Devastatingly Normal | Patrick French

Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters were about to make their third encore of the evening at the TD Garden in Boston. At that point, they’d been wailing away at our eardrums for a little under three hours; a relentless onslaught of punk rock-metal, roaring guitars, thunderous drums and Dave’s screeching voice.

“We don’t play fucking one hour shows.” he’d said at the beginning of the show. “We don’t play fucking two hour shows. We don’t play fucking three hour shows.” He went on: “You know why? Because we fucking love to play. We know that all you guys are old like us now, and had to pay for a fucking sitter to fucking come out tonight. SO WE’RE GONNA MAKE SURE YOU GET YOUR FUCKING MONEY’S WORTH!”


My wife and I love the Foo Fighters. And he was right. We had gotten a sitter that night. We did want to get our money’s worth.

On any other occasion we would have nodded and thought, “Yeah, bring on that third encore!” But that night, you couldn’t have found two more stoic people at a rock show. We just stared at the big screen which showed Dave playfully giving us the middle finger from backstage. We were spent. Emotionally drained. As much as we love the Foo Fighters, that night we were only there for two reasons:

  1. We’d bought the tickets months earlier, and they were awesome seats.
  2. We desperately needed a distraction. What better distraction than having our ears bludgeoned by an extra-long version of “My Hero”?

The Foos were putting on a great fucking show. But they couldn’t change the cold, hard reality of the news we’d received only a few hours earlier.

On the night of the concert, we’d been living in Boston for a little over a decade. We’re both from Ohio, met at Kent State University, and were friends through college. We somehow managed to fall in love shortly after graduation in 2001, a mere month before JoAnna was set to move to Boston for grad school. I made the logically sound, completely surefire decision to move out there as well. I had no job and $400 to my name, which totally seemed like enough to me at the time. Did I mention we’d only been dating a month?

That $400 lasted two weeks. Thankfully, JoAnna and I had more staying power. We fell more deeply in love, and got married. I got involved in the Boston comedy scene, and started having some real–albeit minimally paid–success. In 2008 we had our first child, Timmy. New parent stress aside, we were figuring it out.

I had always wanted kids, but hadn’t really thought through how it would affect my life. You hear that cliché: “Having kids will change your life.” I’m still the first to gag when I hear that. But I also can’t deny the truth behind it. It does change your life. Profoundly. You suddenly give significantly less of a shit about yourself. I mean, a small amount of selfishness never goes away. But having a kid kills at least 75% of your ego.

It was also really powerful to see how it changed JoAnna. Admittedly, she was never really a “kid person.” She didn’t hate kids, but she wasn’t drawn to them like some people are. But when Timmy came along, she was head over heels in love with him.

After a couple of years passed, we were ready for another kid. We both had siblings growing up, and wanted Timmy to experience the joy (and pain) that goes with that.

So, we started making the sex.

At first, it was great. We did it whenever we wanted, and assumed a baby would follow: with Timmy, we got pregnant no problem. In fact, you almost could say we weren’t exactly trying to get pregnant with Timmy. It just sorta happened.

A few months passed and we weren’t getting pregnant. Suddenly, we felt a little bit of pressure. We consulted our doctor and “researched” the best ways to get pregnant using our most trusted source, the Internet. We learned to “figure out our fertile days.” Also, that missionary style is always best because it “allows sperm to pool in her vagina, giving them an edge in swimming toward the egg.” Are you aroused yet?

Things got ssssssssscheduled. I mean, we mapped out when, where, and how frequently to do it according to JoAnna’s ovulation cycle, whether or not we were in the mood. It was hot. By which I mean I was sweating a lot from the effort.

Ultimately, we made it work. We got into a groove, and eventually JoAnna got pregnant. I’d tell people we were excited–and we were. But mostly, we were relieved that the nightmarish robot sex was over. Now we just had to wait a few weeks to let family know, and then a few weeks more to let our friends know. Which we did, sort of.

You’re supposed wait until you’re at least 12 weeks pregnant before sharing the news, because the risk of miscarriage is pretty high up until then. So, we waited…until week six, when we may as well have been holding onto a hot poker, desperate to drop it. We couldn’t help ourselves. We were too excited, and we happened to be on a vacation with JoAnna’s family. So, we broke the news. Everyone was thrilled.

We told our friends. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. The floodgates opened. I mean, at 10 weeks she already had a little baby bump. The only personal news outlet we didn’t use yet was Facebook. But we were certainly starting to draft that post in our heads.

We had our first appointment with the doctor. This was an exciting one–we were going to get to hear our baby’s heartbeat. JoAnna got up on the table, the doctor put that weird gooey crap all over her belly, and then put this thing called a “fetal Doppler” on it so the main event could begin.

We listened. And listened. And listened. We didn’t hear anything. The doctor looked a little concerned, but said this can happen sometimes. So she sent us down to radiology to get a sonogram. The radiologist could not have been more emotionless. I was watching her face the whole time, trying to get some sense of reaction from her. But I saw nothing.

After about what seemed like hours (it was only a few minutes), she finally looked up, made eye contact with us, and said, “I’m sorry, but you’ve lost the baby.” My wife, without missing a beat, said, “No, I didn’t lose the baby. It’s dead inside me. I know exactly where it is.”

PSA: Don’t ever tell a pregnant woman she “lost” her baby. She miscarried. She didn’t “lose her baby” like she might lose a pair of sunglasses.

Just a few hours earlier, we were on top of the world. Now everything was upside down. JoAnna was beside herself, and all I could do was hold her. I was upset, but also felt immediate, severe embarrassment. We’d told pretty much everyone in our lives we were pregnant. Now we basically had to say, “Oh, that? Nevermind.”

