I would say one of the hardest things to navigate in life is loss. Would you agree? Yeah. What kind of loss are you thinking? You think of the simple ones like every August, every NFL fan is excited about their team winning the Super Bowl.
You know, being in Detroit, every August, we're going to win the Super Bowl. This is what comes to your mind. Well, I'm thinking of the trivial ones that people actually get upset when that doesn't happen, but I'm not talking about that.
Yeah. That's sort of, when you look back, that's funny because, you know, it means nothing. But when you lose, I mean, it could be something as simple as I have expectations of this vacation, it goes away. I have expectations of health, it goes away. A marriage goes away.
Well, think about even with the pandemic. Right. I would guess every single listener has experienced loss. I mean, even your son or daughter graduating from high school and not getting able to walk, you watch that, that hurts.
Yeah. But today we're talking about something that's really deeper. It might be the deepest pain a person and especially a parent will ever experience, the loss of a child, the death of a child.
That's hard. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson.
And I'm Dave Wilson, and you can find us at familylifetoday.com or on our Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. I think how a person handles pain or loss determines how we live. I think it's that big.
Whatever that loss is, how we navigate that determines the present and the future of our life. And so, Dave, we're going to talk about a heavy topic. I mean, really. I mean, one of the heaviest ones we've ever covered, don't you think?
Yeah. We've got Eric Shoemaker in the studio today. Eric's sitting over there smiling like, oh, great, I get to come in and talk about one of the heaviest things ever. But, Eric, welcome back to Family Life Today. Yeah, it's good to be here.
Thanks for having me. Yeah, and I know you're smiling over there, but you've written a book about loss. And I've never seen a book really that's ever dealt with this topic. I mean, there's books on miscarriage, but not offering men, husbands who have walked through a miscarriage, comfort. It's called Ours, Biblical Comfort for Men, Grieving Miscarriage. I know you're a pastor in Iowa. You've got a family.
Obviously, by what I've already said, people know that you've walked through a miscarriage. But start where you are now. I mean, tell us a little bit about your family, what you do, and maybe even where this project started. Yeah, like you said, I'm in Iowa, and I'm an associate pastor at a church where I preach, counsel, lead worship, do anything that somebody else isn't doing. Did you just say you preach, you counsel, you lead worship?
Yes. You're a pretty busy guy. I am a busy guy. And on top of that, he's written a couple books. Yeah, and hosted a podcast.
Several books. There you go. You got anything else going on? I'm full-time in seminary.
Are you serious? Yeah, pursuing a master's in counseling. And what's your podcast called? Worthy. It's co-hosted with Elise Fitzpatrick. And that's when you guys were on Family Life Today before with Elise talking about Worthy. Yeah, talking about that book. That was a great conversation.
It was. Yeah. So, with all that going on, I'm guessing you still have a family. I do have a great family. So, I've been married to Jenny for enough years now that we sometimes lose count. And we have five children, one who's a freshman in college, a couple who are in high school.
Our daughter just turned 13, and then our youngest boy turned 10 this last week. That's a houseful. It's a houseful. And my mother-in-law just moved in with us about six months ago. So, she was widowed five years ago. We lost my father-in-law to leukemia.
And so, one of our priorities was finding a house that had an apartment attached that she could live independently but near us. And so, it's been good having her there. Yeah. And so, you've walked through what we were just talking about, loss. Tell us a little bit about some of the losses that you've experienced.
Yeah. My wife and I, we experienced four miscarriages. You know, I say we have five kids, but sometimes I say that we have nine, five living children and four that we lost to miscarriage. And that was a surprise to me. I think the first time I'd ever heard about miscarriage was maybe when I was in high school. And I heard about, I think it was an aunt's miscarriage.
That was the first time I remember hearing about it. And then I didn't hear about it again until at least seminary, where there were a lot of couples our age, you know, that had been married a few years and were starting to have kids. And we were hearing about people's miscarriages. And I had a professor, Russell Moore, who spoke openly in our class about their miscarriages and how he responded to them and the grief he experienced. And that was the first time I ever heard a man speak about how he had gone through miscarriage. You know, we had three children before we had a miscarriage. And so the fourth one, the first miscarriage came as a surprise because pregnancies had gone well before. But statistically, that would be normal.
I think it's around 20 percent of pregnancies ended miscarriage. And so I just determined that as we had these that I was going to talk about it. And it was sort of a bewildering time for me because I hadn't, apart from Dr. Moore, heard anybody, any men talk about how to deal with this as a man. I don't think I've ever heard a man talk about it. And it's very confusing for a lot of reasons.
