It wasn’t a dream. It was our second miscarriage. And it woke me up to the reality that, as a husband but also just as a man, I needed to find honest, healthy ways to manage my emotions.
It would be a lie to say I haven’t been deeply scarred by the memory:
So. Much. Blood. Thick, ugly clots of dark, ominous blood.
And it was all over her. Kari. My wife. My beautiful, darling princess. The mother of my son. Sitting there, on the toilet, weeping, holding in her shaking, bloodstained hands what was left of our pregnancy.
After years of infertility and an unusual conception through embryo adoption, we had already experienced one miscarriage at five weeks. A few months later, we tried another frozen embryo transfer which eventually resulted in a healthy baby boy, Miles. One year later, we tried again.
And a few months after we (tentatively) celebrated a positive pregnancy test, and after we (tentatively) called our fertility doc when Kari started spotting, here we were. Kari’s cramping had gone from mild to massive. She said she could “feel it happening.” We dared to hope until she started full-on bleeding.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details and just leave it at this. Miscarriage is one of the darkest things I’ve ever watched my wife go through.
And the truth is, I went through it, too. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help. I was pinned to the spot, helpless, scared, desperate for a good reason to excuse myself. To do something else, anything else. Something productive. Something I could control.
But miscarriage—like anything in life that causes grief—is not something you can control. You can try, and you will fail.
Many of us guys learned as boys to distinguish ourselves through their hard work, creativity, and pushing through obstacles. But when faced with something we can’t fix with muscle or mind, there can be an overwhelming desire to flee. Now, we might call it something else, a word that doesn’t feel so much like cowardice. We might throw ourselves into our jobs, or a DIY project, or even recklessly return to an addiction like drinking or porn.
For me, it was a retreat inward. I pulled away emotionally from my wife when she needed my emotional help the most. I found escape in Netflix, video games, and making minor projects take longer than needed. I even found myself avoiding my wife and using our son as an excuse—jumping at any chance to take him out of the house, or to play in another room.
“This is her tragedy, not mine,” I told myself. “Someone has to keep things under control. She’s allowed to sit in this and grieve. But I’ve got to keep moving.”
There’s this idea that men need to be a “pillar of strength,” a source of emotional steadiness, not volatility, for the women who rely on us. Ignoring for the moment the inherent misogyny in assuming women can’t be emotionally steady on their own, I get it. When we were dating, I remember telling Kari I was glad to be her “punching bag” when she needed to let off steam. Her job was to emote, to express her strongest emotions. My job—and I’d add, my job as the guy—was to absorb her feelings, not the other way around.
That said, I am encouraged by a growing awareness of men’s need to vent. Our counselor once advised me to take a machete to a tree in the backyard when I started “ramping up.” It totally works, by the way. Highly recommend the machete-and-tree method of emotional regulation.
And if you’re into Jesus, it’s helpful to know that in the Bible, fathers grieve openly and intensely. Many a dad tears his clothes and curses up a storm—for Job, he gets a literal whirlwind in response to his grief after all of his kids die—and nowhere does God tell the man, “Whoa, dude, cool it with the feelings.”
In fact, when David’s infant son dies in 2 Samuel 12, it affects David very deeply. Listen to how he mourns: “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (12:23). When I try to picture David actually saying this out loud, it sounds less like poetry and more like a man going through an intensely emotional process.
When a woman we deeply care about—a wife, our mom, a sister, a close friend—goes through something traumatic like a miscarriage, our culture rightly tells us to respect her pain, to give her space if she wants it, to not “mansplain” it away. That helps us to know how to help her. But in the midst of caring for her, men need a way to care for ourselves, too.
Now, I’m not an expert. I don’t have a background in mental health. (And Kari and I are gearing up for another try at getting pregnant, so I’m in a unique emotional place myself right now.) That said, here’s what has worked for me in terms of grieving two miscarriages from a male perspective.
- Replace the words “me” and “she” with “we.” It might seem cliche or petty. But repeat this after me: Miscarriage happened to both of us. That’s the truth. It was her body, yes, but she isn’t grappling with this alone, and neither are you. This ugly thing happened to both of you. And both of you need each other to get through it.
- Grief isn’t a line or a circle. It’s more a deck of shuffled cards, and you get dealt a new hand of emotions each day. Sometimes each hour. You don’t have to “set your intention” or “decide what kind of day it’s going to be.” You’re allowed to feel however you feel, and you’re allowed to feel the same way (or differently) tomorrow.
- Your buddy can handle you talking about it. Men sometimes don’t talk to other men because they don’t know how they’ll react. A few days after the miscarriage I described before, I met up with a guy friend at a brewery near our house. Two beers in, I told him about the miscarriage. And you know what? He didn’t tell me to stop making him feel awkward. He didn’t call me a buzzkill. His eyes got misty as he listened. He sat with me and let me process. Chances are your buddy will, too. (Don’t have a buddy like that yet? Our church does this thing called Man Camp. You should go.)
- God can handle your anger. I still have questions for Him, questions that come from a lot of pain and sadness. Sometimes all I’ve got is a sarcastic joke or an angry complaint. I don’t have my answers yet, but I do know I’m talking to Him more. And when I talk to God, I feel a little better.
- Embrace hope when you’re ready. Again, there’s no rush. No need to get all Pollyanna when your life feels like the opposite. But if you’ve received the hope Jesus offers, one thing to look forward to is meeting the kid you lost one day.
That’s where we are today. We grieved together, and we hope together. Sometimes, that’s what faith looks like: getting knocked around but finding the strength to stay standing. Kari and I still feel the pain of miscarriage, and we still hope to meet more of our kids in heaven.
And you can, too. You can also look forward to a day when God is in charge and says (as The Jesus Storybook Bible puts it), “Everything sad has come untrue. I have wiped away every tear from every eye.”
What surprises you or strikes you most about Chris’ story? Why?
How do you normally deal with emotions? Common answers include: get angry, distract yourself, blow it off, try to make the best of it, make a joke, or “what feelings?”
Why do you think you handle it that way, and how is it working for you?
Pick one of the bullet points Chris recommends, and commit to trying it this week. Share this article with a friend, tell him your plan, and ask him to help hold you to it.
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