Eric Schumacher: Losing a Baby–and Grieving as a Man
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Losing a baby can leave a guy confused, helpless, lonely, deeply sad, or just numb. Author Eric Schumacher offers support for men processing miscarriage.
Eric Schumacher: Losing a Baby–and Grieving as a Man
Dave: I would say one of the hardest things to navigate in life is loss. Would you agree?
Ann: What kind of loss are you thinking?
Dave: You think of the simple ones: like every August, every NFL fan is excited about their team winning the Super Bowl. [Laughter] You know, being in Detroit every August: “We’re going to win the Super Bowl.”
Ann: This is what comes to your mind.
Dave: 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, because that’s sort of/when you look back, it’s funny; because 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.
Ann: Well, think about, even with the pandemic,—
Ann: —I would guess every single listener has experienced loss.
Dave: I mean, even your son or daughter graduating from high school, and not getting to walk—you watch that—that hurts.
Dave: But today, we’re talking about something that is really deeper. It might be the deepest pain a person—especially a parent—will ever experience: the loss of a child/the death of a child. That’s hard.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: I think how a person handles pain or loss determines how we live. I think it’s that big.
Dave: Whatever that loss is—how we navigate that—determines the present and the future of our life. Today, we’re going to talk about a heavy topic. I mean, really, one of the heaviest ones we’ve ever covered; don’t you think?
Dave: Yes. We’ve got Eric Schumacher in the studio today. Eric is 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 FamilyLife Today.
Eric: Yes, it’s good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Dave: I know you’re smiling over there, but you’ve written a book about loss. I’ve never seen a book really that’s dealt with this topic. There are 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 are 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. Tell us a little bit about your family, what you do, and maybe even where this project started.
Eric: Like you said, I’m in Iowa. I’m an associate pastor at a church where I preach, counsel, lead worship: do anything that somebody else isn’t doing. [Laughter]
Dave: Did you just say you preach; you counsel; you lead worship?
Dave: You are a pretty busy guy.
Eric: I am a busy guy.
Ann: And on top of that, he’s written a couple books—several.
Eric: —and host a podcast.
Dave: There you go! You have anything else going on?
Eric: I’m full-time in seminary—[Laughter]
Dave: Are you serious?
Eric: —pursuing a masters in counseling.
Ann: And what is your podcast called?
Eric: Worthy, and it’s cohosted with Elyse Fitzpatrick.
Ann: And that’s when you guys were on FamilyLife Today before,—
Ann: —with Elyse, talking about Worthy.
Eric: Yes, talking about that book. That was a great conversation.
Ann: It was.
Dave: With all that going on, I’m guessing you still have a family.
Eric: I do; I have a great family. I’ve been married to Jenny for enough years now that we sometimes lose count. [Laughter] We have five children: one who is 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.
Dave: It’s a house full.
Eric: It’s a house full, and my mother-in-law just moved in with us about six months ago.
Eric: She was widowed five years ago; we lost my father-in-law to leukemia. One of our priorities was finding a house that had an apartment attached—
Ann: That’s really sweet.
Eric: —that she could live independently but near us. It’s been good having her there.
Dave: You’ve walked through—what we were just talking about—loss. Tell us a little bit about the losses that you’ve experienced.
Eric: Yes, 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. That [miscarriage] was a surprise to me. I think the first time I had ever heard about miscarriage was, maybe, when I was in high school. I heard about an aunt’s miscarriage; that was the first time I remember hearing about it [miscarriage].
Then I didn’t hear about it until, at least, seminary where there were a lot of couples our age. They had been married a few years and were starting to have kids; we were hearing about people’s miscarriages. 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. That was the first time I ever heard a man speak about how he had gone through miscarriage.
We had three children before we had a miscarriage—so the fourth one/the first miscarriage—came as a surprise because pregnancies had gone well before; but statistically, that would be normal. It’s around 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. I just determined that, as we had these, that I was going to talk about it. 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.
Dave: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man talk about it.
Eric: It’s very confusing for a lot of reasons. The idea of manhood—that men are strong, and they are caregivers, and they are protectors—and somehow, in this, you didn’t protect your child is what it can feel like. Now, you’re providing for your wife as she is the one who had the miscarriage.
You might be a mess, emotionally, inside because every miscarriage has a father. As a father, you are 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. Now, you’ve lost this child.
Ann: I’m still stuck on: “We had four miscarriages,”—like that’s a family.
Eric: It is.
Ann: It is a whole family.
Eric: It is.
