Bill is a writer who lives in Niagara Falls, New York with his wife, Jenn & daughter, Katie. He still finds it shocking that the universe has entrusted him with the fate of another living thing.
Bill usually regales us with his humorous columns about his experiences as a dad. After a two-year hiatus, he returns on a much more serious note. The loss of a baby before she's born is a traumatic event that those who have experienced it have difficulty discussing. Bill describes the pain and healing that must take place before the parents can move on.
Nothing bad ever happened to me. I’ve never been out of work. Never had a health scare. Never lost a close relative, aside from the elderly variety.
Then came January 2010.
My wife Jenn went for what seemed to be a routine OB/GYN visit to check in on the baby girl we were expecting. We’d already named her Bridget, and were excited to welcome her into the world in May. Just another one of those rote appointments – get some jelly on the belly, try to make out the grainy images on the two-inch monitor, and off you go.
On that slushy winter afternoon, I should have known by the insistent string of missed calls on my cell phone that something was amiss. When I finally reached Jenn, she was audibly shaken. The doctor had identified an issue with the size of the baby and wanted her to go for a better ultrasound.
Complications. Abnormalities. Concerns. Those are words you pray not to hear during a nine-month period that continually toggles between blissful and frightening as it is. Two ultrasounds later, a rock of a nurse performed the unenviable duty of breaking it to us that there was not enough fluid to sustain Bridget’s development. The ultimate diagnosis was that her lungs were not forming properly. As it turned out, Bridget was not going to be joining us for family game nights or trips to the water park or any of the other shenanigans we engage in on a regular basis.
At the time, our prodigious and gregarious daughter Katie was four years old and already in big sister mode, complete with a t-shirt announcing her impending title change. The nausea is still palpable to me now when I revisit the day we had to tell Katie that her sister was needed in heaven – a strategy driven by the absence of any other way to frame such a crushing announcement. She took it shockingly well, a much-needed respite in a month that had not offered many. Over the past two years, though, she has broached the topic of her lost sister frequently. Coming from a child with so much unbridled joy, the occasional manifestation of her mourning is a gut-punch.
They say you’ll never love your wife more than the moment you witness her giving birth to your child. I had that experience when Jenn delivered Katie, and it was as moving as legend has it. Well, to be fair, I witnessed the C-section proceedings behind the safety of a crime scene blockade. But I’m here to tell you that there is a whole other level that, thankfully, most men never experience. And that is when you witness your wife delivering a child whom you already both know will not be alive when it emerges. One that she has been carrying insider her for weeks, an ever-present reminder of what was promised but shall not be.
I’m not particularly religious, though I do believe there is something greater than us out there. It might seem that such a tragic event would fill me with anger toward God. But it didn’t. I never thought, “Why us?” Because, frankly, why not us? These sorts of seismic traumas are a numbers game -- and ours came up at random. The fact that I had no one to blame made it all the more difficult to channel the rage. There was no one to dress down for their incompetence, no one to kick the proverbial crap out of.
In fact, I still have one misshapen knuckle on my right hand, a souvenir resulting from a full force roundhouse into the side of a cabinet. That kind of instantaneous anger still leaks out at inopportune moments. For a good six months I was terrified some unknowing soul would inadvertently set me off, because there was no telling the apocalyptic response it might engender.
My other remembrance is a tattoo of a Celtic cross on my right arm, the Cross of St. Bridget. Not that I need any prompting. I think of her every day. Still, the visual presence is reassuring to me.
Our family is moving on, because that’s all there is to do, really. Katie continues to grow and thrive, and still asks about getting a new sister. With biology failing to cooperate, we recently made the decision to become foster parents. Our hope is to help some kids who have caught their own bad breaks – and to do it in Bridget’s honor.
We are forever changed, some innocence lost, some of our softer edges permanently calcified. I curse what happened but I accept it. I believe wholeheartedly that my daughter is up there, somewhere, and that I will see her one day. And then, we will have shenanigans.