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The Lost Heartbeat

In a Heartbeat Elyssa Toda
What I learned about masculinity, fatherhood, and my career after losing our first baby [Photo credit: Eric Toda]
Eric Toda
Eric Toda, Reimagine

January 19, 2023

Reimagine is near to my heart as it was an outlet for me when I lost my first baby through a miscarriage. As I started to speak about my experience, I was doing so without guidance or direction - not knowing who to turn to or share my story with, Reimagine allowed me to connect and understand that my experience is part of the human experience, and I can help many by sharing it. I now sit on the Board of Directors to help Reimagine provide more opportunities for people to share their stories, find healing, and help others.

Here's a piece of my story:

What I learned about masculinity, fatherhood, and my career after losing our first baby

I still remember the first time I heard the most beautiful sound in the world: a heartbeat. It was fast, and I felt like my own heartbeat was trying to keep up with it. Before that moment, every time I imagined myself becoming a dad, I was a dad to a little girl. And this time, I didn’t have to imagine anymore. It was finally coming true. I fell in love that day in a small, fluorescent-lit doctor's office. That sound filled the whole room and my whole heart.

As I was listening to the whooshing sound from the computer monitor, every beat made me slowly realize: this is my true happiness.

I had been relentlessly focused on building my career. I thrived on the rush of winning awards, living and dying, trying to keep up with the endless chase to get on “lists,” and creating a portfolio of achievements. But in that moment, this tiny heartbeat made all of that seemingly big work so small.

In the days that followed, I felt myself change. I was more positive, optimistic, and empathetic.

This heartbeat changed me, and my wife. A brand new light shined on her, a light that accentuated everything about her in ways I can’t even begin to explain. That heartbeat was changing my dreams. I imagined all the future moments carrying my baby, the sound of my baby’s laugh, and everything I could share with them. — I was overwhelmed with joy, elated at everything that was to come.

The heartbeat became my favorite thing in the world.

And then, it was gone.

Two days before my 32nd birthday, that little heartbeat was no longer there.

The joy and promise that floated me was replaced with a heavy weight of desperation and grief.

Like many Asian American men, I was conditioned with the need to be strong.

Though that heartbreak took me to the darkest place I’ve ever been, I did what I was always taught: stay silent.

Nobody wants to hear about the loss of a child from miscarriage or the misfortune that you encounter in your life. Strength meant carrying it all inside, pushing past the pain and down deep. Mask everything with a smile; otherwise, people will think less of you.

That was my first mistake and one that I regret.

The feelings of grief and pain consumed my life quickly, just as quickly as the happiness did. Then the heartbreak morphed into anger each time I replayed the heartbeat in my memory. I blamed everything going wrong on myself. I desperately tried to find ways I could fix it because that’s the other thing men are supposed to do — we fix things. But there was nothing to fix.

The quiet moments were the worst. When I was alone in my thoughts, I tortured myself with the memory of that heartbeat and the imagined future that was stolen away..

No one knew. Not my friends, my family, no one.

Everyday conversations would push me deeper into my grief. Unknowing comments would worsen the pain, even if well-intentioned.

“Are you pregnant yet?” “What are you waiting for?”

Many people don’t realize the destruction that can occur from seemingly innocuous comments and questions. But beneath these words, the expectation is clear to many couples..

Why aren’t you pregnant? Is there something wrong with you? This should be easy.

At work, I tried to balance the demands of the job with the emotional turmoil I held inside. But when I was by my wife’s side as she underwent a surgical procedure to remove the once vibrant heartbeat — our baby, our joyous future — once again, the well-intentioned words wounded me.

Do you not care about the company? If you leave right now, there will be questions about your culture fit.

It broke me down.

And it made me realize that this was unhealthy. It was wrong. I tried to embody the ill-conceived notions of Asian American masculinity and the taboo of not talking about infertility, child loss, miscarriage.

But I decided it was time to confront the lies I was told, the lies that many of us are told.

That’s why I wrote this.

I wrote this because I learned three valuable lessons through our miscarriage:

Silence is not strong, and it is not masculine. Not talking was a big mistake: one that caused pain, trauma, and an unhealthy mental state. The truth is, many of us have lived through something similar and stayed silent. Like me, you were taught to be ‘a man’ and to hold it in. I wrote this in hopes my story and my mistake in staying silent gives you the courage to talk to someone about your pain and struggle. And so you know that you are not alone.

Everyone truly is struggling with something. In an era of portraying a perfect life, no one is without struggles. Be careful what you say because we never know another person’s situation and struggle. What you may consider important, they may not — that’s okay! But we must all recognize the power of our words and the impact they may have

It is masculine to embrace it all; grief and happiness. I believe my experience with pain and grief was a catalyst to reevaluate my life. By becoming more vulnerable, I realized I’ve always strived for a level of happiness reliant on chasing the ups of a career. But through this tragedy, I found a new definition of happiness. awards, the lists, and the portfolio — just make me a dad. That’s all I want. That’s happiness to me, and everything else is in service to that. I didn’t know what true happiness was until a heartbeat changed me. And the loss of that heartbeat changed me.

In the quiet moments, the heartbeat is still there in my mind. It’s a reminder. A reminder that we survived. A reminder of the important lesson that there is nothing masculine or strong about suffering in silence. There is always someone willing to listen, and I will also be that person to others.

A reminder that yes, there is happiness in career success, but it also comes in other forms. And for me, it’s becoming a new person: one that can embrace the pain and grief as much as the happiness, one that can speak about heartbreak, and most of all, one that can grow from it too.

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Resources on miscarriage and child loss from Reimagine community members:

About the Author: Eric Toda is the Head of Meta Prosper and Global Head of Social Marketing at Meta. He is a dedicated professional with a passion for leadership and marketing and brings a wealth of experience to his role. In addition to his professional endeavors, Eric is also a board member at Reimagine and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, where he is dedicated to helping others and working towards positive change.

Originally posted on Medium on January 27, 2018.