When we found out we were pregnant, we did all the things.
Luana put the pregnancy test in a box. She set up a hidden camera and recorded my surprise opening it, learning our lives would change.
We printed out a bunch of signs. My brother took pictures of us holding them on the grass in the front yard. We turned the pictures into a slideshow for Luana’s mom in Brazil:
“Hey Mom… Happy Mother’s Day… We Love You… and… Guess What? …YOU… are going to be… a GRANDMA!”
We booked a pregnancy announcement photoshoot. We dressed up and hiked to a field below this hill at sunset. The day turned out cloudy, but we took these lovely pictures surrounded by little yellow flowers. Pretty flowers. They bloom here every spring. I think they’re called mustard flowers, but they didn’t smell like mustard. I don’t know.
When we found out we were pregnant, we scheduled our 8-week appointment with the doctor to confirm the pregnancy.
I remember thinking it was silly, “confirming” the pregnancy.
The pregnancy test said we were pregnant. Luana’s belly was growing. It seemed like another excuse for a medical bill. At least we’d get some of those cute souvenir sonogram pictures.
The OB’s office was pretty much like any other doctor’s office. A couple padded chairs. A stool for the doctor. A sink and some cabinets. The examination table bent a few more directions than the one at my doctor’s office. Different magazines: more back-issues of O, The Oprah Magazine than I usually see.
And different wall art. The exam room had big boards of baby announcements. The hallways too. Mosaics with hundreds of cards – families on the beach, barefoot dads in collared shirts and khakis, sleeping babies resting on colorful pillows with bows on their heads. Tokens of gratitude. Mementos of a job well done.
Decades of delivering babies adds up. I wonder what portion of Shutterfly’s revenue is cards to healthcare providers.
When the doctor entered, Luana raised herself to the examination table and lifted her shirt. The doctor spread that jelly they spread over women’s bellies so the ultrasound microphone can listen better.
“Let’s take a listen,” he said, placing the ultrasound device to Luana’s belly.
We were giddy with excitement. I had my phone out to record the moment.
“Are you recording this? Make sure you’re recording this,” Luana said.
The OB worked the ultrasound device back and forth. It made squishy sounds as it slid along the jelly. Like tuning in a radio frequency.
Then his face changed. He motioned for me to put down my phone.
“I’m having trouble finding a heartbeat,” the OB said. “I’m usually pretty good at finding a heartbeat. We can do another scan to confirm, but this usually means there’s no heartbeat.”
It took us a few moments to absorb what he was saying. Walking into the appointment, the thought there was no pregnancy to confirm hadn’t crossed our minds. The doctor delivered the news in the most sincere, empathetic terms.
“You’re going through a miscarriage. It’s important for you to know this is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done differently. This happens in a quarter of all pregnancies. It’s just something that happens. We don’t know why.”
How many times a month does he deliver those same, devastating lines? Yet he was completely present. He shared our grief.
The doctor explained the most likely outcome: Luana’s body would naturally realize the baby wasn’t growing and would naturally release it from her body.
Three days later, that’s what happened. Luana’s labor pains were intense. We rushed to take her somewhere, but there was nowhere to take her. We tried to get her pain medication, but there wasn’t time. After an hour of physical, emotional, spiritual anguish, we were no longer pregnant.
It was terrible.
I can’t imagine our additional trauma without that appointment to prepare us.
I didn’t handle the miscarriage well. We were both sad. We were both overcome with loss. But I didn’t do a good job of being sad together. I didn’t create opportunities for us to comfort each other. I tried to funnel my sadness into productivity. That weekend, I built the base for a shed in the backyard. What I should’ve done was nothing. I should’ve just sat and held Luana and let us cry together. I know that better now.
If that was the end of the story, it would be sad. But it’s not.
Four months after the miscarriage, we got pregnant again. In July 2019, we had Calvin. He was healthy and he was perfect and he was wonderful. A year later, we got pregnant again. In April 2021, we had Lawrence. He was also healthy and perfect and wonderful.
As their parents, we would know best and be completely unbiased about their perfect wonderfulness.
