Thursday, October 27, 2011

The day I became a father

After the birth of Oscar and Bella my life changed. I became a father.

After the death of Oscar and Bella my life also changed. I was still a father, even if my first children only lived for 10 minutes, but it was different.

I should have been learning how to change diapers, a task I had never done. I should have been learning why trying to get a child to burp was so important. I should have been learning how to fish tiny arms through tiny sleeves. I should have had cute pictures in my wallet to show the other guys at work. I should have known the tiredness that comes with late night feedings.

Instead I was learning about death certificates. I was learning what steps needed to be taken to cremate my children. I was finding out about the grieving process. I was learning to read pathology reports. I was finding support groups to help my wife and I find others who knew what we were going through. I learned about the constant tiredness that comes with grief.

I wanted so badly to be the father in a traditional sense. I wanted to come home from work and have my children run up to me and give me a hug. I wanted to go to father-daughter dances. I wanted to go father-son camping. I wanted to be everything my worthless dad was not. I wanted these things so badly that I forgot to be a father to my children. I could not see myself as a father because it was not the experience I had expected, the experience I had wanted.

I think the first time I really understood that I was a father happened a few months after the loss of Oscar and Bella. I was riding in the car with a friend of mine that I met because of the loss. We had just left from a get-together where one of the other guys started telling dead baby jokes. Those jokes were never funny, and even less funny after you have been through what we have. I had frozen though. I could not bring myself to stop this guy from telling those jokes. My friend however was able to, and calmly explained to him both of our situations. So as we were riding and talking about the jokes the topic of being a father came up. I thanked my friend for stopping the guy from telling those jokes and remarked that I guess that is what being a father was for us. It took me seeing what a good father did, and what I should have done, to know that I was one. Even if I wasn't, in that moment, the best father I could have been.

While I am sad that Oscar, Bella, and Tittle are not with me I am not sad that I am their father. I will not get to watch them grow up. I'll never take Bella to a dance. I'll never take Oscar or Tittle camping. I'll never get to see them grow up and find out what they would have become. My job as a father for them is different. I will make sure that no one forgets they existed. I'll make sure that their little brother knows he is not an only child.

The way I see it this blog is a big part of being a good father to them. Over 800 people have visited this blog since I started writing. If even 10% of those visits are unique visitors over 80 people know about my children. I am willing to bet 80 people don't know my living son. 

Feel free to leave a comment. I would love to know who is reading these posts. Share this with anyone you think would benefit from reading it. If you are a father or mother who has suffered through loss, speak out and break the silence. The loss of a child will only remain taboo as long as those who suffer do not speak out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The awkward question

Short post today. I have felt guilty about not writing for the last week, and figured the only way to get over that guilt is to start writing more often. I lit the Oscar, Bella, and Tittle candles early today... I hope they were looking down and were proud of their daddy as he chased their little brother all over the house as the brother wouldn't take his nap, and got into everything! Onto the post---

While talking with a coworker the super cute picture of my rainbow son Gus got noticed. I am so proud of it that I just have to share, I hope you'll allow me that.

Of course that triggered my least favorite question. "How many do you have at home?" Why does that question always come up? I stumbled, and muttered some answer about one, but quickly corrected myself with saying "Well only one at home at least." That got me a weird look, and an even stranger reaction once I explained. That caused an uncomfortable silence, one that almost always comes. After the uncomfortable silence I simply started talking about the task at hand and moved on.

I have decided that even with the uncomfortable silence I am always going to mention my other children. Over 2 years out from my first loss and I am just getting there. I really can't explain why that took me so long. I hope Oscar, Bella and Tittle can understand daddy is a work in progress and he is always trying to be a better father.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Being a man

I've done things in life that most would consider hard to do.

1.) Grow up without a father.
     When I was 2 my father left our family. The next time I heard from him I was 12 or so, and all he had for me was a pack of lies. Being raised in a christian family and going to a christian school made this twice as hard. I clearly remember the principle of the school telling the teachers "Keep an eye on him, he is from a divorced family, he will be a problem." This was on my first day of school. As a result of the prejudice, I was put in remedial classes--until standardized testing in 2nd grade. I guess testing at a high school reading level did not fit well with being in the remedial reading class.

