I have a son named Gabriel, and he will turn two on June 19, 2021, the day before Father’s Day. He will turn three on Father’s Day in 2022. I find it ironic that the original reason I get to celebrate Father’s Day will also, every few years, be the reason I don’t get to celebrate Father’s Day. But I suppose that’s the nature of sacrificial, fatherly love.
So why does it so often get treated as fundamentally different from the love of a mother? There’s a saying I came across once: “Women become mothers the moment they know they are pregnant. Men become fathers the moment the child is born.”
I probably messed up that saying a bit. I don’t know where it came from, and quite frankly I am too un-impressed with it to seek out its originator. And I certainly don’t mean to disparage or undermine the incredible and loving sacrifices mothers make to carry their children in the womb or care for them out of it. My point is that this saying is nonsense.
At least, for me it’s nonsense.
The year Gabe was born, Father’s Day fell about a week before he came into the world, and I celebrated with (or should I say, was celebrated by) my wife, Stephanie. I was a father long before Gabe was born; I knew it deep in my bones and was so excited to meet the kid who made it so.
Before we knew his gender we called him “Baby O.” Before his ears were fully formed, I began talking to him about Jesus, explaining to him that I was going to do my best to love him and provide for him, confessing to him that I’d often let him down, and promising to always apologize when I was the one who was wrong.
Our Family Now Had Four Members
I was thrilled all over again when Stephanie shared the news that she was pregnant again with a child we began to affectionately call “O2.” We told that child how much we loved him or her and how excited we were to meet. We explained to Gabe that he was getting a baby sibling and began teaching him that our family now had four members, pointing to me, Stephanie, Gabe, and Stephanie’s tummy as we counted off.
I was that child’s father just as I had been and am Gabe’s, even though I hadn’t met O2 yet.
When we learned that my wife’s bloodwork showed some bad signs, we prayed fiercely. When our fear was confirmed by additional rounds of tests, we mourned fiercely. I mourned fiercely. It was a very early miscarriage—what some call a “chemical pregnancy.” In all likelihood, by the time we were certain O2 existed, O2 had already died.
In the last 10 years or so, our culture has made a lot of good strides toward talking about miscarriage, and that’s awesome. But it’s not super common to see anyone address the pain a father experiences. At least, I felt like I hadn’t seen much of it, and I wanted to help change that.
Is God really good?
One of the first things I realized is that I felt an incredible sense of obligation to police my own emotions. You can’t be that sad; the baby died so early…
But also, you need to be more sad than this; don’t you even believe the baby was a person?
But also, don’t make too big a deal out of this; some people have kids who die after years of knowing them, raising them, teaching them, investing in them …
But also, why does my pain have to be compared with other people’s pain?
But also …
But also …
But also …
No matter what I felt, there was always some part of me telling me that I was wrong for feeling it, or that I was feeling it wrong. At one point I confessed to Stephanie that I didn’t know if it was OK to start looking forward to the possibility of a new pregnancy that might make it to term. Was there some designated amount of time we had to mourn the lost child before it was acceptable to ask God for another? Did asking God for another imply that we were trying to just replace the child who died?
I also struggled with guilt. I know from the stories of friends how easily mothers can internalize “fault” when miscarriages happen, but I was feeling that, too. Obviously it wasn’t guilt that my body had physically messed up—that’s what my wife was feeling. I was feeling guilt that maybe my prayers weren’t frequent enough. Maybe my motivations for wanting a second child weren’t pure enough. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough father to the child I already have. Maybe the sin that I still often struggle with—pride, anger, lust—is too ugly and unforgivable. Maybe God was punishing me.
Underlying all this confusion and guilt was anger and distrust of God. Sinful thoughts spiraled in my brain as I desperately tried to pin blame on God. Ultimately it came back to the same tactic Satan has been using since Genesis 3: a subtle whisper that asks “Is God really good if …”
I don’t know what’s more pathetic: Satan’s lack of creativity to develop a new strategy, or how often I still fall for it.
My head knew the answer was, “yes, God’s really good even if …” But my heart was hurting too much to believe it. So, I told God how angry I was at Him. I danced toward the line between bewilderment and blasphemy, doubt and disbelief. It’s possible that in my grief I crossed it too.
Thankfully, God never spurns an honest prayer.
God responded like the good Father He is. He listened and held me and comforted me. Then He reminded me that He knows the pain I am feeling. He reminded me that He saw His child die once too. He reminded me that, as a result, death has no sting.
I still don’t know why this happened to me or why it happens to others. I still don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about it or how long I’m going to wrestle with these feelings. I don’t know if it will happen to my wife and me again. Truthfully, I don’t even know if I will get to meet O2 someday (though I am choosing to believe I will).
But I know I’m a father of two children, only one of whom lives on earth. I know it’s OK to have conflicting emotions. I know God isn’t punishing me, because Jesus already took the punishment I deserved. I know it’s possible to miss someone you’ve never met.