Preface: I never do this sort of thing. I write aside from this blog for personal reasons. Sometimes important topics like faith and family creep in because they're an integral part of my life, but I mostly reserve this space for my hobby. This one is different. I just feel the need to get it out there. So sports fans, I apologize. This has nothing to do with sports or cards or anything else you might expect to see.
He would be five. Five years. Has it really been that long? One thousand, eight hundred sixty-five days. I haven’t seen him for 1,864 days since then. And yet, there have been but few days in which he hasn’t crossed my mind. April 26, 2014—the day our angel baby was born.
The story really begins the day before. We had gone in for a routine prenatal doctor’s visit. At almost 17 weeks, we were getting an ultrasound in hopes of learning the gender of our new little one. We even brought our two sons—who were five and three—with us. It was exciting. They wanted to be there when we learned if they would have a little brother or a little sister. I don’t remember who the technician was. I don’t remember what she looked like. I don’t recall her facial structure or features. But the concern, growing to anxiety, and finally morphing to panic, showed on her face and burned in my mind as the ultrasound remained still and silent. The tension seeped into the room. Kelly’s grip on my hand tightened continuously. I could feel her breathing picking up as her eyes darted from the screen to the technician to me. I’m not certain, but I may have been squeezing, too. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” she asked in a barely controlled strain. Even the boys started to feel it. Then the technician stepped out of the room. I wasn’t long. It couldn’t have been long. But the time dragged for a couple of minutes before she returned with the doctor. It didn’t take the doctor long to confirm.
“I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.”
Miscarriage. I guess we were aware of the possibility. Kelly’s own mother had suffered through it multiple times. But we far along. Far enough to learn the gender. I’ve done the research. Roughly 80% of miscarriages occur in the first trimester. By the time you get to 17 weeks, the chances drop to around 1%. And yet, here we were. I removed the kids from the room and made some calls. I don’t remember calling my mother-in-law, but I must have, because she came and picked up the boys. I called my mother. I remember how cheery she sounded when she picked up the phone. It was so difficult to croak, “We lost the baby.”
I stayed in the waiting room while the doctor explained the next steps to my wife. Typically, a miscarriage involves a procedure called a D&C. It's more a surgery than anything, sterile, impersonal, and with nothing to see when it was over. For us, that wasn’t an option. Because of the late term and the size of the baby, my wife had to deliver. Still in shock and trying to process the grief, we scheduled an induction and a delivery for the following day. “Oh, and would you like to know the gender? It’s a boy.”
We drove home alone, mostly in the silence forced by the choked sobs blocking all other noise from our throats. About two blocks from the doctor’s office, I choked out, “Benjamin Glen?” Kelly just nodded. It’s two family names. My family has a line of Bens in some form or another, and my grandparents had been disappointed we hadn’t used it. Now it just seemed appropriate.
We spent the evening with family and tried to prepare for the next day. How does one prepare, though, to welcome in a life that will never take a breath? He was born. He was tiny. I got to touch the fragile body. Someone came in and took photos for us. We got the typical footprints in ink and plaster casts of feet and hands. In some ways it seemed so normal. But in the end, that was all. Counselors came in to talk to my wife. But it wasn’t going to make things any easier. And when they left, there was no crying, no cooing, no sleeping in a bassinet next to the bed. Just a stifling aloneness.
I’m not entirely sure that I got a chance to grieve. Reality set in pretty hard after that. You see, the aftermath of a miscarriage is not much different from a birth. There’s post-partum depression. There’s caring for the recuperating mother. And, oh yes, there are bills. We paid in every possible way for this baby. Yet there was no baby there for us. In the midst of it all, I was back at work. I was running interference from all the people who wanted to talk to my wife. She didn’t want to talk to anybody. A friend who understood brought a poem to my attention that helped me process. Pardon that I don’t cite the source, but I don’t know the author. “It must be very difficult/to be a man in grief. . . .He dries her tears and comforts her/But ‘stays strong’ for her sake/It must be very difficult/to start each day anew . . . . He lost his baby, too.”
And now, years have passed. I’ve found some understanding in the difference between grieving one who passes from mortal life and one who never passes into it all. I would never want to lose one my living children. I’m not saying my burden is any heavier. But I do realize a key difference is that I have no memories to hold onto. No memories at all—except for the pain of loss. I imagine that I’d be teaching him to play tag and catch. Maybe he’d be riding his bike and getting ready to take the training wheels off. But I don’t have these memories of him. My little boy came and left, and the sting of death is the only memento. I heard a song recently by one of my favorite bands, Yellowcard, that touched on this very subject and resonated to my core.
You would be ten and I'd be
Driving you to school
You would tell all your friends
That you thought I was cool
You would be out in the sun
Until it was gone
You would be watching Star Wars
With your PJ's on
And you would have
All the love in my heart
I have a ten year-old. He loves Star Wars. I have an eight-year old. I’ve done my best to teach them to play ball. We’ve laughed and worked together. There’s a three-year old girl in the house, too. She’s the light of her daddy’s life. But I have a five year-old, too. That one is not with me, but they all have “all the love in my heart.”
Now we have a perfect storm of emotional fallout from the miscarriage. Today is his fifth birthday. And we have another boy on the way. We’re 17 weeks along. In fact, his due date is almost the same as Benjamin’s. The similarities and the anniversary are a potent emotional force in combination. Pregnancy is an amazing, fragile miracle. Somewhere between 10% and 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, mostly in the first trimester. So many expectant parents hold their breath for 12 weeks and exhale in relief when the most perilous time has passed. The thing is, once you have experienced a late-term miscarriage, that apprehension never passes. I will be nervous until the new little one joins us.
While I’m looking forward, hoping and praying for the safe arrival of another little boy, I’m taking today to commemorate the one who came and left. Sometimes I pull out those ridiculously small plaster casts. The hands remind me of the hands on my kids’ Lego people. The feet are barely the size of the nail on my pinkie finger. They’re so delicate that I fear the trembling of my hands will rattle them to pieces. But I take them out. I remember the past. I imagine a present and a future. Five years ago, he entered my life, only to leave it directly. But he impacted it forever. He took a little piece of it. Somewhere out there, I have one more son who is waiting to make things complete. My faith tells me I will meet him one day, and he will give back that part that is missing. In the meantime, I'll hold on to the little of him that I have in return. Across a veil of mortality, we'll be holding each other.