2.) Boot camp.
     After not being able to figure out what to do in college I decided to have someone tell me what to do for a while. I enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. Boot camp was hard, at the time I would have told you it was the hardest thing I had ever done. The story that sticks out in my mind the most that describes the difficulty of boot camp is when we earned our company colors (flag). After a long day we were getting ready for lights-out when a company commander walked into the squad bay yelling. We quickly found ourselves on a road march to a place none of us had been. The road turned into a gravel road, which then turned into a path. We stepped onto the beach in the pitch black. We then spent the next hour or so being "IT'd." This consisted mostly of running, jumping, and doing push ups in the sand. We then were marched into pitch black water about knee deep, with waves crashing around us and were instructed to drink a mouthful of the salt water. You see if we failed to do our jobs, our duty, this is the last thing the person we should have been saving would taste.

3.) King crab season.
     The lesson taught on the beach during boot camp became real for me very fast. Out of boot camp I was stationed on the Cutter Jarvis. In boot camp I thought it was a dream assignment. The Jarvis is home ported in Honolulu, HI. I spent my leave back home, then flew out to meet my ship. It turns out the ship was underway in Alaska. A few days in Hono and I was off to meet the ship for real this time. After getting my sea legs under me I fell into a routine. We had a short shore leave, and then the reason we were in the area started--King Crab season. If you have ever watched Deadliest Catch you will know what this is. I was there for search and rescue standby. The seas during the season were around 30 feet with rouge waves taller than 45 feet. Even on a 378 foot ship these waves were dangerous. The small fishing vessels did not fair well. With water temperatures in the 40's the two people who were washed over board while fishing didn't stand much of a chance. The third person to go over board while searching for the first two people didn't have a chance either. We spent 4 days searching for the fishers. No one said it, but we all knew... we were searching for bodies. This hit me hard, less than two months out of boot camp three people died.

4.) Quit smoking.
     I won't go into great detail on this, if you smoke you understand how hard this is. If you don't smoke or haven't been a smoker I can't make you understand.

5.) Raise a newborn.
     No sleep-check. Crying for what seems like no reason- check. Poop, lots of poop- check. Stress, worry, and nightmares about SIDS- check. Raising a child is hard. I think anyone who has done it will stand by that. My living son is 14 months old, I am not sure what is in store for the future, but I am sure it will be equal parts hard and joy.

So I hope the hard things I have gone through have established me enough to the point were you can take my word for it, I am a "man." It might even be said I am a man's man. I wear shorts nearly year round (I live in Wisconsin), I am too manly to get cold. Now that we have that out of the way; onto the hardest thing I have ever done.

6.) Have 3 of my children die
None of these things, not even if you somehow added them up and made them all happen at one time even touches how hard it is to be a father who has held his children after they were dead. How hard it was to see the spot on the ultrasound that was causing my wife's bleeding and knowing it was Tittle after he had died. How hard it can be to answer "How many children do you have?"

I wish my life had taken a different path. I wish my father had never left, that I had not needed boot camp to get direction, that I could have found those fisherman so that their families had bodies to bury, and that I had never even started smoking.

What I think is so hard for some people to understand is that I don't wish I never had Oscar, Bella, or Tittle. Sure I wish they were with me still, but even knowing that they would die I would do it all over again. Being able to know that pain and the tears that come with it, and say honestly that I would do it all over again makes me more of a man than anything else I have ever done.

Feel free to leave a comment. I would love to know who is reading these posts. Share this with anyone you think would benefit from reading it. If you are a father or mother who has suffered through loss, speak out and break the silence. The loss of a child will only remain taboo as long as those who suffer do not speak out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Little Tittle

1. a dot or other small mark in writing or printing, used as a diacritic, punctuation, etc.
2. a very small part or quantity; a particle, jot, or whit
3.  My third child

I struggled with what to write for number 3. It would not be correct to say Tittle was born, as he was technically a miscarriage. I've never liked that word miscarriage, but I'll save that for another day.
When we found out we were pregnant after the loss of Oscar and Bella we were around 4 weeks pregnant. When we looked up online how big a baby was at 4 weeks pregnant we found out they would be about the size of a period at the end of a sentence. My wife, being a fan of words, and me, enjoying trivia, decided to use the nickname of Tittle, as it is not a common word and is interesting knowledge. 