The idea of manhood, that men are strong and they're caregivers and they're protectors. And somehow in this, you didn't protect your child is what it can feel like. And now you're providing for your wife as she's the one who had the miscarriage. And you might be a mess emotionally inside because every miscarriage has a father. And as a father, you're thinking about and anticipating the birth of this child just as the mom is. You're thinking about names. You're thinking about playing football in the front yard. You're thinking about the nursery.
You're looking forward to this. And now you've lost this child. I'm still stuck on, we had four miscarriages. Like, that's a family. It is. It's a whole family. It is. And I'm also just reeling, thinking of you guys are raising three kids, which I'm assuming they were pretty young.
They were. And now you're dealing with grief, surprise, and I think with a miscarriage or with a death, even of a stillborn or a young child, it's the dream that you had for them also died, how you're anticipating and what's going on. So that was the first one.
And I think you're both right. If you haven't experienced it or know someone that's gone through it, you just think, oh, they had a miscarriage. But when you start living it, like I'm guessing, take us back when your wife lost the first baby, and that's your loss, too. You're thinking, I need to protect my wife, so how do I grieve in this?
Yeah. Each of them was very unique and at different stages in the pregnancy. And so the first one was so early in the pregnancy that had she not taken a pregnancy test, we might have thought it was just a late period or something like that. We found out she was pregnant and then basically found out she was miscarrying.
She wasn't, yeah. And so it was very quick, and we didn't have as much time to build up all those dreams and that, but it was still hard. And it raises questions, will we be able to get pregnant again, and what's this mean? And at the same time, my brother, who had had, his wife had an ectopic pregnancy where the baby had implanted in the tube.
And so that's deadly. And she had to go in, you know, and have that pregnancy terminated to save her life. And that was the same day that we found out about ours.
Same day. And so there was, to us, this, we hadn't announced a pregnancy. Do we say anything to anyone about it? Our loss isn't as dramatic as theirs was, so we don't want to say anything about our loss because we'll take away from their loss, which I don't think is a good mindset.
But that's the kind of thing you wrestle with. And the kids didn't know, and so we're sad. Jenny's sad. You know, there's medical things going on with the miscarriage, cramping and all those sorts of things. And how do you explain to the kids why mommy's not feeling well and why she's sad?
And do you say anything to them? And so that was an example of a very early miscarriage. And then even since we hadn't announced it publicly, what do you say to your fellow church members, to your friends, that sort of thing, in terms of sharing your grief and receiving comfort from other people? So that was what the first one was. Our fourth one was very similar to that. We already had our five living children, and we had just moved to a new church. We'd been there four weeks in, and we weren't planning on having any more children.
And Jenny found out that she was pregnant. That was a different emotional journey because there was part of us that was like, oh, no, we weren't planning on having kids. And we had stopped because the pregnancies had become increasingly difficult for her and damaging to her body. And so we were in this state of going, oh, we didn't want to have more children, but we know we should want this child.
And then you feel this guilt over not wanting what you should want. And then you come to a point where your children are a good gift from God, and we trust God in all of this. It's funny how our mind's like, now you're like, okay, well, then you start getting excited. Then we were excited. You know, God's going to give grace in this, and this is a good thing, and we're already thinking about this next baby. And then we lost the baby, and not too far in. And so we hadn't announced it to the church. We were in a brand new church with brand new relationships, no close friends yet. What do you say?
What do you do? And so that was another experience that was unique. But you had, I don't know which one it was, but it was a longer term pregnancy.
We did. I mean, explain that one, because that, I mean, I don't know the difference in grief or trauma. Are they totally different? Because this one's a much longer term pregnancy.
At least tell us how that went and then describe. Is it different? It was different, and it brought different challenges. So one was further along, and I don't have the weeks at the top of my head. But it was far enough along that when the doctor confirmed that the baby had miscarried, then Jennie didn't want to have a D&C. And so, which is a procedure to go in and remove the baby and the tissues and that sort of thing. She wanted to be able to deliver.
And, you know, the child would end up only being about the size of the palm of your hand. But it was, that was our choice, and we went in, and so she was induced and went into labor. And so we were there while she was having contractions and all that pain that comes with a live birth and going through that. And, you know, I was in that room when the baby came out, and I talk about this in the book. I saw the baby lying there on the bed, you know, in blood and fluids. And my instinct was, I want to go pick this baby up because my child shouldn't be laying there by itself. And I didn't, and I wish to, you know, to this day that I had. You do?
