Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On the Death of a Child

I’ve been ambivalent about having kids since it became an option.  I value my alone time.  I’m not good with loud noises, and I’ve never had that innate yearning to be a parent that a lot of people feel.  I knew that I didn’t want more than 2, the replacement rate.  I would have been satisfied with one.  My wife and I agreed we’d start with one, and see what happened after that.  After buying a house and moving to Phoenix in the summer of 2006, 2 weeks later we discovered we were pregnant.  It was a terrible pregnancy.  Sarah couldn’t keep food or liquids down, and often times didn’t have any warning that the nausea was coming.  She couldn’t keep the nausea pills down (why do they prescribe a pill for nausea?), so she had to take Zofran, a dissolvable tablet made for chemo patients, with a price tag of $40 per pill.  We spent the night of September 11, 2006 in the ER of a nasty Phoenix hospital, waiting for an IV so Sarah could stay hydrated enough to keep the baby.  We finally got out of there at 4am, and for the rest of the pregnancy, it was a routine of working, sleeping and trying to keep fluids down for Sarah, and working, sleeping, and a half dozen bottles of carpet cleaner for me.

We moved back to Portland a month before Taylor was born.  To compensate for the misery of the pregnancy, the delivery was a fantastic event.  The doctor induced labor at 8am, and Sarah gave birth at 3:15pm.  No drugs, no spinal, not a peep.  Sarah had a 7 hour, silent, drugless delivery.  I have to admit I hadn’t given parenthood a whole lot of thought during the pregnancy.  Our days were consumed with fighting against vomiting and figuring out what to do with this house we just bought.  Parenthood hit me all at once when they cleaned Taylor up and Sarah got to hold her for the first time.  My flesh had become someone else’s flesh.  My identity on this planet had changed in a hurry.  There was now a human being whose literal life and death was half-contingent on me and my actions.

I didn’t like the infant stage.  I’ll admit being terrified during those times when I had Taylor by myself at home.  Often times I simply didn’t have what she wanted, and no bottle, diaper or nap was going to change that.  It’s a feeling of helplessness that can’t be duplicated.  I don’t think the emotional connection really began until about age one when Taylor started walking.  She now had choices, and preferences, and to a limited extent, free will.  She was becoming her own, unique person.  My enjoyment of parenting has grown with her age.  In two days she turns five, and I never feel as happy as I do when I talk with her.  She tells me about her day at preschool, about which princesses are her favorite, and how much she loves the band Flyleaf (“daddy, play the one where Lacey screams I’m So Sick!  I love it when she screams so loud!).  She is a sensitive girl - scared of everything, but not too scared to talk about it.  She has learned how to put herself in other people’s shoes, something I’m still not very good at.

Towards the end of 2010, we decided to go off birth control.  In my mind, we’d give it a year, and it if happened, fine, if it didn’t happen, that’s fine too.  The age gap had started to widen, and I don’t like the idea of having kids that are spread out in age (I want them out of the house before I’m 50!  A man needs his freedom!).  In February 2011, Sarah’s hoarding of pregnancy tests finally bore fruit, and the stick had 2 lines on it.  So say Taylor was excited was an understatement.  For weeks, all she talked about was what she was going to do when the baby came.  She would play with her (she was convinced it would be a girl), comb her hair, show her all her dolls.  She told everyone she saw that mommy had a baby in her tummy, and she wanted to name the baby Lilly.  Or Lucy.  Or…

In late March of 2011, we lost our second child.  It happened in a grocery store restroom.  Sarah was alone.  I received the call around 11am, and like I am prone to do, I informed my boss, without emotion, that Sarah had a miscarriage, and I was going home for the day.  Sarah’s reaction was immediate - emotional, angry, frustrated, sad, everything.  I felt nothing.  This happens all the time, I told myself.  Women miscarry all the time, and usually they don’t even know they were pregnant.  It seems natural enough.  No need to get too worked up about it.

My emotional state changed after I brought Taylor home from daycare.  We all sat down on the couch to talk, something we never do.  She could sense something was wrong.  I summoned all the courage I could find, and told my daughter that something happened to the baby, and the baby died.  She wasn’t going to be a big sister, at least not right now.  That’s all I could spit out for awhile.  Unlike the kind of sad she gets when she skins her knee or has to go to bed, Taylor’s face got sort of pale, and she came to embody sorrow in a way I’ve never seen before.  She didn’t cry.  She just…felt.  She asked a few normal, soft questions, and Sarah answered  as best she could.  I just cried.  I couldn’t look at Taylor.  I grabbed a pillow and hid my face, and just cried. When I could speak again, I held her as close as I could and whispered in her ear that I’m so sorry, I know how much you wanted to be a big sister.  My sorrow, in that moment, was not for myself, not for my wife, and not for the child we had lost.  My sorrow was for my failure to deliver what my daughter wanted more than anything else.

We lost the baby over a year ago.  Most days, I still rationalize it with science, because the facts are true, even if I don’t like them.  Miscarriages really do happen all the time.  It’s not an affliction abnormal to people, and I don’t feel cursed or treated unfairly.  But I wonder.  I wonder what we would have named our child.  He or she would be almost 6 months old right now.  How would our lives be different?  We haven’t had the same luck with fertility since then.  Maybe we’ll luck out, maybe we won’t.

Most days, I don’t think about it.  But Sarah did something I’ve come to appreciate.  She made a memory box, with an infant outfit, a shoe, a baby book, pacifier, and a necklace.  She cut out some words, and framed it in.  When I need to, I spend a moment looking at that box.  It bring back those moments on the couch, when I felt more sorrow than I’ve felt before.  I can feel what I need to feel, and leave those feelings there, in that room, focused on those two terrible words, “miss you.”

I wrote some crappy poetry about this subject, if you're so inclined:


  1. I feel you, man. We lost two before our second child, and it was really, really hard. I don't know if this makes sense, but I felt as thought I had lost something I never had. I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. This is powerful. I'm reading in a coffee shop and trying to stay composed 'cause it's a public place. Appreciate you sharing so honestly.