By: Autumn Purdy
“No matter what, you and I are a family,” said my husband, Matt after we suffered another miscarriage.
An addendum to our marriage vows, my husband’s promise would bind us together for years to come and gave me hope not all would be lost, and perhaps, we would survive the devastation together.
In 2004, I miscarried for the first time. I would lose subsequent pregnancies in 2005, two in 2006, and after adding children to our family, I would miscarry twice more, in 2013 and 2014, before having our youngest son in 2015.
My husband has held my hand during diagnostic internal exams and fertility treatment meetings with my Ob/GYN. His face was the last I would see before being put under for laparoscopy to remove Endometriosis. His body would sit beside my strapped-down form as three of our children were birthed, cut from my womb. He has remained steady and resolute while injecting shots of hCG into the back of my arms to boost my fertility, helped me make heads or tails of my senseless fertility tracking, played the part of caretaker, and resolutely washed the soiled laundry and mopped the bathroom floors after every devastating miscarriage.
“We are a family, no matter what” would reverberate in my despondent mind, become my mantra, remind me when I felt I was failing us as a couple, help me disintegrate the long-held guilt and belief over my fertility troubles, and eventually distilled the unfounded fear my husband would leave me for someone younger, more fertile, less broken.
Despite the years gone by and the multiple miscarriages endured, we finally began building the family we’d always dreamed of, though, the aftershocks of loss remained. There were crevices built between us, always teetering on an earthquake of miscarriage. My multiple pregnancies remained difficult and despite the odds, we became parents, though never easily. We constantly weighed the true threat of loss over the hope for more children, wondering if desiring more would tip the balance out of favor again.
Together, we learned more patience and trust, leaned on our faith and each other, and honored our different ways of mourning.
He allowed me to cry on the anniversaries of my miscarriages and came to appreciate how my body will never forget the shock of maternal loss. I understood the fear he felt every time a positive pregnancy test rest between my fingers, and that although he doesn’t shed as many tears as I do, he’s affected, just the same.
We held our unified breath for the first three months of every pregnancy. He worked to support us while I worked to claw my way out from under the grief. He warmed the heating pad, iced the packs when I came home from my twice-weekly progesterone shots, rubbed my aching calves when the swell of hormone-driven weight-gain increased, propped pillows all around me to support my growing belly and aching back, and he held my hand and cried with me as the ultrasound tech said once again, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. There isn’t a heartbeat anymore.”
After my fifth miscarriage, it was taking quite a while for my body to heal. I was on two antibiotics and bed rest. A friend stopped by for a visit and brought along a lovely prayer shawl, comforting book, and sage advice: to name our miscarried baby. “It might help,” she offered. A grieving mother, herself, with two children buried in the ground, I took her suggestion to heart. Later that night, I asked Matt if we could consider choosing a name for a child we would never hold, and perhaps, name the other four we lost previously. My husband didn’t hesitate and together we thought up names to honor the existence of those precious lives we had created and would always grieve, together.
John Victor was the name we chose then, and later identified names for our first, four, miscarried ones: Agnes Elizabeth, Julian Olivia, Max Kolbe, and Catherine Teresa. Shortly thereafter, we were informed by a fellow Catholic friend we could have our miscarried children’s names enshrined at a Catholic church whose mission was to honor and remember the short lives of children lost through miscarriage, pregnancy loss, stillbirth, and premature infant death. We didn’t hesitate to log the names of our five, miscarried babies in “The Book of Life” at The Shrine of The Holy Innocents in New York. Sadly, in 2014, we would add one more name as we suffered our sixth miscarriage, losing our Francis Cuthbert before 12 weeks. The beautiful opportunity to have our children’s names written down and prayed for was cathartic and gave us much peace of heart and mind.
Eventually, I found myself less shattered by the grief and more open to sharing my story of miscarriage and pregnancy loss and Matt was my champion.
