I'm over 7 years away from the events, so some of it is a little fuzzy and some of it sticks to walls of my soul and feels as new as the past second. I remember certain events such as the sonogram where we found out we were FINALLY having a boy. The months that followed after that are hazier.
I know what I was feeling when we found out the baby that would be Matthew was going to be a boy. We already had two girls aged 6 and 9 and I was pretty sure I had this girl thing down and even though I always THOUGHT I wanted a boy, the realization that it was going to happen rocked me a bit. "What's raising a boy like?!"
Sure, I obviously know SOMETHING of what it's like to raise a boy since I WAS a boy and I had a little brother, but being responsible for raising boys was something else entirely. I remember being suddenly anxious and hopeful and...oddly...distant. Don't get me wrong, I was excited about the news and seeing my wife glowing with the news that we were having a boy was incredible, but nothing felt right.
I had been traveling for work for the previous few months and I had another 6 to go until I was back home for good, so I pretty much chalked it all up to road weariness, I guess. I don't know if it's hindsight being 30/50 in this case or if I was really being spiritually prepared for what was about to happen, but I didn't engage like I had for my girls.
We started throwing out names for him and nothing stuck or felt right. Nothing felt real, as if I was naming a ghost. Despite my wife's obvious baby belly, it just never seemed to click for me. Surely it was fatigue, right?
I had a break in my travel schedule where I stayed in town for the entire week. Serendipitously we had a doctor's appointment that week to check on the boy's progress. That morning at work, my coworkers and I had filled up my whiteboard with potential names. The Minnesota Vikings fan proposed Ragnar. The Will Ferrell fans proposed Brick, Ron, Baxter, Champ Kind, etc. They were flowing pretty well and we were having a really great time with all of it.
The appointment was over my lunch break, so I hopped in the car to meet Carol across town. Nothing ominous or untoward occurred...it was a normal trip to the lady doctor so I was preparing for the general uneasiness I always felt in that office because dudes weren't supposed to be there. We waited our traditional 20 minutes in the waiting room and finally went back...as always.
The nurse asked us how things were going...as always.
Carol was prepared for the fetal heartbeat...as always.
The nurse moved the wand around her stomach, making small talk...as always.
She smiled cheerfully and bantered as she listened for our little boy's heartbeat...as always.
Upon finding none, her smile broke into silent concern...NOT as always.
It was kind of weird. I was pretty sure I was hearing the same whooshes and whirs I always heard, but she knew the one thing she was NOT hearing. She kept searching for another minute, obviously hoping her worst fear for us wasn't happening.
As the nurse hurriedly left to get the doctor, Carol looked at me panic stricken.
“What’s going on?! Is something wrong?! Did you hear him?!”
I’m not sure what I said because I was in shock. In fight or flight situations I tend to turn into Fred Flintstone where my feet move at a thousand miles an hour and I go nowhere. My mind was spinning. Surely there was some mistake and the doctor will fix this and we’ll go home with smiles on our faces…as always.
The doctor and nurse charged in within moments with a sonogram machine…their panic only being matched by Carol’s. The doctor deftly maneuvered the sonogram machine to find the elusive heartbeat. Her frantic movements slowing with each pass until her shoulders slumped and she mumbled, “It’s not good…I’m so sorry…”
I’m not exactly sure what happened in the next couple of hours. It was all a blur. Carol and I had taken separate cars to the doctor because it was going to be routine and I was going back to work and now we took our treks home alone.
I think I’m supposed to be writing this to give some perspective on what it feels like to go through this from the male perspective. The thing is, at this point I don’t have anything to add of value compared to what I know Carol went through. I’m ashamed to even write about it because for the interval between when we got the news and we went to the hospital for the delivery I was sad, but I wasn’t wrecked. My beautiful wife was completely and utterly devastated, as she should be, and what I think bothered me the most was that I was able handle it.
I shouldn’t be able to handle it.
It is at this point that as I write I feel absolutely terrible about myself and I will regret my behavior until my dying day. Now, I didn’t make the mortal mistake of telling Carol she should get over it or anything, but I WAS able to act as if life was going on and we’d be OK. You might read this and say that everything DID go on and we ARE OK, but I don’t think that’s what my wife needed at that moment. I think she really needed me to understand that our lives had completely changed in an instant…and I didn’t.
Now that I’ve had some time away from it and age/experience has set in, I see where I should have been and how I should have acted.
I don’t know if God was preparing me for this or if I’m a cynical wreck, but as I said earlier, I never got attached to him the way I had for our daughters. We finally settled on his name a day before he was delivered and neither of us could figure out where his name came from or why we picked it. That’s just where we landed. Matthew Lee.
I think in general, for men the baby is somehow unreal until they are born. There’s a distance between us because, unlike the mother, we don’t REALLY feel the baby until they’ve seen the bright lights of a delivery room. Mothers are tethered to the baby from moment one while fathers wait a while.
I understand all of this, and I’m considered to be pretty sensitive for a caveman, but I wasn’t really prepared for what all of this truly meant. I wasn’t ready to comfort my wife and I wasn’t ready for the changes this would mean for us.
From the jump I have to start by saying this…my family is extremely close-knit and we greatly enjoy each other’s company. I know, this is a weird way to start under this heading.
I don’t remember the day Matthew was born in anything resembling detail. I know mine and Carol’s families were around. We talked and bantered for hours while we waited for the Pitocin to do its job.
When I look back on it, all I can see is me standing off to the side while my wife suffered alone. We’d hold her hand and kiss her forehead, but she was locked into the horror of the moment and I couldn’t be there. She had already been at one with this baby boy for 24 weeks and it was all for naught. She was lying in the maternity ward knowing that she was not leaving with a baby. The only thing I remember vividly from that day was the pain she was processing was written all over her face and no hugs or words could fix any of it.
As for me, I talked with my family and tried to lose focus on what was going on. To me it was coping (because I deal poorly with stress) while to my wife I was cutting up while she was dying. In this situation, I failed to grasp the fact that my discomfort with the stress didn’t really matter. What mattered was that my wife needed to NOT go through this tragedy on her own. If only I had understood that reality in the moment I would have saved myself years of self-flagellation and my wife years of resentment toward me.
Several hours into the process, our precious Matthew was born in the most disjointed, uncomfortable way possible. We were all sitting around talking when a nurse asked our family to leave. Almost as soon as they left, Matthew was born. That was the moment. It was over. No doctors watching over us, no nurses rushing around; just cold loneliness and confusion.
Our friend and pastor, Tim, had come to check on us a few minutes before and it was a true blessing to have him there to be with us in this hour of need. He baptized little Matthew and prayed over us all. Despite being only 11” long and weighing less than a pound, Matthew looked perfect. The entire situation was incredibly surreal. We held our boy and cried and made decisions on what to do next that we were woefully unprepared to make.
Funeral and burial costs are overwhelming. They are especially so when you are nowhere near the vicinity of considering burying your stillborn child. It was overwhelming and I fretted about this aspect for a couple of days. We met with the funeral directors (with whom we had unfortunately become well acquainted over the previous year after I lost my father and two grandparents within a 3 month period) to pick out the tiniest casket I’ve ever seen. We chose a burial plot and I just tried to put the money aspect out of my head.
The day of the funeral, our church secretary gave Carol an envelope. The church had taken up a collection for us and between that and the funeral home donating Matthew’s casket, all of the funeral expenses were paid. God is good.
Matthew rests peacefully a few feet from my father.