Ann: And I’m also just reeling, thinking of you guys are raising three kids—which I am assuming they were pretty young—
Eric: Yes, they were.
Ann: —now, you’re dealing with grief [and] surprise. 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 are anticipating—and what’s going on.
That was the first one. I think you are both right—if you haven’t experienced it or know someone who has gone through it—you just think, “Oh, they just 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 is your loss too—you’re thinking: “I need to protect my wife,” “So how do I grieve in this?”
Eric: Yes; each of them was very unique and at different stages in the pregnancy. The first one was so early in the pregnancy that, had she not taken a pregnancy test, we might have just thought it was a late period or something like that. We found out she was pregnant, and then basically found out—
Ann: —she wasn’t.
Eric: —she was miscarrying. 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. It raises questions: “Will we be able to get pregnant again?” and “What does this mean?”
At the same time, my brother, who had/his wife had an ectopic pregnancy, where the baby had implanted in the tube; so that’s deadly. She had to go in and have that pregnancy terminated to save her life. That was the same day that we found out about ours.
Dave: Same day?!
Eric: There was—to us/we hadn’t announced a pregnancy—“Do we say anything to anyone about it? Our loss isn’t as dramatic as theirs was. We don’t want to say anything about our loss, because we will take away from their loss,”—which I don’t think is a good mindset, but that is the kind of thing you wrestle with.
The kids didn’t know—we’re sad; Jenny is sad—there are medical things going on with the miscarriage: cramping and all those sorts of things. How do you explain to the kids why mommy is not feeling well and why she is sad? And do you say anything to them? That was an example of a very early miscarriage.
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? That was what the first one was.
Our fourth one was very similar to that. We already had our five living children. We had just moved to a new church; we’d been there four weeks in. 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.” We had stopped because the pregnancies had become increasingly difficult for her and damaging to her body.
We were in this state of going: “Oh, we didn’t want to have more children, but we know we should want this child.” Then you feel this guilt over not wanting what you should want. Then you come to a point where: “Your children are a good gift from God. We trust God in all of this.”
Ann: It’s funny how our minds are like—now, you’re like, “Okay, well…”
Ann: Then you start getting excited.
Eric: Then we were excited. God’s going to give grace in this, and this is a good thing. We were already thinking about this next baby; and then, we lost the baby, not too far in. 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?” That was another experience that was unique.
Dave: You had—I don’t know which one it was—it was a longer term pregnancy.
Eric: We did.
Dave: Explain that one, because that—I mean, I don’t know the difference in grief or trauma—are they totally different?—because this one is a much longer term pregnancy. At least, tell us how that went; and then describe: “Is it different?”
Eric: It was different, and it brought different challenges. 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 Jenny didn’t want to have a D&C, 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 the child would end up only being about the size of the palm of your hand. It was/that was our choice. We went in, and she was induced and went into labor. We were there while she was having contractions, and all that pain that comes with a live birth, and going through that.
I was in that room when the baby came out. 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. I wish, to this day, that I had.
Ann: You do?
Eric: 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 little baby? She would probably think I was weird and stupid.” So I didn’t.
My focus was on Jenny as well, because she was not feeling well. I called the nurse, and I told them. They came in, and they took the baby’s body away. Then, almost immediately, whisked her off into surgery because she required some further treatment. It was the treatment we had hoped to avoid. All of a sudden, I’m sitting in a room by myself; I don’t know what is 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. There is a sense of loneliness that came in there.
Ann: I’m so sad for you because—I feel sad for your wife, too, Jenny—but so often, you don’t think about the dad.
Ann: You are sitting in there all alone, maybe, even thinking, “I should have picked him up!”
Eric: Yes; when we got to the hospital, they knew what the situation was obviously. 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 in the hallway.
Ann: So you weren’t on a birthing floor.
Eric: We weren’t on a birthing—we were on a birthing floor—
Ann: Oh, the wing.
Eric: —the wing was different. We still heard the chime go off every time a baby was born, but they had taped a rose to our door. 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. They brought them to Jenny, but dads could go and get them from a little mini cafeteria. The meals were only available at certain slots during the day. Without even thinking about it, I head down to get my meal. The room was full of dads. All the dads are in there talking about what they had—
Eric: —celebrating—showing each other pictures of babies or what they were expecting. It finally gets around the room to me; and someone says, “What about you?” The feelings that come up are: “Wow! I’m going to be such a disappointment to this room and to these men. I wish I wasn’t here.
Ann: —like: “I’m going to be a downer.”