Their births were pretty easy. Well, that’s easy for me to say – I didn’t do any of the hard work. I just held Luana’s hand and told her to breathe. Luana squeezed my hand and said lovely things like, “Where the hell is the anesthesiologist?” and I said supportive things like, “I don’t know. I’m not an anesthesiologist. But you’re doing a good job breathing. Um, you can do this.”
Then after a lot of labor, our OB came in and helped deliver our babies. Luana did a great job. I’m amazed by everything Luana did throughout those pregnancies. Our OB was terrific too, even if most of his work was just at the very end. Completely present in those delivery rooms. Calm, confident, supportive.
Our only pregnancy complication was with Lawrence. After we’d gotten him home, Luana’s blood pressure spiked. We had to turn around and check back into the hospital. The ER doctors did a lot of scans and couldn’t figure out what it was.
It was scary.
But then our OB came in—he’d just gotten done delivering another baby. In that same calm, confident, supportive tone, he explained that Luana had postpartum preeclampsia. I didn’t understand how it could be “post” and “pre” at the same time. He explained preeclampsia usually happens before childbirth, but occasionally it happens after.
“We don’t know why,” he said. “This is just something that happens. It’s not your fault.”
It was the same line from when he consoled us during the miscarriage, but it was comforting. I could feel my blood pressure falling just listening to his voice.
He explained the hospital was going to give Luana some medicine and watch her overnight, and she’d be fine.
And she was.
Pregnancy after a miscarriage is different from pregnancy before a miscarriage.
The possibility of loss is no longer something that just happens to other people. You’re more guarded. Cautious. A little slower to tell everyone you’re pregnant. Each time you do, you whisper “…but it’s still early…” and let out a small breath.
We did all the pregnancy things with Calvin and Lawrence. There were pregnancy photoshoots, and gender reveal parties. But we didn’t decide on their names until after they were born. It would have been too painful if something had happened.
The opinions of hospital staff vary widely when you don’t choose a name in advance.
“You know, you don’t really need to name the baby for the first year,” commented one nurse, “It’s just a taxes thing.”
“Just write ‘Baby’ as the legal name,” suggested another, “let them decide for themself when they’re older.”
This was not the encouragement we were looking for.
“Look, I leave at 5:00, so if you don’t make a choice you’ll have to come back later to file the paperwork,” stated the registrar, which helped us focus considerably.
After they were born, we had fancy studio photo sessions and printed out too many baby announcement cards, and attempted to send them to anyone we knew who had an address (if you’d like one and have an address… we still have boxes of extras in the garage!). I wrote clever, industry-jargon-filled birth announcements and emailed them to my whole company.
Calvin and Lawrence are our world. I’ve written about them a bunch:
- RE: Go-Live Announcement
- Momento Memoriam
- Bedtime Prayers
- Bedtime Medley
- Why Does Daddy Have to Work?
- The Time We Took Calvin To The Hospital
I plan to write more about them. Isn’t a personal blog just a digital wallet for sharing family photos? I have a weekly newsletter called Just Joshin’ that’s a thinly veiled excuse to chronicle my sons’ adventures (you can subscribe here).
Anyways, back to our story…
A year later, we visited Luana’s family in Brazil.
And we got pregnant again!
Luana has a big family. It was fun to celebrate a pregnancy in a big family. All the aunts and uncles visited us. The aunts gave us hugs and kisses. The uncles shook my hand and winked at me.
At 8 weeks, we confirmed the pregnancy. At 12 weeks, Luana took a gender test for the baby and started planning a gender reveal party. Then one night, at 14 weeks, Luana woke me up because she was bleeding. We rushed to the hospital. We thought we were losing the baby.
The doctor took a look with a sonogram. Luana had a hemorrhage in her uterus, but the baby was fine. We could see the baby kicking around on the digital screen. The doctor recommended rest. Easier said than done with two little kids.
Also easier said than done because we still had to fly home to California. In a perfect world, we could’ve stayed in Brazil until the baby was born, but staying out of the US that long would have invalidated Luana’s green card. Technically, I wasn’t allowed to stay in Brazil that long. Immigration is a tricky dance.