It turned out that we were pregnant with twins, so the one Tittle became a Tittle and a Dot (as period did not seem like a good nick name for a baby). We lost Tittle a few weeks later, and that is the point of this post.

I didn't bond to the pregnancy the same way my wife did. Because of that I did not feel the loss the same way she did. At the time I didn't mourn the loss of my child; I feared the loss of my other child. It took me by surprise how hard it was on my wife. My thoughts were more along the lines of: at least we still have the one. I have struggled with that reaction quite a bit.

After the loss of our first twins when some one would say "you can always have another" I wanted to hit them. That is what made my reaction to the loss of Tittle even worse. I knew better, or at least I should have known better. That was my child that I lost, how could I not feel that loss? How could I blow right past it and only worry about my other child?

Things have changed now. It took until my son, Gus, was born for me to feel that loss. I think that similar to when my wife told me she had an ok day, I was able to let my walls down and grieve. Once Gus was here I could stop worrying about the pregnancy and reflect on what happened. I was finally able to grieve the loss of another child of mine. 
Why do I put these walls up? It just makes the grief that much worse later on. Does not grieving the loss until months later make me a bad dad? I hope not. I try to not live with regret. Instead when I see that I was wrong, or not in the right place, on an issue I own it and try to learn from it.

An early miscarriage is difficult, even more so for mothers. Society does not see them as a big deal, and even caring fathers (I hope I could be described as that) don't always understand. I have heard it said that a women becomes a mother when she finds out she is pregnant, and a man becomes a father when he first holds the child. While that quote is not 100% true, there is some truth to it. So I ask mothers please be patient with us dads who might not get it right away. In time, like me, I believe most fathers will grieve that loss, even if it is differently.

It has been a much different road for my wife and me with the loss of our little Tittle. The destination was the same place though. We are both proud parents of 4 children.

Feel free to leave a comment. I would love to know who is reading these posts. Share this with anyone you think would benefit from reading it. If you are a father or mother who has suffered through loss, speak out and break the silence. The loss of a child will only remain taboo as long as those who suffer do not speak out.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Allowing Fathers To Grieve

I remember clearly the first time after we left the hospital that I really cried. I was standing on the stairs talking to my wife about how she was doing. She told me she was having an ok day. She was feeling better than she had in the weeks since we lost Oscar and Bella. As we were talking I let my guard down. A guard I didn't know I had even put up. I broke down, I cried, a good hard cry. The first cry I had in over a month.

Why did it take my wife telling me she was doing ok in order for me to grieve. It is simple, I was the strong one. I was the one she could count on. I had to be strong in order to be counted on, at least that is what I thought. Feeling like I wasn't needed in that role let me take on a new role, the role of the grieving father.

We have since that day talked a lot about allowing me to grieve. It was not her fault that I was not, but she did need to help me. We had many conversations about the grief process, and how it was more helpful for me to go through it with her than for me to try and be "her rock." I found out that being the strong man was not helpful, and was in many way hurtful.

Being allowed to grieve without the burden of "taking care of my wife" has offered me the chance to be a better husband, a better dad, and ironically be better at "taking care of my wife." Any fathers reading that should really take note of that. Being a man/husband in the classic sense is all about taking care of your wife, so in this way crying and grieving is the only way to "be a man."

My wife and I have also set up a non-verbal way to show grief. We use this when we want to let the other person know we are having a bad day. It is almost a "FYI, I am still grieving" method of communication. We have what we call the Oscar Bella, and Tittle candles. If we see them lit we know the other person is not having a good day. The thing is I light those candles probably 70% of the time they are lit, and is the way I express myself much more than my wife does. The candles don't mean we have to talk about it, or even want to talk about it... it is just a simple method of letting the other person know were we are that day.

Since I am assuming the majority of the readers of this are mothers, mothers who have suffered a loss, here is my advice to you as a grieving father. Make sure you allow your husband/significant other to grieve. Give them permission, let them know that is what you need. Encourage them to talk about it, ask them questions, but also try to find them a way to grieve without having to talk about it.

