Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fathers — Shaping Life and Death

Not surprisingly, my most salient memories of Fatherhood have to do with giving birth. Mine also have to do with death. One is poignantly heartbreaking. The other is filled with surprise and delight. Both are swimming rapturously in love and admiration.

* * *

My mom passed away from cancer when my oldest was still a baby. We shared so much throughout that pregnancy. We were both violently ill -- she with cancer and chemotherapy, and I with morning sickness that lasted the entire nine months. We talked every day, laughing and commiserating as we compared notes on who threw up more, who ached the most, and marveling at the similarities between birthing and dying. She was present at his birth, a miracle for both of us. My dad flew down to be there too – I think mostly to be with her.

She died six months later. And I remember stepping from her hospital room into the hallway with my dad, and catching sight of my white-haired 87-year-old Grandpa making his way down the hall, dressed in a suit. This look of total relief came over my dad, and tears came to his eyes. "That's my dad," he tried to explain. "After all these years, I still need him; he's my hero."

When I became pregnant with our second child, a daughter, I missed my mom like never before. The nausea and vomiting seemed so much worse because I was suffering through it alone. I couldn’t call my mom and commiserate about any of it. And I couldn’t imagine having another baby without her there. (Although I frequently dreamed about her during the most trying times.) The pregnancy seemed endless. In fact, it kind of was. She was due November 17th, and wasn’t born until December 3rd.

My water broke around midnight. Knowing I was in labor for 23 1/2 hours with our firstborn, I didn't bother calling anyone in the middle of the night to let them know...there was still plenty of time for that. The doctor said to wait until I was “really uncomfortable” before we went to the hospital, so I hung out at home, doubling over the kitchen counter when the contractions got fierce. All of a sudden, around 2 a.m. I declared that I was, indeed, “really uncomfortable” and we went to the hospital. By the time they checked me in, it turns out I was already dilated to an 8. They gave me an epidural to help me sleep -- and I think so the doctor wouldn’t have to come down in the middle of the night.

Our little daughter popped out in just two pushes at about 9:50 the next morning. We called our families to announce that we had the first girl, and wheeled her off to the nursery and me into the recovery room, where I settled in for a long winter’s nap! Jeff went home to gather a few things, and as I was just waking up, still groggy, I remember hearing the hospital room door squeak open. I slowly turned to see who it was, and there stood my Dad! (He said he knew where my mom was going to be this morning, and he wanted to be there too.) I have no idea how he managed to get there so fast, how many people he had to pay off at the airport to get him on the first flight out, but at a time when I was missing Mom and feeling very much alone, to have my Dad just magically appear at the hospital was about my favorite surprise ever. "That's my dad," I wanted to say. "After all these years, I still need him; he's my hero."

Amazingly, too, he stayed and helped. Like Mom would have -- fixing breakfast for everybody, taking turns with the baby in the middle of the night. It endeared him to me like never before. And Dad STILL does an amazing job of filling in as both mother and father to us kids, staying involved in our lives, hosting family dinners, taking care of our kids, loving and nurturing us. A natural giver, he blesses us in extraordinary and unselfish ways.

* * *

In October 2000, my husband, Jeff, was away for the long weekend, picking up some heirloom furniture for our daughter’s room. I was home with the kids, nearly six months pregnant with baby number 4, unpacking boxes in the new dream house. When I first noticed the baby wasn’t moving, I phoned him immediately. I tried to reassure him: “The book says it’s normal not to feel any movement for a few days at this stage” but I could hear the deep concern in his voice. At his insistence, I called the doctor and ordered a follow-up ultrasound. Just to be safe.

My husband was late for the ultrasound appointment, so I sat there in horror, alone, as the doctor found no heartbeat and told us what the options were for delivering a lifeless baby. They asked me to wait, alone (in tears that bordered on convulsions) in a room-that-was-more-like- a-closet until he arrived, 40 minutes later. I then had to sit through the whole painful doctor spiel a second time, for Jeff’s benefit.

