I see you, courageous Dad. I see your pain. I see you trying to be strong and thinking that being strong means swallowing all of your vulnerable emotions. I see you, afraid to trust, afraid to feel, afraid to hope, and maybe even afraid to be anything less than confident that it will all be fine.
There is a unique kind of pain that comes from watching your partner endure a physical and emotional burden that you have no power to ease.
The physical and emotional effects of pregnancy and loss have worn on your partner, possibly again and again and again. You have been there through it all. You sat by, stood by, and did everything you could to support her. You took on some of the duties that were normally hers. You took care of her while she was sick in the early weeks and months, maybe even into the second and third trimesters.
You were there for the appointment where you heard the awful news. Maybe the words, “There is no heartbeat,” replay again and again in your head. Maybe you saw her bleed, or maybe you got a phone call with the devastating news. You rushed to join her so she would no longer be alone with this pain. You held her while she experienced a miscarriage. Or you sat in the waiting room during a D&C or D&E, not able to physically be there with her while your baby left her body. Perhaps you held her hand while she labored or sat next to her during a C-section. You were there with her for her postpartum recovery and the emotional aftermath of loss that reverberates far longer than the physical.
Through all of this, you did all that you could, but you still felt helpless.
Maybe you never got to hold or see your baby. If you had the opportunity, you may not have wanted to, and that is okay. Maybe you got to experience the joy of holding your baby while they were still alive. Perhaps you had the bittersweet experience of holding them for the first time after they had already passed. If you close your eyes, I imagine you can recall exactly how they felt in your arms.
Whatever the details of your journey, I see your fatherhood. I see how you love, care for, long for, and miss your baby. I feel the ache you feel. And it doesn’t make you less of a dad.
Your fatherhood may be different than those of other dads you know. It is different in the ways that no one wants to be different, but your fatherhood is not less valuable.
In pregnancies or parenting after loss, you may be more or less worried than your partner. Maybe it all depends on the day. You ask tentatively whether everything is okay. When you are worried you don’t know whether to trust this as a sign that something is truly wrong. You don’t know whether you should trust your anxiety or let yourself be confident that all will be fine. You wait to hear that she has started bleeding or isn’t feeling movement. You hold your breath for the phone call that informs you that you have lost another child. You, just like her, plan your life for when you will get the bad news you know must be coming.
You brace yourself for the moment that no one could ever be prepared for, thinking that maybe if you are prepared it won’t hurt as much as it did last time.
I see your anger. I see your fear. I see your sorrow and your sense of powerlessness.
What the world sometimes forgets is that the effects of pregnancy and loss have worn on you, too.
Even if you don’t show it, you feel a strong mix of emotions. Knowing your babies and losing your babies has changed you, too.
I see the way you long for your baby.
If you lost your first child, you may feel shut out of activities involving kids. You see other men becoming dads, and you feel further away from that than you ever have before. You wonder when it will finally be your turn.
You feel like there is nothing you can do to take your pain or your partner’s pain away. In reality, while this pain will always exist, sharing your pain does help make it more bearable. You feel less pain when you allow others to be present in it with you.
You are strong. You are brave. You are courageous.
Your identity as a father is complicated, and that is okay. Be gentle with yourself. Talk with your partner. Be honest with others about how you are feeling. Realize the strength that it takes to be vulnerable. Let yourself acknowledge the fear, but also allow yourself to also let in the hope. Allow yourself to entertain the possibility that the next baby may stay. Make room for your grief and your joy. Let yourself connect in pregnancy and parenting after loss. Take in the moments as fully as you can because you, more than anyone, understand that no one knows how long these moments will last. Embrace your identity as a father to all of the babies that make you a dad.