Eric: “I’m going to be a downer”; yes. “I’m going to introduce death into their celebration of life.”
Dave: What did you do?
Eric: I told them: “Our baby died in the womb, and my wife is delivering it,”—or had delivered it. Everyone expressed their sorrow, but the energy was sucked out of the room. And then I made the point of—shame drives you to behave different—I made the decision that, when I went for meals, I just waited until the last ten minutes they were available because I knew all the other dads would be gone.
And similarly, they only give those wrist bands to patients who have been admitted, so Jenny had a wrist band. Of course, a live baby would have had a wrist band; but the father doesn’t have a wrist band unless a live baby is born. Then they put one on him so he can be identified with the baby.
When I would have to leave the maternity ward—to maybe take a phone call, or meet someone who had come and wanted to visit, or run an errand—to get back in, I’d have to go to the nurses’ station. They’d say: “Can I see your band, please?” I would 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. It was awkward situations of having to share your grief.
And even, we chose to bury that baby. We called; and we told the nurse who had come in: “We would like to see the baby now.” It was the next day; 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.” We said, “We know; we understand that.” Part of it is there is no firm skeletal structure; and after a day, fluids have evaporated; so it looks very different. But we insisted.
A woman, who was actually a nurse, who was a daughter of one of the women in our church was on duty. She was so good to us and brought the baby in on a little felt blanket. We could count toes and fingers and ribs and all this.
Ann: What was in you, Eric—both of you—that you wanted to see the baby?
Eric: I think it was the sense that this was our child, and we believe that life in the womb is life from conception.
Eric: It was important to us, and you don’t always have this opportunity. 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.” It was emotional for both of us, like: “This is our child that we have not been able to meet.” I believe that we will meet this child in heaven one day,—
Eric: —which is weird that we have four children, who are better acquainted with Jesus than we are.
Ann: You’re going to have a big family in heaven.
Eric: Yes, I look forward to that.
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?” We were left alone and had our time. We were ready for Jenny to go home; we were about to leave the hospital. I called the nurses’ station and said, “We would like someone to come get our baby.” She’s confused, like, “What are you talking about?” So then I had to explain again, like, “Our baby was delivered dead.”
Every time you have to do that, you just feel very awkward, like you are a downer—even when we had the burial at the cemetery—we brought our kids there, and a little spot in their little baby land cemetery. It might just be me—that I’m too afraid of people, or care too much about that, or it might just be pride—but even thinking: “You know what? I’ve done funerals for this exact situation before for friends and church members.” But thinking: “That funeral director over there, I know he is being paid; but he probably thinks this is weird or a waste of time.” Of course, he wasn’t thinking that.
Ann: 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 are identifying with so much if they’ve experienced it.
Dave: Well, and the question is, from me: “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?”
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Eric Schumacher on FamilyLife 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 is 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 is a great time to check out FamilyLife’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, 25OFF, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Eric Schumacher and the grief of miscarriage for a father.
Eric: I would say, it probably depends on the couple—
Eric: —and the person, because I wrestled with a lot of shame in there. I think a part of that was, when you are in a culture that doesn’t value life in the womb, the question that is always pressing on you is: “Is it right for me to mourn the loss of life in the womb and particularly life that you may have never seen?”
I don’t think the church does well at grappling with that issue, particularly because no one has 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, can sometimes—there is a lot of compassion shown toward the mother—but people don’t know what to do with dad.
Ann: Could you just address the men, who have walked through this—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?”
Eric: I think the first thing I would want to say is: “You are a father who has lost a child. It is good and right for you to mourn and to grieve that loss, because it is a very real loss of a child.” 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. He knew your baby; He knows your loss; and He knows what it is like to be put in shameful situations. He knows what it is like to lose someone who is very precious to Him. He stands outside of Lazarus’s tomb in [the book of] John, and He weeps. He knows what it is like to be angry at death. He knows all these emotions that you are feeling.”
The author of Hebrews says: “He had to be made like His brothers and sisters in every respect so that He might be a merciful high priest.” It’s not just that He had to be made human so that He could die as our substitute—you know, dying for our sin—it’s also/the author goes on to say that He can sympathize with our weaknesses and our temptations because He has 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 is like. So, from experience, Jesus knows what we need in these moments. He is a trusted friend that we can and should go to with great expectations of comfort and help.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Eric Schumacher on FamilyLife 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 FamilyLife, we want to send you a copy of Jennie 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 Schumacher and how hiding your grief can damage a marriage and prevent healing.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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