As we walked into the hospital delivery room a day and a half later, I was struggling with all kinds of emotions that kept bubbling to the surface. It was strange to walk into this familiar maternity ward that had, until that moment, been such a happy place and now wore a shroud of gloom, knowing that this time there would be no treasure to take home. I fought back feelings of anger and resentment toward my sweet, wonderful husband for being away when the baby stopped moving, being away when I threatened miscarriage and had to go to the emergency room passing clots, being away when the doctor delivered the unthinkable news. Part of me wanted to push him away forever, but a bigger part wanted to pull him infinitely closer. My steps were heavy, and my heart was heavier.

Once we were settled inside the delivery room, Jeff gave me an incredibly beautiful priesthood blessing. He summoned our Father and poured out peace, promised a deepened understanding of how it pained a Father to lose a Child, requested health and healing, and said my mother would be hovering nearby.

The delivery was a physical and emotional hell, nothing I’ve known the likes of. The only things that could calm me, emotionally or physically, were classical music and the memory of Jeff’s blessing. Somehow I stopped shaking and survived.

When the baby was born, so small I could cushion her whole head in the pillow of my palm (I still recall the weight of it there), they made prints of both her hands and her feet, and allowed me to hold her and cradle her and look at her and love her for as long as I liked. I touched each tiny finger, each tiny toe, and marveled at how complete she was, despite weighing less than a pound. She had our youngest’s perfect little button nose. Our daughter’s beautiful rosebud lips. There was no doubt she was ours. She belonged. But she’d already gone home.

When the nurse came to take her away, Jeff was holding her. I watched as he wrapped her so lovingly in her little blanket and said his last goodbyes before he kissed her tiny forehead and handed her to the nurse. I cannot describe the rush of love that I felt for that man at that moment. It was overwhelming to witness the immense tenderness he demonstrated for our little departed daughter. His sweet, intimate farewell to her is among the most priceless images I hold onto. I felt unspeakably grateful for him and his enormous heart.

I’m thankful there’s a day to celebrate fathers—My own father; my grandfathers; the father of my children; and by extension, our Heavenly Father—all of whom I love, respect, and aspire to emulate.


Cari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kateastrophe said...

Well now I'm crying. Your father and husband sound like amazing men. Thank you so much for sharing.

Kate said...

Beautifully written . . . thank you for sharing these tender memories with us.

Holly said...

Wow! That was a beautiful blog post! Thanks for sharing! There are many tender mercies from the Lord. We are so blessed! I am still shedding tears from reading about your experiences. You are truly my hero. XO Hol

Dad said...

...through bleary teary eyes of a full aquarium thank you for your touching memories, some of which I had lost in the deepest files of my old memory bank. Amazing! LOVE, Dad

breckster said...

Thank you, thank you. Thank you.

Allison said...

Jana, you have such a gift for writing. I remember a few parts of the story, but I still found myself crying. I had to pretend to look for something under my desk so my students wouldn't see me wiping my eyes. You know I love all the men in your life. Give them a big kiss and a hug from me.

Kimberly said...

I think I needed this cry...thanks so much for sharing this.

I think it belongs in The Ensign. I really do.

Jo Beaufoix said...

That was so beautiful and so sad. I'm sorry you lost your little one,but I bet she's up in heaven cuddling her Gran.

Brillig said...

I'm not sure what to say. I could say that it's beautiful, I could say that it's beautifully written. But it's so much more than that. It stirs something deep in the soul, something intangible and yet completely real.

Your father sounds amazing. This line really got me: "He said he knew where my mom was going to be this morning, and he wanted to be there too."

And Jeff? I'm already a big fan, but this makes him more... divinely human. Such a heartbreaking, but intensely sweet scene.

All in all, it's an astounding post, and I'm so grateful to have read it tonight.

ME said...

Cari sent me a link to this post. Now I'm having an inagural cry at my desk, recollecting our walks and talks in the canyon. Beautifully put. I'm so glad there are people in our lives from whom we take strength when it's needed.

Mary Ellen

Karen B said...

I feel so sorry that we hadn't kept in good enough touch with you during those first handful of years after leaving Pasadena. Ugh. I can't imagine how many heart-wrenching feelings went along with your experience losing your child. Very very late condolences, my friend.

LisAway said...

Thank you so much for pointing me here. What a heart wrenching story! That is just devastating. And so beautiful. I really cannot imagine going through something like that. Wow. Thanks again for sharing.