It wasn’t supposed to happen to us. A fairly normal pregnancy until week 37 and then, in a moment, Eli was gone. I must admit, I didn’t know a great deal about stillbirth.
My wife is a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital and I’m a chaplain at a local hospital. We are the caregivers. The irony is we were now receivers of care. Oh the dreaded care!
People told us things that quite honestly, sucked! “You know most couples don’t survive a loss like this, but know I am praying for you.” What was that? Is that supposed to be some kind of encouragement? My favorite, because I’m the clergyman, right. “God needed a little angel.”
My loud response inside my head with a smile on my face, “Why didn’t you send God your angel and leave me mine?”
My wife curled up in the fetal position for what seemed like months. I went back to work perhaps too soon.
After two weeks back, I had my first call for a stillbirth on Women and Child. I survived. I’m not sure how. I listened, I hugged, I cried, I prayed silently and somehow the couple felt comforted. The most difficult thing was teaching the staff how to care for me. Most wanted to not bother me with infant loss or to turn down another hallway and if they were trapped, many responded with something that was less than helpful. I often caught those trying to elude me and said, “Hey, just hug me and tell me you love me.” That seemed to help most. Despite the guilt my wife loaded onto herself for not knowing or for somehow causing this . . . this loss of a dream, I bore my own load of guilt.
After receiving a call from Erin’s supervisor, I found myself driving and crying for some 30 miles praying to God that Erin be spared. My request was granted at the expense of my precious baby boy. We had decided not to find out the gender of our baby. We had two previous girls and both hoped and prayed for a boy. I know, it’s selfish, but that’s the way it went.
The OB informed us we got our boy only to face the reality of his death. It hurt like hell.
I wanted to die, but we are painfully aware of the societal expectation of the strong male.
I must rebound; be strong for Erin; get back to it; be the man and etc.
When I did what was expected, a nurse told me to be mad at God. Be mad at God!? That’s what gets me through. It’s the place I run to when I am in pieces. Despite all the good, bad and indifferent advice we got, we survived.
I must admit this experience is often very disconcerting for fathers. Most of the energy and care is directed toward Mom. I get it. Erin carried Eli for almost 38 weeks and then still had to give birth to our precious little man born still.
I’d just like to scream, “Daddy matters too!”
Because of our unique roles in local hospitals, we sensed some sort of urging to help others in our situation. As a result, we started a support group for parents who had lost children to miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, birth anomalies and loss after birth. It has bloomed in ways that we had not expected. We have had 12 couples on and off over these past three years join our collective journey.
Erin and I have cared for many more that belong to this club but have not joined any support group.
Erin’s experience in L&D has helped to reassure mothers and answer questions these women struggle with often. My own experience in ministry has helped me and I trust others to not lose faith.
The journey is not an easy one and there were times when I thought I wasn’t going to survive. I did. Erin did. Our family did. We did.
Eli is very much a part of our lives! The week before Father’s Day, we will celebrate Eli’s 3rd birthday.
We are loved and grateful and we are STILL STANDING!
Guest post by Jeff Sims