Before we left, we went to this farm and took a bunch of pregnancy announcement pictures. Calvin and Lawrence had fun running around in the twilight air. There was this train that went by. Calvin loves trains.
We also had a gender reveal party. It was a good excuse to gather the family and celebrate one last time before returning home. One of the aunts bought this cake and when you cut into it the color revealed the baby’s gender. That’s how we found out we were expecting our third son. I love cake.
We flew home in August.
Luana’s mom came back with us to help Luana rest, to help with the kids, to help all of us once the new baby arrived.
Then after we’d been home about a month, Luana woke me up in the middle of the night again. She was in pain. She wanted me to take her to the hospital. I knew it was serious, because she wanted us to go right away.
“Don’t worry about the kids, my mom will take care of them if they wake up.”
I never thought I’d hear her say that.
At the hospital, they took Luana straight to the maternity ward. A nurse spread that goop on Luana’s belly, and ran the microphone above her pelvis to find the baby’s heartbeat.
“I’m not very good with this,” she told us with a straight face, “let me call a sonogram technician.”
It took over an hour for the sonogram technician to arrive. They’re only on call at 4am, and apparently they live farther from hospitals than anesthesiologists. So we waited in uncertainty, not knowing if we were pregnant or not pregnant. Then the sonogram technician arrived to confirm what the nurse would not; we weren’t pregnant. It became a moot point, as shortly thereafter Luana went into labor.
The worst thing about finding out you’re not pregnant is you still have to deliver the baby.
Our first miscarriage was awful, but we were only eight weeks along. The whole thing happened at home. At 20 weeks, a miscarriage is more like actual childbirth. It was horrendous. All I could do was hold Luana’s hand and tell her to breathe. All we could do was cry together. And push.
There was so much blood. I watched all of my other two sons’ births, but there was so much more blood this time.
When the baby came out, the head nurse asked “Do you want to hold Baby to your chest? Some mothers, in these situations, find it comforting to hold Baby to their chest and comfort Baby one last time.”
We didn’t want to hold Baby to our chest. We didn’t want to look at Baby. In fact, it was our strong preference to continue using the ‘the’. There’s a world of difference between “the baby” and “Baby.”
The head nurse responded, “Well, Baby is here on this tray if you change your mind.”
Later, she returned.
“We’d like to run some tests on Baby,” she said. “We’d like to understand why this happened.”
We didn’t want to run some tests on the baby. We didn’t want to poke and prod the baby. Would putting a name to a condition really tell us why it happened? Would it make what happened unhappen? We longed for our OB to appear, like he had in our other moments of crisis. Tell us, “This is something that happens. We don’t know why it happens. It’s not your fault.” Let us grieve. Let us heal.
A first miscarriage is transformational.
You’re going to be a parent, then you aren’t.
But if you’re already a parent, you have to explain the miscarriage to your kids.
I don’t think Calvin and Lawrence understood what happened on the day of the miscarriage. Mommy wasn’t there when they woke up. Mommy came back later that afternoon. Mommy looked mostly the same, even if everyone looked a little sad.
A few weeks later, Calvin found Luana’s hospital band in a box.
“What’s this?” he asked.
Luana explained that Mommy went to the hospital. The baby was in Mommy’s belly, but the baby’s not there anymore.
“What happened to the baby?”
“It turned into a star,” Luana said.
Is that lying? Is it protecting? I had mixed emotions when Luana told me her answer. Is that the metaphysics of The Lion King? The baby went away, and now he’s a star like Simba’s dad?
It also reminded me of Carl Sagan: “We are made of star stuff.”
On a long timescale, all our matter will end up in a star again. We’re all a part of the cosmos. Maybe it wasn’t a lie?
That night, putting Calvin to bed, he turned to me:
“I’m sad,” he said.
“Why are you sad Calvin?”
“I’m sad because the baby turned into a star.”
“Me too, Calvin.”
This other thing happened about the same time: this yellow flower sprouted in our front yard.
We didn’t plant it, we didn’t know what it was, but it was pretty enough so we left it alone. A few weeks later, an inspection revealed two monarch caterpillars. Turns out it was milkweed.
