Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:4)
Disclaimer: Please understand in what you read below that I am writing from a man’s perspective. One man’s – just me. If it applies to many men, so be it. If it applies to many women too, so be it. Please, please understand that in writing from a man’s perspective here, I am by no means trying to negate or lessen a woman’s perspective, experience, or grief. I’m sure hers is far deeper than I will ever be able to imagine. Damn sure. It’s just that I can only write of a man’s. Maybe there’s no difference. But maybe there is.
Miscarriage, infant loss, is this man’s Kobayashi Maru. The Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise in the fictional Star Trek universe. It’s designed to test the character of academy cadets in a no-win scenario. Going into the exercise, the cadets aren’t aware that the test is fixed against them. Kind of like life – we go in unaware that sometimes no matter what we choose, we will fail.
The cadets are told that the goal of the exercise is to rescue the civilian vessel Kobayashi Maru while under the threat of the Klingons. But as you might expect in a no-win scenario, there is… gasp! no way to win. Hang around long enough to rescue the vessel, and war with the Klingons begins. Don’t rescue the vessel, and a thousand innocent civilians die.
Why even have a training exercise that’s impossible to win? Its real point is to let potential officers experience failure. To experience not being able to do anything about it. The Kobayashi Maru is a test of one’s character rather than one’s skills.
James Kirk, we find out, failed the test twice before ingeniously reprogramming the system prior to taking it the third time, and then winning. In other words, he cheated. Kirk, it seems, doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario. If only life were like that, Captain Kirk. Mr. Spock later calls him out on it by reminding him that the point of the Kobayashi Maru is not to win, but to face fear and accept the possibility of death.
Back in 1914, Robert Frost wrote a wrenching piece called Home Burial. It’s the story of a couple who lost their son. And in the course of their grieving, they begin to lose each other. They grieve so differently. Both are devastated, but in such different ways. She is lost, silent, destroyed. He’s a rage of energy. A task-doer. A fixer. But death is something the man in the story can’t fix. It’s his Kobayashi Maru. His no-win scenario.
I know a man — let’s call him Marty — who is also a fixer. If something’s wrong with a loved one – wife, daughter, son, cousin, friend – he wants to do what it takes to fix the situation. Or find the person who can fix it. Either way, when someone is broken, hurting, Marty needs to do something. He’s a linear thinker – narrow thinker, if you must. But when he sees, (A) Something is broken, he goes to (B) How do I fix it?
Do you know anyone like that? (Just curious, is it a man?)
I have a friend who suffered (and beat!) breast cancer, and she said of her husband, “He was so frustrated because he wanted to fix it, and he couldn’t.”
I have a friend whose adult son was killed in an automobile accident a number of years ago. She said of her husband, “He was so frustrated because he wanted to fix it, and he couldn’t.”
I know many, many women who have had miscarriages, and without fail every wife said of her husband something to the effect of, “He was so frustrated because he wanted to fix it, and he couldn’t.”
October in many nations, including the United States, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Miscarriage is a painful path too many have to walk. And it’s often hidden. And lonely. Who do you share grief with when so few even knew you were pregnant? Too often the grieving and remembering remain unshared. And fair or not, the man is often one step further removed from engaging his grief.
And then there’s the problem of the Kobayashi Maru – the no-win scenario. You cannot fix losing your child during pregnancy. I’m a man, a husband, a father. Most people know me as a dad to three wonderful, now-grown kids. I am also the father of two tiny-ones that never saw the light of this world. Our first and fourth pregnancies ended in miscarriage. And the ‘man-thing’ impacted the way I responded to both losses.
In my need to fix, to beat the demon, to save to innocent, to seal the rift, what can I do in the loss of an infant? My own child I’d never meet. By the time you know, there’s nothing to fix. There’s no skill in the world that will bring them back. There’s no fix that will undo what’s done. Spock is right: to live is to face the possibility of death.
But still, my instincts drive me to fix. So what’s Marty to do when even his best instincts are futile? When he encounters his Kobayashi Maru. Maybe that’s where character comes in. To overcome even his better instincts. To accept what cannot be changed. To learn to grieve, and love, and live, even when he cannot fix. To learn to live even in the no-win scenario.
I’ll be 51 in a couple of weeks. Maybe one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn in those years is that miscarriage and infant death are not a test of skill, but a test of character.