Over the next few weeks we slowly got the word out. It was brutal. Especially when people unknowingly asked how JoAnna was feeling. I’d respond “Well, actually…” It was awful seeing the realization crossing their faces, and I found myself in the weird position of trying to make them feel better for asking.

I was ashamed of the shame.

But it wasn’t a total shitstorm. Tons of people–some we knew well, and some we didn’t–told us that they had gone through the exact same thing. Miscarriages are more common than you realize.

Time passed. We were still sad from the loss, but encouraged by the fact that there wasn’t anything wrong with us. We weren’t broken. We could make another baby. We really could.

So, we started trying again. Remember how difficult I said it was to perform the last time around? Well, now imagine that pressure on steroids.

To give you context, we all just witnessed LeBron pull off the impossible–bringing a championship to Cleveland. He looked history dead in the eye, and all the pent up fan frustration that came with it, and said, “I got this.” Then he did it. He shed blood, sweat and tears, and then BLAM! The Cavs won and Northeast Ohio ejaculated.

The pressure King James felt didn’t compare to my own pressure to seal the deal the second time around. Sex was miserable. Rigid, urgent, joyless. We had the facial expressions of people trying to defuse a bomb. We tried everything: she’d wear sexy lingerie, we’d watch porn together, and I started doing push ups beforehand so I’d feel more manly.

But my penis wouldn’t cooperate. It got so bad that the only boners I could count on were involuntary ones. Morning wood became my best friend. I’d wake JoAnna up, say “Come on, I don’t know how long this’ll last!” and then get down to business. It was as romantic as it sounds, and about as effective. As soon as we started, my brain would fuck me by preventing me from fucking my wife. This internal morning wood-voice, for some reason sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger, would start chiming in with little reminders: “Come on, Patrick. Do it! You’ve got to ejaculate! You can’t make a baby unless you CUUUUMMMM!”

These pep talks always resulted in the same thing: frustration and flaccidity. One night, JoAnna erupted with, “You better not be masturbating when I’m not around!!!” I shouted back: “I’m not! You don’t control my penis!!!”

But somehow, against all odds, we got pregnant again. We were reserved. As the weeks progressed, we got more encouraged. We started planning how to fit two kids in our small, two-bedroom apartment. We had our eye on a “big brother” t-shirt for Timmy.

By week six, it happened again.

JoAnna had a sonogram at the doctor’s, and they told us she was having an ectopic pregnancy. Which meant her egg was fertilized in the fallopian tube instead of her uterus. In other words, we weren’t having a baby.

In the medical world, miscarriages are insignificant. The doctors will tell you that miscarriages are absolutely normal. But when it happens to you, it’s devastating. You cycle through an exhausting swing of emotions. From excitement when you first get pregnant, to the shock of finding out it failed, then to disappointment and anger, and finally grief.

I couldn’t have felt more powerless—and I could only imagine the depths of the pain JoAnna felt. It’s crazy enough to know that you have a living thing growing inside you, but to then have it die inside you? It’s horrific. We worked so hard to get pregnant. I finally got her pregnant. And now those babies died. Twice.

We were numb this time around. Defeated. We left the doctor’s office and made our way to our favorite Mexican place. Shoving burritos into our faces seemed like appropriate therapy. As we ate, we realized we had to make a decision.

Would we or would we not go to the Foo Fighters show that night?

While tempted to either sell the tickets or just not go, we ultimately decided that it would be good for us to suck it up. Not wallow in the disappointing news. Get a little drunk on overpriced beer. Maybe a lot drunk. Spend $30 on a Foo Fighters t-shirt. Let Dave Grohl make our ears bleed.

So we went. It wasn’t easy. We found ourselves surrounded by happy, carefree, drunk and high concertgoers. I felt immediately resentful, irrational thoughts racing through my head: How can these people be acting so normal and happy? Don’t they know what JoAnna and I are going through? That our lives have screeched to an absolute fucking halt?

But once the show started, I knew it was the right decision. The alternative would have been to go home, force a happy face for Timmy, and then lie awake in bed. Replay the gut-punching news over and over again. To hell with that. In the midst of the concert chaos, JoAnna and I held each other’s hands tightly. We were still in for a lot of heartache in the coming weeks. But in that moment, we allowed ourselves to let go. Push all the awfulness aside for a moment, and just be.

Thanks, Dave Grohl.

Patrick FrenchPatrick French has been performing as an actor and comedian since 2002. An Akron, Ohio native, he recently moved back to Northeast Ohio after 15 years in Boston, MA. He is currently the founder and artistic director of Crooked River Comedy in Cleveland, and a proud cast member of Just Go With It Improv in Akron. He also produces and performs in “The Angriest Show in the World,” a completely make-believe anger management seminar that inevitably spirals out of control.

While in Boston, Patrick was an improv instructor and director at ImprovBoston, and performed in their Mainstage troupe from 2007-2012. Prior to that, he performed with the Improv Asylum’s NXT cast. His accolades include ImprovBoston’s 2005 “Rookie of the Year” and “Best Actor” at Boston’s 2010 48-Hour Film Festival for his lead role in A Few Flowers More.

You may have seen Patrick in a small role opposite Frances McDormand in the Emmy-winning HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge. He has also appeared in TV commercials for ESPN, Sears, W.B. Mason, Chili’s, and Papa Gino’s Pizza, where he’s typically played hapless office workers, annoying hipsters, and goofy suburban dads.

%d bloggers like this: