Dad’s Grieve Too – Stephan’s Story
My wife and I had been planning to have a child for some time, before we decided when was the right moment to start building a family. The day Barbara called me at work to tell me she was pregnant, I already had a feeling what the call was about. I suddenly felt a surge of new responsibilities as a father-to-be, and the news changed my life forever.
During the pregnancy, I pondered a lot about what it meant to be a father. I wanted to be there for my son, and I wanted to show him the world I knew, and teach him the things I loved. During the eighth month of my wife’s pregnancy, I decided to write him a letter, which would serve as a reminder of what a father had to do for his son, or what I had to do for Oliver throughout his life. Here’s what the letter turned out to be like:
How are you feeling, in there? I hope it’s not too tight, and that you can still move around well. Don’t worry, it won’t be long now until you can stretch and move as much as you’d like. We have so much to show you, and so much we want to share with you for the rest of our lives.
For eight months, now, you’ve been bringing us so much joy. We usually burst in joy and happiness with every move that you make. A few days ago, you decided to stretch your back, and your bum caused Mommy’s tummy to stick right out. I was overwhelmed. We were both very touched by your super moves, your hiccups, your kicks, and we can’t wait to finally meet you next month. Sorry for constantly wiggling your habitat, we sometimes get worried when you do not move. You are the whole world to us. You are everything!
Many years before you decided to fill our hearts with happiness and joy, I was a little kid – not a very long time ago. And I was about your size. I still remember a lot of the moments I went through in life. I have had moments of happiness, fear, laughter, sadness. No matter what I did, what step I took, it all took me toward one single point in life: that’s you. My whole life, to this point, was getting me ready to meet Oliver. And now, I have to make sure I will protect you with my whole life, and take good care of you.
I see you as a continuation of who I am. I always wondered when I would have a son, and what he would look like. You see, the world we live in can be ugly. It can be mean, and rough. But there are also good places out here. Places with love. And “love” itself is quite an abstract idea. Everyone sees love as being something different. It’s personal. Because we can only learn love by what people give us during our lives. I want your perception of love to be the strongest, I want you to learn that it’s not just a feeling, but can also be a way of life. Love is the key to turning lights on everywhere you go, with different people you meet.
I will always be here for you, son. I will cherish you, sing to you, and teach you ways of life, I will always be there for you. Daddy is going to be busy sometimes, working on projects and ideas that may take up some of my time. But my heart is already open to you. And I promise you that I shall love and praise you for the remainder of my life. I love you, and I can’t wait to meet you, Ollie.
Oliver was born at 32 weeks, on October 24th 2016 showing signs of fetal distress. Below is a brief recollection of what the morning of October 24th went like, and the surprises and shock felt that day:
I will never forget the first time I saw my son. It was about three in the morning, and I had just spent about an hour waiting in a room right beside where my wife was having her C-section. Worried by the highly unlikely event that my wife and I would part ways after she met with the anesthesiologist, all I could think about was telling the doctors that I wanted to be there for Barbara. “I just want to be by her side when she goes into surgery” I kept saying. So, I waited.
Doctors would occasionally walk past, and enter the surgery room my wife was in. “Is my baby ok?” I asked to every single one of them, only to be ignored as if I weren’t even there. “Please, I have to be in that room with my wife!” also fell on deaf ears. About eight doctors entered the room, and I only got one reply from the last doctor to walk past me. “Don’t worry,” he said, “Everything will be alright.” But no, it wasn’t alright.
After waiting about for half an hour, frantically biting my nails and wondering what was going on, I left the room and went into the hallway. I noticed a small hospital baby cart was waiting outside the surgery room. “I need to see my wife. I need to see my baby!” I started shouting. But no one would tell me what was going on.
As I waited a little longer, I saw the door of the surgery room slowly open. The cart went in. I wanted to go in but was once again reminded I wasn’t allowed to. My whole family was in that room.
Five more minutes passed until I saw my baby for the first time. Oliver left the room, completely motionless. He was pale white. He was limp. He didn’t seem to be breathing, as one of the two nurses that stormed out of the room pushing the cart (one from the side, and another from behind) was pumping air into his throat using what seemed to look like a nasal aspirator.
At that second, I knew things weren’t turning out the way we planned it to be. I knew things were completely different from what we saw in our dreams. Our welcoming of Oliver to this world wasn’t accompanied by joy, laughter and relief. I recall thinking for as short as that moment was, at the hospital hall, that Oliver looked just like me. He was such a beautiful boy. I felt happy, proud, fearful and depressed. I had a sudden maelstrom of emotions charging through my brain, I may have stalled. I fell in love and was in despair. I couldn’t move up to the point where I realized that I had to make sure I saved my wife.
Once Oliver left the surgery room, the door remained part open. I walked into the room, with my hospital cap and gown – all of which I wore up to this point – I sat next to my wife and I held her hand. I cried. I thought I was going to lose her, I thought I was going to lose all I had. My wife was shaking, the room was cold and still filled with doctors. She turned to me and uttered words that were undecipherable. I could very well imagine what was in her mind, as we both wanted to be with Oliver. They were still stitching her up, and I was feeling disbelief by the fact that I wasn’t allowed into the surgery room. Inside that room, I had a sudden surge of anger toward the whole establishment. I turned to the doctors, the resuscitator and the anesthesiologist and told them “She is my Queen, she is the love of my life.” I was, yet again, completely ignored.
After being by her side for a few minutes, a nurse came into the surgery room and asked me if I wanted to see Oliver. “Is he going to be ok? Is my baby going to be ok” was all I could ask. I told my wife I would be right back, and walked toward the Newborn ICU where Oliver was. When I got there, to my surprise (or maybe not) I wasn’t allowed in to see my boy. “The nurses are still working on him.” said one of the nurses at the NICU. “‘Working on him’?” I asked. “Is he going to be fine?” After getting no reply, no answers, I went back to my wife. I sat next to her again, and held her hand strongly.
I still can’t believe that I am a father. A father deprived of the joys of having his baby boy home to care and love for. During the day, I feel that my heart is part empty, as I had so much love and joy stacked up for Oliver, all of which was taken away from me that morning on October 24th. This is the darkest moment a man can go through. The emptiness, melancholy and the abrupt end of what is deemed to be natural, or normal, or common. This is too painful.
Losing Oliver has somewhat reconnected our wires. For me, the loss of our son means a new outlook on life. I have come to see how fragile life can be, and have ceased to underestimate this fragility. I have tried to see this loss as a message from God that the time wasn’t right to have a son, but have no explanation as to why that is. I have been drawn closer to my family, and now carry the scars of the loss of our son forever. The loss has also enabled me to meet other people who have gone through this same devastating experience, and I have been able to hear them out, and try to be there for them whenever possible. Hearing the words “I too lost a son” just changes the whole interaction I have with someone else. I can feel their sadness and emptiness, the same way I believe they can feel mine.
I have had crushed dreams of raising my boy, and showing him the ways of life. How to act and how not to act. How to become a pilot. I have had difficulty sleeping and interacting with people. Some days I wake up tired of everything; tired of going outside, and I just lock myself in my apartment and watch television the whole day, with a seemingly numb mind.
The loss also means that I had to be strong. And oh my gosh, so many people opine. I’ve had a fair share of “You’re too strong” at work, and “You’re not strong enough” among people that hardly know me at all. But I know I need to stand my ground, and always be there for my wife. I have learned to grieve in silence, when I am alone. And in the company of my wife, I have to be made of steel, help her recover. Help her move on.