A Requiem for Murray

I’ve read a fair number of these things and more than a few of them are written in second person. That bothers me. First, who is this writer to tell me how I feel? Second, it implies there’s some sort of universality to the experience…you WILL feel these emotions.

Oh, the experience I’m talking about: losing a baby. As I read that, I want to make a joke–just like losing your car keys, something about being absent-minded…but that’s a defense mechanism. It’s how I deal with the arbitrary, soul-crushing stuff that just happens, when there’s no villain and nobody to blame.

Ok, time to pull this stuff together, make it coherent. These are tough emotions to deal with. Maybe that’s why people write about them in the second person. Bear with me.

Let me approach it a different way: with the happy ending. As I’m composing my first draft of this, I’m laying in bed. My son woke up early this morning because of a cold, so he’s now nestled in between my wife and me, sleeping soundly, his arm thrown over his eyes and his head pressed into me. He’s two and a half, funny, smart, and kindhearted. Our daughter, six weeks old, is lying in her bassinet, making some sort of grunting noise, as infants do. She’s started smiling regularly at me when I talk to her, which shows she already has an advanced sense of humor. This is my family, my rock, and even when I’m not sure of anything else in my life, I’m sure of them and of our love for each other. We call ourselves Team Duvall, half-jokingly, but that’s really how it feels.

So it ends up ok, for me. Another reason I avoid the you: I hope it ends up ok for everyone in our circumstance, but I can’t promise that. There isn’t, as far as I can tell, some sort of cosmic balance sheet that makes sure you end up evened out.

Four years ago, at almost exactly this time, my wife and I were imagining what our soon-to-be-expanded family would be like. Did we hope for a boy or a girl? We were back and forth on that one. Would s/he be hairy like me? Which features would s/he get from each of us? We’d done the intake forms at the OBGYN practice, had the sample formula tins lined up like little soldiers on the counter. We’d only told our parents, because of course it was still early, but we were excited. Happy. A little nervous. We had songs already for the baby–“I throw my hand buds in the air sometimes, saying Ay-yo.”

The day of THE check-up, I had to go back to the school where I taught to do some tutoring. Right before I had to leave, they were putting the little portable heart rate monitor on my wife’s stomach. I hoped to hear our baby’s heart beat for the first time, but there was nothing but static.

“It’s ok,” the nurse assured us. “They’re so small now, sometimes we can’t find it.”

I wasn’t worried. Everything was fine. I left and went to tutoring. The students weren’t happy to be there, but I was. I was going to be a dad! I had put my phone on silent, because why wouldn’t I? I wouldn’t need to be poised for news for another 7 or 8 months. Then I’d need it on at work, so I could rush to the hospital to see the little guy or gal come into the world.

So I missed the call from my mother-in-law. I listened to the voice mail as I left school. I was numb. I didn’t know what to feel.

There was bloodwork to be done, just to confirm what the emergency ultrasound had already shown.

Each pregnancy has a 1 in 1000 chance of being a molar pregnancy, one in which an empty egg somehow gets fertilized. It’s not viable, and can become cancerous, spreading throughout the mother’s body. In extreme cases it can lead to death.

Our baby wasn’t going to ever be a s/he. We would never hold it, never comfort it through it’s first fever, never kiss a boo boo, never teach it to ride a bike.

My wife had to have surgery, then follow up care for months to make sure there was no malignant tissue anywhere.

We were devastated. Everything seemed dull and grey to me. My wife and I supported each other through the grief, pain, anger–the whole spectrum of emotions. But we dealt with them in completely different ways. My wife wanted to tell those around us, to explain what had happened. I couldn’t deal with the platitudes or assurances of some greater plan, so I didn’t tell anyone. I tried to work more, so I wouldn’t think about it, but I’m sure that year I was not a very effective teacher. I was angry a lot. I exercised more. I avoided talking about it, except to my wife, but I couldn’t avoid thinking about it. When that stupid Ay-yo song would come on the radio, I changed the station.

In retrospect, my wife was right. I should have told people. The platitudes are annoying, but they’re what we have to let people know we care. And sometimes just sharing that pain can help us recover.

Four years have passed. I don’t know if I can ever be “over it.” But I’m not angry about it any more. I am still sad for the possibilities that we never got to realize, but I have so much good to be grateful for that I can’t be negative about the past. Here’s one of those platitudes I hate: the things we’ve lost make us more grateful for the things we have now. That one, for me, may be true. Your own mileage may vary.

So, here is where my big takeaway should go. Except I don’t really have one. I wrote this because October has been deemed pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. I also wanted to share how this affects fathers too, because when we lost Murray the Molar (our gallows humor attempt to make things better), I looked for information/online groups for fathers and found one abandoned WordPress site. I want people to know that we suffer too when our partners lose a baby. It’s a different kind of suffering, but no less legitimate, and we may deal with it in different ways, but it is still real. Hemingway said that “the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.” Sometimes it’s ok–better, even–to be broken.

And that’s all I have for you.


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