There is nothing quite like being a dad.
Before I became a dad to my firstborn on a foggy Tuesday morning in May 2020, I was an expectant dad who understood how everything could change in a heartbeat.
Soon after my son was born, a nurse whisked me away from my wife’s side to be at his for comfort. I remember whispering to him, “Hey buddy, this is Daddy… I’m right here.” I placed my right index finger in the palm of his left grip, and the moment he grasped onto it with his tiny little fingers, I felt the very foundation and paradigm of everything I thought I knew fundamentally change. I was a dad; I was really, finally, truly a dad.
Miscarriage grief happens to men, too.
The journey to having both of my sons was humbling, disheartening, painful, and traumatizing. The first time I was an expectant dad, the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Somewhere along the way, someone said, “Don’t be surprised if the first pregnancy doesn’t stick.”
8 out of 10 miscarriages happen in the first trimester. But the words used to communicate this reality felt cold and callous. As a result, when we went into the first ultrasound I reasoned that, at worst, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did not stick. Sure enough, the pregnancy was not viable and we eventually found ourselves at the clinic for a D&C.
Because of the expectation set, I wasn’t tethered to the emotional trauma my wife was experiencing. I failed to empathize with the physical ramifications of her procedure. I did not respect her space, experience, and pain. She hid behind the protective cocoon of grief I did not resolve to understand — I already knew the first pregnancy may not stick — and like an unyielding woodpecker, I was forceful in my attempts to invade her space.
We worked through the first miscarriage and found ourselves expecting once again. Since there was no mention of subsequent pregnancies not sticking, I was certain I would become a dad this time. I was wrong. This pregnancy was also nonviable. I was devastated. My heart turned to goo, feeling something akin to what I suppose my wife had previously felt and was feeling once more. We soon found ourselves waiting in a closet-size room at the clinic for a second D&C.
Pregnancy loss is not your fault.
I started to internalize certain negative assumptions and question whether I was the cause of our miscarriages. I asked myself, "What do I need to do to make stronger, healthier sperm? Am I ever going to have my own children? It’s my fault these people are about to scrape my wife's insides a second time. I’m failing my wife as a husband. I’m never going to be a dad, after all.”
The longer the wait, the more guilt I felt for how I treated my wife after the first miscarriage. Suddenly a male physician walked in, followed by a Black female resident. I was sitting in a corner almost perpendicular to my wife, an arm’s reach from the door surrounded by white walls. Given the room's size and arrangement, the physician positioned himself with his back to me, making no attempt to acknowledge my existence. The resident stood against the door and was more aware of my presence. Upon closing the door, she made eye contact with me and offered a smile — a simple yet profound act of kindness for which I will be forever grateful.
The doctor secured my wife’s consent, and he left as quickly as he came. He never once acknowledged my presence in the room. I felt invisible. I felt powerless. I felt out of place. My grief, my pain, and my experience were not validated and perhaps not even valid. My wife was the patient. Not me. End of story.
Since leaving that clinic, I’ve wondered whether my experience is indicative of that of other fathers in these spaces, especially Black fathers. There are reputable research studies that draw attention to how implicit bias plays a role in how Black pregnant women perceive and receive care in healthcare settings. There is less research about how these biases frame the experiences of men and fathers — particularly Black fathers—in these same spaces with their pregnant partners.
Our miscarriage happened to both of us.
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My wife was obviously the patient. She was the one carrying. She needed the D&C. Her miscarriage was why we were both there. But she hadn’t become pregnant alone. As her husband, I provided the sperm that fertilized the egg that made her pregnant; and I was there not just as her husband but also as the father of the nonviable fetus in her womb. This was our miscarriage.
Although I wasn’t the one physically carrying our baby, I was also carrying the emotional weight of unfulfilled dreams, hopes, and aspirations for a fetus who did not survive, as well as carrying a crippling amount of guilt, shame, and angst due to consecutive loss of pregnancies. Although healthcare professionals prioritize physical over mental and emotional care, the latter has become more prevalent in healthcare practices over the years. Fathers do not experience physiological medical concerns like mothers during a miscarriage. However, the mental and emotional aspects must be acknowledged by healthcare professionals for both parties.
Two months after the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, my wife and I welcomed our healthy baby boy into our family. We experienced another two devastating miscarriages before welcoming our second and final son in February 2023. Now that we are no longer trying to grow our family, and as I’m beginning to process multiple past experiences, I have positioned myself as a voice for other fathers — fathers whose experiences are overlooked and who may feel uncomfortable having this incredibly awkward and painful conversation.
Kelly Jean-Philippe is a Speaker, Blogger, Chaplain, Dad, and Host of the Welcome To Fatherhood podcast.