Through the grief-stricken years, we came to recognize that we had allowed our grief and struggles of daily life to sidetrack the personal joy we derived from leisure and creative practice. I have been writing all my life, in my journal for years, and I blogged a bit, but I wanted to dedicate more of my time, energy, and healing to creative writing centered around my motherhood journey. Devotional prayer, practicing my faith, daily walks or hikes, exercise class, enlisting the help of a therapist, reading about others’ experiences with miscarriage and pregnancy loss, and adopting a nightly gratitude practice has been incredibly restorative in my journey, as well.
Matt, always a distance runner, was looking for a new kind of physical challenge. He carried his fatherly pain underneath his heart and pounded out his internal struggles by running on the paths near our home.
I recognized running was his therapy and necessary, for not only his cardiovascular health, but his mental and emotional health, as well. Running allowed my husband to maintain his natural lightness and humor, deal with his grief, and helped to maintain his energy to continue being the sensitive, caring, devoted husband and father he’s always been. He would sign-up for one, new, and incredible running challenge—a 100-mile ultra-marathon trail race in the state park we both frequented as children, as newlyweds, and now as parents. For years to come, this 100-mile race would sustain my husband through the ups and downs of parenthood and forthcoming loss.
As much as my husband craved running for miles, I had a visceral need to write. One night I googled, “motherhood writing” and came across an online class that would launch me on a journey to write about my pregnancy loss experiences. Matt told me to go for it when some husbands might be embarrassed by or cringe at the thought of his wife writing and talking about a subject as painful and personal as miscarriage. Matt encourages me to write daily, supports me in my mission to spread awareness, and understands the inkwell of this topic within me might never run dry.
As our raw grief turned into remnants and we began finding our way back to wholeness, Matt ran and ran and ran, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. And the running trails and the lined pages carried us through the difficult days into more joyful ones. He closed the door to the office so I could write. I tried not to begrudge him sneaker-laced miles.
We learned it takes energy and focus, time alone and apart, and a resurgence of joyful activity to get through each heart-wrenching loss.
The miscarriages are still tragic to us, many years later. Though, despite it all, our marriage has been strengthened and fortified by the tests and the trials, and we’ve become well-equipped at extending grace to one other in the process.
It’s a delicate balance, finding meaningful ways to honor your children and choosing between needing space and accepting the closeness a couple might need, to grieve and heal together and as individuals. No two people, no two couples are alike. However, being raw and open and honest about feelings and fears, boundaries and energy levels, pain and triggers, and emotional and physical needs will help. Reinstate hobbies and worthwhile pastimes to induce joy into your days, and to help you work through the emotional pain of pregnancy loss. Enlist the support of therapists and clergy to sort out the mix of emotions and stages of grief. Finding an online or local support group, and reading books related to your losses are also worthwhile and meaningful pursuits. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your spouse or partner, and be open to finding healthy ways to channel your pain and honor the children you have lost.
There were definitely times when it felt like too much for us and our marriage—too much death, too much at risk, too much heartbreak. Occasionally, I thought maybe if my husband and I hadn’t been blessed with the children we have, maybe if our parental legacy was only miscarried babies, maybe then, that would have been the end of us. Who knows? What I know more than ever is that when we stood before the altar and professed our sacramental vows to each other in front of our family and friends, we meant every word of “in sickness and in health”, and we would stand together to face whatever transpired in our marriage.
What I have learned over the years is that we are stronger than I ever realized before, and we are better, together.
My husband I had no way of knowing recurrent miscarriage would be one of the heaviest crosses we would be asked to carry in our marriage. There are no adequate words to describe how tremendously, unbelievably difficult this plight has been for us. The journey, the lessons gained, and the love multiplied, has made the heartbreak worthwhile. Additionally, it has solidified our purpose to share our experiences in hopes our story will help one couple going through the same struggles. We don’t want our suffering to have been felt in vain. We will always speak of the six children we lost early on, and we will never tire of doing our part to help make the topics of miscarriage and baby loss less taboo.
About Autumn Purdy
Autumn Purdy earned a B.A. in English from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, and is a Reviews Editor for Literary Mama. Currently writing her first book about the path to motherhood and her experience with recurrent miscarriage, she lives in Westerville, Ohio with her family. You can read more of her writing at https://asadsongbetter.com/ and https://bookjoy.blog/ and find her on Instagram and Twitter at @purdywords.