I have found that writing has been more helpful that I ever imagined it could be. Opening up about my experience has been a wonderful, and powerful experience. I encourage everyone, mother and fathers, to break the silence and speak out about their loss.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Feeling Left Out

I started this blog as a way try and get fathers more included in the loss community. I was upset that the majority of the posts only referred to women, and the moms. I felt that fathers were being left out. I hope to try and change that.

It all started when my wife got a refrigerator magnet from the March of Dimes that says "Every mom deserves a healthy baby." I won't let that be on the front of the fridge. It is true, every mom does deserve that, but why leave the dads out? The March of Dimes site has that type of quote all over it. My search was not extensive, but in the 5 minutes I spent on the site I found not one reference to dads.

It has continued with sites like faces of loss, faces of hope. I saw the updates from them for leading up October 15th, and the first one mentioned only the loss a mom suffers through. Honestly I was a bit upset, and hurt. So I fired off a comment in reply to it asking about the fathers, and later that night my wife and I worked to change the status to better include fathers. I also emailed faces of loss with my reply, and posted it on their wall. What happened next surprised me, and has changed my outlook.

The email that I got back from faces of loss was wonderful. It not only apologized for not including the fathers, but gave the reason why. She said "The reason we don't do more to reach out to dads specifically on the website is that as a mom, I'm not sure what the dads are looking for. In the past, I've asked if there are men interested in taking the lead on developing that area, and have gotten no response. I feel strongly that it should be a dad (or groups of dads!) giving feedback on what they'd like to see in terms of support; I know my husband and I are very different in what we need/want, and I guess I feel weird about assuming I know what the men out there are looking for." She continued with "I think out of 1,000 stories posted, only 1 is from a dad so far, so this is really great to hear. Maybe you will start the ball rolling and other dads will follow! :)" (emphasis mine) That flipped a switch in my head. I think it was Gandhi that said "Be the change you wish to see." So here I am, trying to be that change.

I can not explain how liberating it was to sit down and write my story out. How excited I was when I saw over 50 people had read my story already today. That is 50 people who got to know my kids. 50 people who might be affected or find hope in my story. My hope is to get over 100 views on my story. And that two fathers who read it share their story.

Fathers are not left out of the loss community, by and large fathers do not participate. My story submitted to Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope is the second story submitted to them by a father. Who will be the third? Each father who post his story, or writes a blog makes it easier for the next father to post his story or write his blog. Write and submit your story, do it for you, for you children, and for other fathers. Women have been able to start to open up about loss only because they have started to talk about it. Each person who talks about it, makes it easier for the next person to talk about it, who then makes it easier for the next and the next and the next and on and on. I hope that some one reading this post, or my last post is the third story submitted.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Story

I guess it all starts at age 2 for me. That is how old I was when my father left, and that is the start of molding me into the man I have become today. As I look back on it not having a father has made me into the father that I am today.

I met my wife while on leave from the Coast Guard. I was at a friends wedding and she was a guest of another friend of mine. That night started a wonderful relationship, from our first date which was 27 hours long, to our crazy long phone calls, we "hit it off" from the start. That is why after only 5 months of dating, even though I was in Florida and she was in Wisconsin I asked her to marry me. 4 months later we were married.

We decided to wait at least 2 years before we would talk about having children. That way we would have time to just be a couple. After the 2 years we knew we wanted to have kids. It took another year or so to get my wife's diabetes under control enough to start trying. Pregnancy did not come easy.  I never missed an appointment with the doctors. There was nothing that I could do to help and I felt it was my duty to be there to hold my wife's hand and make sure she didn't have to go through any of it alone. I swear I could run the ultra-sound machine and measure the follicles myself. With the help of the fertility clinic we did finally get pregnant.

I danced when I saw the positive test. I was so happy, not just because of what it meant for me, but also for what it meant to my wife. We had worked so hard to get pregnant. I had always watched my wife struggle with blaming her body for failing us, and tried everything I could to encourage her, and now her body had worked. We were pregnant.

We conceived four.