I do, I do. But I didn't because there was a sense of shame that crept up in me. What if the nurse comes in and she sees me holding this, you know, little baby and in all this blood and such, and she'd probably think I was weird and stupid, and so I didn't. And my focus was on Jennie as well because she was not feeling well. And so I called the nurse and told them, and they came in, and they took the baby's body away, and then almost immediately whisked her off into surgery because she required some further treatment, and it was the treatment we hoped to avoid. And so all of a sudden, I'm sitting in a room by myself, and I don't know what's going to happen with my wife.
I don't really know what her condition is and how serious it is. I just know they took her in a hurry. And so there's a sense of loneliness that came in there.
I'm so sad for you because I feel sad for your wife too, Jennie, but so often you don't think about the dad. Yeah. You're sitting in there all alone, maybe even thinking, I should have picked him up.
Yeah. When we got to the hospital, they knew what the situation was, obviously, and they had put us in a different wing than, you know, there were several wings of rooms, and I noticed as we went to our room, there was nobody in the rooms on that hallway. So you weren't on a birthing floor. We weren't on a birthing floor.
Oh, the wing. The wing was different, and we still heard the chime go off every time a baby was born, but they had taped a rose to our door, and I figured that was a signal of what this was about. But even then, at this particular hospital, they had a room for fathers to come in and get meals. And so, you know, they brought them to Jennie, but dads could go get them from a little mini cafeteria.
And the meals were only available at certain slots during the day. And so without even thinking about it, I head down to get my meal, and the room is full of dads. And all the dads are in there talking about what they had. Celebrating. Celebrating.
Showing each other pictures of babies or what they're expecting. And it finally gets around the room to me, and someone says, what about you? And the feelings that come up are, wow, I'm going to be such a disappointment to this room and to these men. Like, I wish I wasn't here. Like I'm going to be a downer. I'm going to be a downer, yeah.
And I'm going to introduce death into their celebration of life. What did you do? I told them. I said, our baby died in the womb, and my wife's delivering it or had delivered it. And everyone expressed their sorrow, but the energy was sucked out of the room.
And then I made the point of, you know, shame drives you to behave different. I made the decision that when I went for meals, I just waited till the last 10 minutes they were available, because I knew all the other dads would be gone. And similarly, they only give those wristbands to patients that have been admitted. And so Jenny had a wristband, and of course a live baby would have had a wristband, but the father doesn't have a wristband unless a live baby is born. And then they put one on him so he can be identified with the baby. So when I would have to leave the maternity ward to maybe take a phone call or meet someone who would come, and, you know, one of the visits, or run an errand, to get back in, I'd have to go to the nurses' station, and they'd say, can I see your band, please?
And I'd show them that I didn't have a band and have to go through the whole process of explaining to them why I was there, but I didn't have a band, but I should be let in. And so it was awkward situations of having to share your grief. And even, you know, we chose to bury that baby. And, you know, we called and we told a nurse who'd come in we'd like to see the baby now.
It was the next day. And she gently tried to caution us from that and just said, this isn't going to look like what you're thinking of as a baby. And we said, we know, we understand that.
And part of it is, you know, there's no firm skeletal structure, and after a day, there's, you know, fluids have evaporated, and so it looks very different. But we insisted. And so a woman who was actually a nurse that was a daughter of one of the women in our church was on duty, and she was so good to us and brought the baby in on a little felt blanket, and we could count toes and fingers and ribs. What was in you, Eric, both of you, that you wanted to see the baby? I think it was the, just the sense that this was our child.
And we believe that life in the womb is life from conception. And so it was important to us. And you don't always have this opportunity, but we had the opportunity to deliver the baby and then to be able to hold the baby and just to know this is our child.
And it was emotional for both of us. Like, this is our child that we have not been able to meet. But believing, I believe, you know, that we'll meet this child in heaven one day, which is weird that, you know, we have four children who are better acquainted with Jesus than we are. You're going to have a big family in heaven. Yeah, yes.
I look forward to that. You know, even that experience, though, you had to overcome this sense of shame of what do these nurses think about us wanting to look at this baby and see this baby? And then we were left alone and had our time and we were ready for Jennie to go home. We were about to leave the hospital. And so I called the nurse's station and said, we'd like someone to come get our baby.
And she's confused, like, what are you talking about? And so then I had to explain again, like, our baby was delivered dead. And every time you have to do that, you just feel very awkward, like you're a downer.
Even when we had the burial at the cemetery, you know, we brought our kids there and a little spot in their little baby land cemetery. And it might just be me that I'm too afraid of people or, you know, care too much about that. It might just be pride. But even thinking, you know, I'd done funerals for this exact situation before for friends and church members. But thinking, you know, that funeral director over there, like, I know he's being paid, you know, but he probably thinks this is weird or a waste of time or and of course, he wasn't thinking that. Isn't it interesting how you've named shame several times and how that came and the awkwardness of it all. I'm just thinking of the listener.