Monarch butterflies are something of a miracle. They weigh half as much as a postage stamp. Their wingspan isn’t the length of your spacebar. Yet every spring, monarchs leave their wintering sites, migrate thousands of miles away, and return again when it gets cold.
These annual migrations cross 4 generations: the monarchs flying away in March are the great-grandparents of the butterflies returning in November and the great-great grandparents of the butterflies that will set off the following March, restarting the migration cycle. We don’t know how they know where to go, or how they find their way back. Can you name any of your 16 great-great-grandparents or where they were born?
On their journey, monarch butterflies lay eggs and nurture their larva in a single plant: milkweed. So a migrating butterfly fluttered by our house, laid its eggs on a plant that wasn’t supposed to be there, and those eggs became caterpillars.
How does something so fragile endure?
I was excited to show Calvin and Lawrence the caterpillars. We went out and looked at them every day. “Here they are eating leaves… Here they are getting fat… Soon they’ll build cocoons and go through metamorphosis… Soon they’ll change and have wings, just like you two will change, and one day fly.”
Then one day we went out and the caterpillars weren’t there.
I don’t know what happened to them. Did they crawl away and chrysalis somewhere else? Did they get eaten? Did they ever get to fly?
“Where did the caterpillars go?” Asked Calvin.
“Into the clouds, I think.”
“I miss them.”
“Me too, Calvin.”
I never got to see their cocoons. I never got to see them transform. And sometimes that makes me cry. And sometimes it’s silly to cry about caterpillars. And sometimes I realize I’m not crying about caterpillars at all.
Should I even talk about this? What does a father have to say about miscarriage?
Am I mansplaining miscarriage? It happened outside my body. What’s my pain compared to Luana’s? She feels everything much deeper than me, and this much more so.
But there are still parts of this pain I feel. I still feel the loss.
On Twitter, I saw another dad describe his experience with miscarriage. His wife was seven weeks along. They already had an infant son. As he sat in the hospital waiting room, he prayed: “God, take me instead.”
That bargain never crossed my mind. Leave my born sons fatherless, my wife alone, in exchange for the unborn? Is that a noble exchange? It’s a tragedy either way. I don’t think it would make them better off.
What’s the cosmic justice of it all? As an expectant father, losing the baby was more painful than releasing some meaningless bundle of cells. It was orders of magnitude less painful than I imagine losing one of my born sons would be. I pray I’ll never find out.
Somewhere in there is also maybe how I feel about abortion.
Another bedtime, Calvin says: “I want another baby because the other one turned into a star.”
Do we still want a third kid? Or rather, do we still want to try for a third child, knowing all the risks and potential heartbreak? We’re a happy family of 4. Would we be a happier family of 5?
While carrying Calvin and Lawrence downstairs, I was struck by a thought: how would I carry a third child in my arms? You have to buy a bigger car when you have 3 kids. A bigger dining room table. Maybe a bigger house. Are we ready for that?
I know we’re running out of time.
What’s the hardest part of having a kid? Around the clock newborn feedings? All the other sleepless nights? We’re past that, or at least approaching that point with Calvin and Lawrence. If we have more kids, the clock resets and we’ll have to endure those hardest parts again. What’s the best part of having a kid? When a child falls asleep on your shoulder? When eager arms reach to be lifted up in the morning? If we have a third kid, we get to experience all those parts anew.
There’s more to life than minimizing suffering.
A baby born after a miscarriage is called a rainbow baby. People say, “My rainbow baby gave me my hope back.” Some parents heal from a miscarriage by having another baby. I don’t know. That seems like a lot of pressure to put on a newborn. We never looked at Calvin like that.
We’re blessed, all things considered. We want kids. We have kids. We maybe want more kids. I know there are people who want kids and don’t have kids. I know sometimes it’s the opposite. Those seem like the greater tragedies.
Our pregnancy announcement photos from Brazil turned into our Christmas card. We chose to print them even after the miscarriage. It’s sad, but it’s also not. Our family doesn’t look incomplete. Maybe it’s still early.
I asked Calvin, “If we have a third baby and it’s a sister, what should we name her?”
“What if it’s another brother?”
Good grief. At least we know you don’t really need to name the baby for the first year.