Being pregnant with four is not easy, even more so if you are type 1 diabetic. I went minivan shopping. I have a standing agreement with a high school friend that if he ever sees me owning a minivan he is honor bound to shot me on the spot. However four did not last, after a short time we were only pregnant with two. Twins are not normally considered high risk, but with diabetes in the mix we where high risk from the start.

The pregnancy was not easy, my wife had "morning" sickness all day. There was a time when the only food she would eat was Campbell's Chunky Soup Sirloin Burger. One day I went to get more at the store. My heart sank when I got to the aisle and I saw they had none. I was going to go home with no soup for my wife to eat. I think the stock boy might still tell the story of the large man who yelled out "YES, THANK GOD" when I saw he had a case of the soup on his cart. I was not going to go home empty handed.

We made it past 12 weeks, the only thing I knew was that we were ok now.

We went in on a Tuesday morning. I never missed an appointment, or an unplanned trip. My wife had not been feeling good, and found something not normal while using the bathroom. I figured we would get checked out, find out everything was ok and then go home. We did a non-stress test, and then was going to have a quick cervix check. I will always dislike the doctor who did that check. She did nothing wrong, but she told me the worst news I have ever been told.

After that it was up to a hospital room to wait. One day with no infection was the goal. The next morning we had a whole team of doctors and nurses come into the room. I didn't want to get in the way so into the corner I went. After the news that we would likely not be pregnant by the weekend was delivered I could not hold back the tears. I am not sure if my wife cried, but in front of a room of strangers I lost it and broke down. We where 17 weeks pregnant, and my children had no hope of survival. I have never felt weaker.

The day my first-born son and first born daughter, Oscar and Bella, were born changed me forever. I became a softer person that day.

That day I yelled at a doctor, cried my eyes out, made jokes, smiled, and felt my heart melt. How anyone can look at the pictures of my children and not see beautiful human beings I will never be able to understand. Looking back at the pictures has helped me in ways I can never explain. The time I got to spend with my children was so short, but we have memories that will last forever.

The next day I lost the car. I walked the entire parking ramp 3 times, horrified the entire time that my wife was sitting in a wheel chair holding Oscar Bear and Bella Bear waiting for me.  She should have been holding our twins.

I don't really remember much of the next few days, weeks, and months. I went back to work too soon, and was worthless at work for quite a while. I remember breaking down on the stairs of our house about a month afterwards, the first time I had really cried since the day Oscar and Bella were born.

After about 4 months we decided to get pregnant again. I wanted to say it was a hard decision, but honestly it was an easy one now that I look back on it. I had gotten to the point were my want to have children here with me on earth was greater than my fear of another loss. I also knew that my fear was never going to be less than it was. To this day pregnancy equals fear, and I think it always will.

We got pregnant on our first cycle of infertility treatments. Again I never missed an appointment.

We conceived twins, twins again.

It was supposed to be only one. My wife bonded to the idea of twins much faster than I did. I have struggled with that possibly more than anything. She had a love for both of them that I just did not have right away. I was certainly excited to be pregnant again but I think I was too scared to bond like she did. That love did come, even if it was after it should have. We nick named the kids Dot and Tittle. Tittle, our little hummingbird, is sneaky though, and early on we lost him. I was scared that we would soon lose Dot.

The pregnancy was not easy again. Trips to the ER, and labor and delivery, while not frequent, happened more than either of us wanted. In the end my fourth child was born, alive, and healthy. He peed on me in his first  minutes of life and I could not have been happier.

So here I am today. It has been over 2 years since Oscar and Bella were born and died. This January will be 2 years since Tittle died. We see our children everywhere. From giraffes and hummingbirds to stars and hearts they show themselves to us. My wife and I are active in a grief group where once a month one of us gets to represent the kids everyone else forgets about. We take turns getting the honor of doing that. We talk about our kids, all of them, whenever we get the chance. Every night we read to my son Gus, and tell him "Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you, Oscar loves you, Bella loves you, Tittle loves you, We all love you"

I am the proud father of 4 children. I swore a long time ago that I would be the father I never had. I will never forget about my children (all four of them), or leave my children like my father did.

-Father of 4: Oscar, Bella, Tittle, and Gus

October 15th

With October 15th coming up, and dads being left out I decided to start writing about it. More to come later.

Father of Oscar, Bella, Tittle, and Gus.