On Tuesday, July 21st our daughter Gwen, after providing us with 8 months worth of all the fear and joy that a pregnancy can, died before being given an opportunity to enter the world. This has been a week filled with both complete sadness, but also unexpected happiness. We have felt both the sting of loss, and the miracle that comes with knowing how strong you can be when you must. What follows is only the beginning of that journey. Thank you in advance for taking part in some of my own catharsis.
Allison was concerned that she had not felt the baby move in over 12 hours, so made a doctor’s appointment. I was very aware of the clock on that Tuesday morning. I had testified that I believed she was over reacting. Had she not had this same experience with Jack and everything was fine? I had this odd feeling come over me at about the same time that Allison was receiving the news: I knew that everything was going to be okay. Now, let me clarify. I didn’t know that our daughter would still be alive, but I KNEW that even if she wasn’t I would be alright. That Allison and I could get through it. I had faith that we had the strength to overcome a scenario that I found myself now praying would not come to pass. The phone rang and my heart sunk. “There’s no heartbeat, George, and she’s dead.”
“Ok.” I said. “It’s gonna be ok.”
When I met my wife at the hospital I took a very sanitary approach to the situation. There was no heartbeat and Gwen needed to be removed via C-Section. We had not yet named her and I saw little reason to do so. She was, after all, not “born”. This one didn’t go well, but surely future pregnancies would. Best not to dwell on it. Let’s just get back to normal. I found myself envious of Jack’s ignorance on the matter. All he knew was that he got to spend the night at his friend’s house and that you could look down on moving cars from the hospital window. Bliss was all he knew and I wanted that.
My clinical attitude was melted (as it should’ve been) in the face of an unmistakable feeling. My wife’s eyes and my own heart conveyed to me a punch that was both beautiful and sad. It was just love. Complete and pure love. This was my daughter, this IS my daughter and she is dead. It was then that I realized that I had never wanted to be a father to a little girl more than in that moment. I felt everything. I would not mourn her as a mistake, but as she was: a member of the family. My daughter who is now dead. We would name her Gwen.
I can pinpoint exactly when I came to this realization. I was outside the operating room, already dressed in my ridiculously large OR scrubs awaiting the nurse to tell me to come on in. I was in Labor and Delivery. My mind wandered to the throngs of happy mothers and fathers that would be lighting cigars that night. Then my eyes landed on the image in front of me:
Now, this hospital is right across the street from Disney Studios, so I aware of the lack of coincidence that the area known for delivering children would be decked out in DUMBO prints. It wasn’t the image, really. It was the feeling it stirred in me. I saw this innocent animal flying freely, no longer constrained by the limits of the earth. I saw this and I felt my daughter. I felt her all around me and I was filled with that love. Now, when Jack was born I was drunk. I was drunk when I drove my wife to the hospital. I was drunk when I first held my son in my arms and I was going through withdrawals from alcohol in the hospital while my wife recovered. In one month I had every intention of being there for Allison in a way I could not before. To hold her hand. Push her hair back. Be present. Instead, I got to be there for her now. I got to hold her hand and look her in the eye and tell her “everything is gonna be okay” as they pulled Gwen from her body. When the nurse asked if I wanted to see the baby, there was no question in my mind: yes.
We spent two hours holding our daughter. Her mother got to nap with her, to look at me and tell me “This feels amazing.” I got to sing her Cottleston Pie and we both got to give her a million tiny kisses for her to take with her on her journey. We were strong and vulnerable for each other and we never stopped communicating. It’s the most powerful thing that Allison and I have every had to go through together and I feel so much closer to her as a result. But, then you say goodbye to your Earthly little angel and are left with a hole the size of the universe. What do you fill that hole with? I suppose you could fill it with despair. You could start to question. Why? Why me? You could bring up the seemingly unfairness of it all. I’m happy to say that I never did that. Even though I don’t get to know the reason, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. That there is a plan that I’m not privy to, but I do have faith that it is unfolding as it should. As I held Gwen in my arms I knew that the love I felt for her was new and that it would last forever. That love is still with me. It hasn’t gone anywhere and it never will. Gwen, for the small amount of time she occupied this world, has forever changed the universe and our lives along with it.
Now that one simple weeks has passed and some of the smoke is starting to clear we have decisions to make both logical and abstract. We both knew we would not run home and purge the house of everything baby related. I can’t think of anything more unhealthy than just sweeping it all underneath the rug. Life goes on, but we need to experience grief now. There is an open wound, and we don’t know what’s going to start the bleeding again. We’ll put Jack to bed for the night and just start crying. I know that we are on the same team and that we are feeling it. Also, we are doing what we do. As an alcoholic in recovery, it’s very important that I am talking to people. Some have said “I know a drink might sound nice right about now”, but the ones that KNOW me had little worry in that department. Those calls and greetings involved a simple message that I’ll always be grateful for: “I don’t know what I can do or what I can say. Just know that I am here for you and I love you.”
What more need be said? The love in our lives is overwhelming, and once that starts to ramp down as time passes Allison and I will have a long road ahead. It will both get better and worse at various points in the future, but we have to remain open to both possibilities. We cannot put it in a box, but we must make it a part of our lives and eventually move on. I tell you, it doesn’t help that the hospital ACTUALLY gave us a box to put it all in:
But this is what I’m talking about. Are we just going to put all her items into this box, put it in the back of the closet and cry horribly when we see a newborn girl? No. We are going to put the hat she was dressed in on our family photo shelf. We are going to acknowledge that we had a daughter and she was gorgeous and looked just like my dad. We are going to make Gwen’s short existence and the happiness she gave us a part of our lives and we are always going to know that love. Like I said, that love is with us. It’s real and it’s here as I am typing this today.
Ya know, all my life I’ve been seeking a certain level of ease and comfort. Mostly seeking it from other people, and eventually seeking it in a bottle. Today I am at ease. I am comfortable. Today, I have the innate knowledge that everything is gonna be okay.
“As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”
We are gonna be okay.
I am gonna be okay.
I love you, Gwen. Get to bed.