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Til death do us part: How miscarriages made my marriage stronger

‘It hurts, and it’s hard, and it’s weird.’ Simon Sweetman writes about the miscarriages he and his wife suffered together, and the love that saw them through on their journey towards parenthood.

Content warning: Simon talks about miscarriage in this post. If you have suffered a miscarriage this post may be upsetting for you. If you need support please visit SANDS New Zealand or call 0800 Sands4u (0800 726 374). Sands New Zealand is a network of parent-run, non-profit groups supporting families who have experienced the death of a baby.

I phoned a mate last week to ask a cheeky favour and in catching up I asked how things had been. “Better now,” he started. I gulped. I had pretty much guessed what was coming next. “We had a rough month last month.” Another pause. “We had a miscarriage… and you know all about that right?” I reminded him that I did. We had a nice chat, luck was wished and that was that.

The miscarriage is a very strange thing for the man in a relationship. It’s ‘our’ miscarriage and yet, physically, it doesn’t happen to us. We can’t ever know what it is like. I wonder – and worry – that many men don’t ever talk about it. But then, as long as they’re talking to their partner about it that is perhaps all that matters.

When we miscarried – twice within a few months, a few years ago now – it was very hard. And then the conversation opens. You find out it has happened to so many. For those first few moments you’d thought you’d been chosen, picked on, singled out.

Katy and I were desperate to have a child. And the pregnancy seemed to be going just fine… for the very first few weeks. And then a wee scare at an early scan. I think, deep down, we both knew this was not good. But you soldier on. Your fingers crossed, your hearts a-flutter. You also have to hide out a bit – there’s the drinking (or rather not drinking) to explain. So the best technique is to stay in. Bide your time. Once it’s all out in the open you have the (extra) reward of a designated driver…

But we didn’t make it that far.

We had this weird weekend together in a type of end-of-pregnancy purgatory. It was the Arts Festival and I was out reviewing every night, two shows a night sometimes. And so Katy came with me. She sat silently at shows she didn’t really want to be at – it was just better than staring at the TV and being home alone. It was a Friday night, and she knew already that she was losing the baby. She was miscarrying. We were miscarrying. I remember thinking, as we watched Loudon Wainwright, that two people frozen in their spot, knowing what was happening inside one of them, smiling politely as part of an audience when needed, was exactly the sort of thing that might happen only in a Loudon Wainwright song.

Two more shows the next day, and I worked in retail then too, so it was off to the shop for a Sunday stint. And that’s when the call arrived. I’d been in the bookstore barely an hour. One of Katy’s friends called. Don’t rush, she said. I’m with her. I’m taking her to the hospital. Just do what you can. Get here if you can.

I shared the details with my boss. She told me to go, straightaway. Just go. I ran down Lambton Quay to hail a cab to get home quickly, to get the car keys to get to the hospital.

I love my wife. There’s never been a doubt in my mind. We’ve been married now over a decade; we’d known each other another decade before. When the miscarriages came we’d been married for a couple of years.

I still think back to that moment, sitting in a cab, spring-boarding from my toes in the back seat, my heels and knees unable to settle. Like I needed to be ready to break out of the car and dive-roll in the driveway.

In that moment – right then, right there – I fully understood the ‘In Sickness and In Health/Til Death Do Us Part’ part of wedding vows. We didn’t have traditional vows, we wrote our own. In that moment though, I knew what that meant. I knew the power of the institution, the reason for it. I’m not saying you can’t have that bond without marriage. These are just the thoughts I remember from that time in my life. In our life.

There was no real clue what I could do, or what I would do, beyond being there with her. I had to be there. The urge so strong, so true.

In the car to the hospital I remember saying out loud to myself, “She really needs you now. You need to be strong for Katy.” And I was. I know that.

We left the hospital an hour or so later and it was bed-rest for her. I bought a bottle of wine. And ice-cream. And whatever other naughty treats I could think of.

We had been watching The Sopranos on DVD, so I rented the next run of episodes, and we parked up. We cuddled. We sighed. She cried. We watched The Sopranos. Episode after episode. I do remember fixating on one episode towards the very end of the show. The cast are just waiting, in one room. Waiting. The tension, it’s incredible. Better than the finale, better than just about any other scene or episode from any other show. And we were watching it, just the two of us, midway through a terrible day. We didn’t know what we were waiting for, as such, beyond the idea that we’d have a better month after a better week and a better day. And that we needed to be sure they would arrive.

We waited a few months before trying again.

This time was going to be our time. And we’d ticked miscarriage off the list. That’s how I saw it.

Not so. The second one hit harder. We were a day or two off the 12-week scan. We were out at a comedy show (more reviewing) and having a moment of near-celebration. It was all going well.

The next day was a Friday. Katy emailed me near the end of the work day.

“How is your day, my love? I hope it is good. Not so good for me unfortunately. I’m going home.”

It was all she could write, obviously. It was all that I needed anyway – as soon as I read that I knew what was up. And I told my boss I needed a chat. I’d changed jobs, was working in an office. My boss, a friend, told me to go home. Straightaway. No issue. “I had no idea you guys were trying. I’m sorry…”

We were a day or so off telling everyone. We’d been very careful this second time. No one knew, apart from our closest family.

The happy end to this story, of course, is we have a healthy child in our lives now. He baffles and infuriates me some days. He delights me on a level that only one other person gets close to. And he’s been in our lives for nearly six years now. From the moment we saw him, from the moment he first came into the world, his eyes seemed to be telling us of his journey; that he knew he’d taken a while to arrive.

Katy and I talked a lot about the miscarriages. We still do, sometimes. Those miscarriages made her pregnancy with Oscar a tough one. There was a lot that went into it – monitoring and care. We were concerned at the slightest movement or mood; we gripped hands tightly at every meeting with the doctor, every scan. There were extra scans and extra monitoring. Katy had to take an injection every day – she’s scared of needles so I had to do it.

We were in it together. A team. Just as we’ve tried to be in all aspects of our marriage and now in child-raising.

I’m speaking for myself here, not her. But I think our marriage really cemented itself, revealed its true commitment and our true commitment to each other, with those two miscarriages.

Whenever a guy tells me that his partner has miscarried it seems his head is pointed at his shoes. It’s one of the few times in life when I want to be the very best listener I can. My heart sits in my mouth. I remember those times for us. You move on. The world keeps going, so you do too. But it hurts, and it’s hard, and it’s weird, and it’s very sad. We should acknowledge that. And try to think of others and their struggles always.

Simon Sweetman writes semi-regularly for The Spinoff Parents. In between columns you can find his writing at Off The Tracks – he’s also on Facebook and Twitter.

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