The Fatherhood Chronicles CIX

Father to the Unseen

I had a difficult moment at work yesterday. Through an otherwise innocuous and tangential comment by one of my employees, I was brought back quite forcefully to the days in December in which we learned that our baby had died in utero. That comment struck me such that all the grief of those days came back in one pinpoint of focus.

I said, when I got control of my emotions, “That was unexpected.” And it was. I did not think that I had put this behind me, but I did not think the emotions were still so raw. I suppose I should have. When I first learned that the baby had died, my first and pretty much my only emotion was one of anger. Yes there were tears and sorrow, but it was primarily a cold stone of anger sitting in my chest. The death had come so hard on the heels of the difficulties with my family over Thanksgiving, over which there was already some significant hurt and anger, that I don’t know whether I could have had any other response than I did. I know that I didn’t want to talk about the baby’s death. I know that I was angry. That framed the reality for me.

But before I could do anything constructive about that, Anna’s body finally began to take care of the baby’s dead body, and she nearly bled to death. What else could I do? Now my thoughts and feelings were overwhelmed with chaotic mixture of fear that I would lose Anna and relief that I did not.

I have experienced little else but confusion regarding the death of our baby in utero. As a father, this baby is wholly intangible to me. There is no physical connection. I never placed my hand on my wife’s belly and felt this baby kick. There was no sonogram to see the baby move around with, to trace the lines of its limbs. My arms had nothing to welcome, no child to hold. I do not know what my wife experiences with these children held under her heart, nor whether the nine to eleven weeks that the baby lived within her was any more tangible for her than it was for me. But I know only that there was no tactile connection that I can point to and say, “Ah, yes, I know this baby is real.”

So there is a sort of anger at myself, a lack of understanding, how it is that I can grieve for this person who was to me someone unfelt and invisible? For what am I grieving? An idea? A thought? Intellectually I can understand that this baby was a real person. Sure. But what is there for my heart to reach out to? What connection? I did not go through any nausea, any cramping. I certainly did not nearly bleed to death. I was a spectator to all these things. How is it that I have this sort of grief for the unseen, the unfelt, the imagined? Indeed, do I even have any right to grieve so, any justifiable cause to sorrow for this person who is little more than a concept to me?

And yet . . . . There is, I can think of no other way to describe it, this ache to hold this baby I will not see or otherwise know in this life. Is this what I grieve? This absence? Is this the loss for which I sorrow, that there will not be any tiny body to enfold in my arms, no arms that will wrap themselves around my neck and cling to me also? Where is this sibling of my daughters, this child of my wife, this person whom I fathered? Where is the casket, where the grave, which I can touch, to which I can go, on which I can throw myself and shed my tears? There is no body. The techniques of modern medical technology obliterated any body, and, I am told, the natural processes of Anna’s and the baby’s bodies, would have made it impossible to recognize the baby’s remains as a body. But without that, without something to touch, to carry, to hold, how can I grieve, how can reality give fullness to this sorrow?

So, again there are tears and sorrow, and again I feel guilty for grieving, I who could only sit mute and stunned and watch, distanced and apart.

There is this one thing that captures something of what I’m trying to say. Once she had found out the baby in Mommy’s tummy had died, Sofie said that she wanted to get in the car and drive to where Jesus and the baby were because she wanted to hug the baby.

Me too, Sofie. Me, too.