paris studio.
She came out of the bathroom and asked me if I wanted to see it. She assured me that it was okay if I didn’t want to. A part of me thought that I could spare myself the trauma, but I knew I would always regret not witnessing it. Moreover, I knew that if my wife was going to bear all of this, I was going to bear as much of it as I possibly could.
There it was in a sanitary napkin, a bit larger than a golf-ball. Round, slightly translucent, surrounded, but not covered by, blood. This tiny, smooth, off-white circle of cells.
So I met Poppy, lying cradled in a sanitary napkin. I took it upon myself to throw Poppy into the downstairs trash.
“He” is resting somewhere beneath Paris.
To this day, I still love that tiny ball of cells.
My wife recovered quickly. We had to go back to the hospital for one more ultra-sound to make sure all of the material had passed. Another look inside of her. No circle, just darkness.
Those questions I asked before didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to be a father. We were newlyweds in Europe. Our lives looked like paradise on social media. We had places to go, and careers to focus on. No worries about money or finding a hospital in Senegal. No more appointments. We were just a young, upwardly mobile intellectual / artist pair.
I would give all of that up for the chance to have had our family of three.
In order to mourn, we went to a Catholic Church in Paris, lit a candle and prayed. I felt a sense of peace. I did not hate God. What I’ve come to realize is that the symbolism of Christ’s suffering is not that he suffers for us, but that he suffers with us. That belief gave me a sense of solace, but it hasn’t taken away the grief.
It’s been close to a year since all of this happened. My wife and I have made it, through couples counseling, a lot of long & intimate conversations, along supportive friends and family.
Sometimes, I still cry in the middle of the night. We’re going to try to get pregnant again soon. Whatever happens, we’ll make it.
Wanting children. Vehemently pro-choice
This experience has made me more Pro-Choice than I’ve ever been.
It may seem strange. A Christian who believes that an 8-week-old cluster of cells was a person. Someone who wanted a child. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you. Frankly, I don’t care if it makes sense to you.
To be quite clear, had this happened to us in the States at this moment, my wife easily could have been denied the care she needed. She could have died
That’s exactly why I’m enraged and afraid after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The utter complexity of conception, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, and childbirth are medical issues to be handled by medical professionals. The sheer emotional complexity, completely different for every person (including fathers) who experience pregnancy are personal issues. Whether you have faith or not, whatever your circumstances, it is simply no one’s damn business.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade feels like a personal affront to me as a man, as a husband, as a man who wants to be a father. Most importantly, it puts the life of the woman who I love more than anything in this world in danger. I extend that empathy to all people who need pregnancy terminations, regardless of their circumstances, and without questions, because it’s none of my damn business.
This is why my heart goes out to every couple, every woman, every person of whatever stripe, who has ever faced the choice of pregnancy termination. No matter the circumstances, it is your business, and you should not have to justify it to anyone.
For the men who have experienced miscarriage, you are seen, and your feelings are important. We have a role to play in this, not just for the sake of women’s rights, but for the health and wellbeing of our children. For the health and wellbeing of ourselves.
It’s strange how ineffective language is at enacting change. There’s a chance that publishing this post may help my writing career. In a way, that feels gross, performative, exhibitionist. Yet, I’m compelled to write this because my wife asked me to share our story publicly.
My hope is that our helps anyone who has struggled with conception, pregnancy, loss or termination. For the men who’ve grieved silently after miscarriages, you are not alone.
I don’t want to return to a post-Roe America, but we don’t have a choice. The accessible healthcare and non-judgmental kindness of the French doctors was humbling. The culture of child-rearing and embrace of fatherhood in France is quite simply joyous. There’s a sense of irony to the fact that France has a 12-week limit for pregnancy termination. Just a few months ago, this was seen by many as unjust. Even here, in Senegal, a conservative, highly religious country, a woman can still have a pregnancy termination with the consent of three doctors.
There is no good way to wrap up this essay. Nothing poetic, clever, or enlightening. No “call to action”.
I love my wife and I want children.
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