I'm sure they're identifying with so much if they've experienced it. Well, and the question is from me is, is it different for the dad than the mom? Obviously, you wrote a 31-day devotional to the dad. You're that dad. Is it a different grieving?
That's David Ann Wilson with Eric Shoemaker on Family Life Today. We'll hear his response in just a minute, but first, sure, you're probably still frying in the heat. But doesn't that get you excited for the fall? It does for me. There's that snap of crisp air at last. And after all the weird schedules and not seeing your people, the kids go back to school and small groups start up again, which is great because God made us for community. Now's a great time to check out Family Life's small group studies at familylifetoday.com, where you can use the code 25OFF to save on all small group kits.
That's promo code 250FF at familylifetoday.com. All right, now back to Dave and Ann's conversation with Eric Shoemaker and the grief of miscarriage for a father. I would say it probably depends on the couple, you know, and the person, because I wrestled with a lot of shame in there. And I think part of that was, you know, and Jennie never did. But I think that's- I was going to ask, Jennie didn't?
Not that I'm aware of. She never talked about that. But I think that's the difference between us. She's, I don't know that she's ever bashful. She's not like this outspoken, strong personality person, but she's not bashful about those sorts of things.
This is what needs to be done. And whereas I'm, I don't know, I'm just wired different. But I think also, we live in a culture that does not value life in the womb. In fact, I believe it was after that one, I was getting in my car to go to the pharmacy to pick up prescription for Jennie after we'd gotten home from the hospital. And I had NPR on and they were talking to some state politician about some state legislation about abortion. And he said something to the effect of, I don't know why this legislation, and he was pro-choice, pro-abortion.
And he said, I don't know why this legislation is so controversial. It's only up to this many weeks, which was the week which we'd lost the pregnancy. And so our child was a political football that, you know, was just a small compromise in a debate about abortion. And it shouldn't bother anybody to have babies that young die in the womb. And so that made me very angry as well, you know, that someone would say that and treat this life so callously. But when you're in a culture that doesn't value life in the womb, the question that's always pressing on you is, is it right for me to mourn the loss of life in the womb?
And particular life that you may have never seen. And I don't think the church does well at grappling with that issue, particularly because no one's seen the baby. And depending on how far along the pregnancy is, I think the response of the church can change as they've been anticipating this baby with you. But early miscarriages, I think sometimes there's a lot of compassion shown towards the mother, but people don't know what to do with dad.
Could you just address the men who have walked through this? Like thinking back to you going through this the first time and what you've learned, you've gone through it several times, what would be helpful for them to know? I think the first thing I would want to say is you are a father who has lost a child. And it is good and right for you to mourn and to grieve that loss because it's a very real loss of a child.
And they should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to speak of this baby as their child. The second thing I would say is Jesus sees you right where you are. And we have proof all through the Gospels. You know, this book walks through the Gospel of Luke in 31 days looking at how Jesus speaks to miscarriage, particularly to men. And he notices the unseen things and the unseen people. He knew your baby and he knows your loss and he knows what it's like to be put in shameful situations. He knows what it's like to lose someone who's very precious to him. You know, he stands outside of Lazarus' tomb in John and he weeps. He knows what it's like to be angry at death. He knows all these emotions that you're feeling. The author of Hebrews says that he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect so that he might be a merciful high priest. And it's not just that he had to be made human so that he could die as our substitutes, you know, dying for our sin. It's also, you know, the author goes on to say that he can sympathize with our weaknesses and our temptations because he's been in situations that are fundamentally the same.
Of course, he didn't have a child miscarry, but he knew losses. He knows what it's like. And so from experience, Jesus knows what we need in these moments.
And so he's a trusted friend that we can and should go to with great expectations of comfort and help. You've been listening to David Ann Wilson with Eric Shoemaker on Family Life Today. His book is called Ours, Biblical Comfort for Men Grieving Miscarriage. It's a 31-day devotional for men processing miscarriage. You can get a copy at familylifetoday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F as in Family, L as in Life, and then the word today. Also, all this month, when you help reach more families with God's truth by giving to family life, we want to send you a copy of Jenny Allen's book called Find Your People. It's our thanks to you when you give this month at familylifetoday.com or when you call with your donation at 1-800-F as in Family, L as in Life, and then the word today. Now tomorrow, Dave and Ann will continue their conversation with Eric Shoemaker and how hiding your grief can damage a marriage and prevent healing. On behalf of David Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
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