Before my husband and I started trying for another baby, I asked God for one thing. "Please, God, just no more miscarriages," I said. We'd been through two already, and they were the most heart-wrenching experiences of my life. They caused me to doubt everything—God's love, Bryan's love, and the strength of our relationship. Miscarriage didn't only hurt my heart, it threatened my marriage. "It's just too awful, too painful," I told God. "So, please, just spare me that."
Instead he made me face the pain, live the nightmare, not just once but four more times in less than a year. Six miscarriages total. Six times for hope to soar only to come crashing down. Six times of facing that particular sorrow, and for my marriage to take that particular hit.
But through the journey, I learned three important things that helped not only save my marriage, but strengthen it as well.
He Does Care—Just Differently
I was nine weeks along when we discovered our fourth miscarriage. We'd gone in for a routine ultrasound only to discover that the baby had no heartbeat and appeared to have stopped developing a week and a half before.
We were headed home from the appointment when Bryan turned to me from the driver's seat. "So, you want to get some lunch?"
What? We just found out our baby's dead, and he's thinking about food? Of all the insensitive, uncaring … "Lunch? You've got to be kidding me. Don't you care about our baby? Don't you care about me?" I ranted, I raved, I sputtered, I stewed, I crossed my arms and refused to look at him. It would have better if I'd cried. But for me, anger comes easier than tears.
Bryan's eyes widened. "Good grief, it's just lunch. We still have to eat."
Ah, my practical, engineer husband. He was right, of course. We did have to eat. It wasn't eating that was the problem. The real problem was he wasn't reacting like I thought he should. So I accused him of not caring.
In response, he couldn't understand why I was being so crazy. "We'll try again," he kept saying. "It's okay."
But it wasn't okay. The thought of trying again didn't lessen the pain of losing this baby. If anything it made it worse. Why couldn't he understand that? Didn't it matter to him that we'd just lost our precious baby?
Of course he claimed he was just trying to help. And that was another problem. I didn't want his help to make me feel less miserable. I wanted his partnership in the grief. And to me, that meant he had to grieve like I did.
I wanted him to be more emotional. He wanted me to be less. Only later would we realize that each of us faces hard times in life in different ways. I get mad. He gets stony quiet. And that's okay. To partner with each other through grief didn't mean we had to be mirrors of each other. Instead, it meant we had to stand alongside each other, supporting each other as we allowed the other to process miscarriage in our own individual ways. We had to stop judging, stop expecting, and stop secretly demanding.
For our next miscarriage a few months later, we decided to allow each other to handle it according to our unique personalities. I didn't expect him to react like me, and he didn't accuse me of being too emotional.
This time, I got the call about dropping hCG numbers in my blood tests, so we knew we'd lost this baby too. I told Bryan the results.
He shook his head. "Figures. If you don't need me, I'm going to work."
It seemed like a cold, uncaring thing for him to say, but this time I knew better. I knew that silence was the way Bryan would wrestle with what had happened. So I let him have his space. Later, I asked if he wanted to talk about it, and he said no. Weeks and months later he'd share about his feelings and reactions, after he'd had time to process them.
That afternoon, when I was in a really bad mood, Bryan didn't argue with me, he didn't tell me to get over it, he didn't call me to task for being unreasonable. And more important, he didn't try to "fix it" by offering advice. He just took me in his arms and said, "I'm sorry."
We also discovered there's a hormonal aspect of miscarriage. A woman's body changes in pregnancy, and then suddenly, pregnancy is over. As the body adjusts to the change, emotions can be affected. For Bryan, knowing that my struggles may have a physical component helped him to offer me additional grace and be supportive through cycles of outburst and lethargy. It also helped me to know that my body's changes could be affecting my judgment regarding Bryan's reactions.
When we started to allow each other to process the grief of miscarriage differently, without judging or accusing, we found that partnering with each other through the process drew us together and strengthened our marriage. The lessons we learned about each other could then be applied to other areas of stress in our lives. When Bryan came home cold and stony from work, I knew he'd had a bad day and that didn't have anything to do with me or his love for me. When I blew my top over something small, he learned not to take it personally but to ask me how my day went because he knew something hard must have happened to set me off.
Once we lifted the burden of expectation, we found we could appreciate, support, and allow each other the grace to be partners in the process instead of copies of each other.
Sex Isn't About Babies
Bryan knew something was wrong after our doctor gave us the "go ahead" after our second miscarriage. I wanted to have sex, but I didn't. I wanted to have another baby, but I was afraid to get pregnant again. And that made me unpredictable in the bedroom.
Bryan had no idea why I was acting so strangely. I'd be in the mood, but then I wouldn't be. Sometimes I was normal, and then I'd turn cold. So of course, our sex life suffered.
Later, I'd discover that the problem was that I was making sex about conception rather than about celebrating the love between my husband and me.
I had conflicting emotions about pregnancy, so I had conflicting emotions about sex too. I wanted to have another baby, but I knew that getting pregnant again meant that I could face miscarriage again. So as I grappled with the tension between desire and fear in the realm of conception, that tension spilled over to spoil intimacy with my husband.
That tension came to the surface one night while my husband and I lay in bed. Bryan rolled toward me. "What's wrong with you? You're not your normal self."
I struggled to explain my conflicts, doubts, and fears. It came out as a jumble of disjointed words and broken sentences that reflected my disjointed and broken feelings about having another baby.
Bryan frowned. "Marlo." He said my name slowly. "What we do here in the bedroom isn't about babies—not the ones we've lost or the ones we hope to have. It's about us. You and me."
He was right. I had to make sex about us and not about a baby. I bought new lingerie and planned romantic dates. I lit candles and wrote lists of all the things I loved about my husband. I sent him love notes at work and wore more perfume. When I focused on Bryan, my love for him, how to please him, and how much I appreciated him, our sex life started to return to normal and even to improve. And as our sex life improved, so did our marriage.
A Couple First
The day came when I found out I was pregnant again after miscarriage. I was overjoyed and terrified. Bryan was ambivalent.
That's when I discovered that pregnancy after miscarriage has its own set of struggles. As I faced pregnancy again, I was afraid to be too happy. I constantly checked for bleeding. I waited for something to go wrong. I started sentences with, "If we have this baby" rather than, "When the baby's born."
Bryan, too, didn't want to get his hopes up. So what should have been an exciting time was instead fraught with stress.
Yet, I found that the lessons we'd learned earlier were the key to getting through this time of pregnancy-again without our marriage taking a hit. We allowed each other to face the uncertainties of this new pregnancy in our own ways, without judging or condemning. We sought to focus on each other instead of forcing our lives to revolve around the hoped-for baby.
And we learned that there wasn't much I could do or not do to affect a future miscarriage. The vast majority of miscarriages, especially in the first trimester, are due to chromosomal abnormalities in the developing fetus. If I was going to lose this baby, it was most likely already in the genes. Besides checking for infections, not drinking, smoking, or taking drugs, and taking my prenatal vitamins, there was little more I could do.
So instead of worrying, Bryan and I started praying together. We expressed our fears, hopes, desires to God and decided that during this time we would pray more for each other and our marriage than for the health of the baby. That rule helped us to keep the lines of communication open between each other and God. We found that in prayer we could more easily express what was going on inside us as we faced this new pregnancy. It made us more sensitive and forgiving toward each other, as well as reminding us that God made us a couple first, and parents only after that.
Marlo Schalesky is the author of nearly 700 articles and 8 books, including the novel, Shades of Morning, which explores the concept of regret and miscarriage. www.MarloSchalesky.com
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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