Tag Archives: loss

A Barroom Blessing

hotd

“Life has been cloudy and grey
Take the bad memories and put them away
For the sun has come out , we have waited so long
All of the hard days are gone”

I’m not a religious man and I don’t pray. But after five miscarriages, even the most ardent atheist will get a little desperate and start to wonder if there are outside forces working against you. And more importantly, what you can do to turn the odds in your favor.

Eleven months ago, MJ and I found ourselves looking at a positive pregnancy test. It was our eighth in seven years. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been through multiple pregnancy losses can tell you, that Hallmark moment of blissful celebration disappears. It is replaced with anxiety and VERY reserved optimism.

We found out just before our ninth wedding anniversary, so I decided to change things up a bit. I booked a hotel room in Saratoga, NY, bought tickets to one of our favorite bands (Hair of the Dog), and asked a couple of our best friends if they wanted to come celebrate with us. And it was great. We went out to dinner, told them the good news, and enjoyed a night of uninterrupted sleep sans children before the concert on Saturday night.

Then, a few hours before the show, I had an idea.

I jumped online and snagged the email address for the band. I knew it was a longshot, but I fired off an email to Rick, the band’s lead singer, and told him about our situation. I requested my favorite song and the one I sang to my wife’s belly when we lost our Alexandra at 16 weeks, and I asked that the band dedicate it to MJ. To my wife, the strongest person I know and the only woman I’ve ever loved this much.

Amazingly, Rick and the band got my email in time and came through for us. They called us out by name, said they were moved by our story, and dedicated the song to us right then and there. It was pretty unbelievable.

“We’re all safe and warm here my friends
The hard days are gone they won’t come again
So raise up your voices and give us a song
All of the hard days are gone”

The belly of a dive bar might be the furthest thing from a church sanctuary at first blush, but perhaps it’s not so different than most people think.

MJ and I surrounded ourselves with good friends and positivity, and we felt that embrace through song. Not just any song, but a song that bridges our past turmoil and reluctant goodbyes with hope for the future. Our sacrament may have involved shots and we traded godliness for Guinness, but the booze-soaked confines of the Parting Glass pub gave us a barroom blessing neither of us will soon forget.

And here we are, 11 months later, with a healthy baby boy in Tommy. Is a song dedication from an Eastern NY Irish band in a wonderfully old pub the reason? Probably not. Just like it’s extraordinarily unlikely it was “God’s will” we avoided a sixth loss.

But in that respect, I gained an understanding of why people voluntarily give themselves up to the thought of a higher power or larger force.

It’s comforting in a way to believe someone can help you, rather than being the random recipient of horrible luck over and over again. It’s why I still have a lucky Patriots jersey and stand in the same place in my parents’ house during big games. It has no impact on the outcome, but it makes me feel better. And sometimes that’s enough.

“All of the hard days are gone
It’s all beer and whiskey and songs from now on
Laugh at the darkness and dance until dawn
All of the hard days are gone”

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Should We Have Another Baby?

mjpregs

It was the first really warm day in April. Winter finally released New England from its icy grasp and nature was set free to bloom. Everything was new and the leaves were green in their infancy, and people left their houses, looked around, and smiled while taking in deep breaths of unadulterated spring.

Will and I had just tried our hand at trout fishing, with no luck. But despite the zero tally regarding the fish count, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to the local hot dog stand for footlongs and fries.

After placing our order, Will bolted to the playground while I sat at a picnic table waiting for our number to be called. I briefly turned my head toward the sky and smiled, then glanced toward my oldest who was already making his way across the monkey bars. My old middle school loomed in the background behind my son — an eerie juxtaposition of new and old, past and present.

It dawned on me we were eating at a place I loved in my youth, in front of a school MJ and I attended for three years. At 11 years old I had already met my future wife, despite the fact she’d move away and I’d go four years without seeing her. Then, nine years ago, MJ and I drove to that very school during a blizzard just minutes after I asked her to marry me. We danced together in the empty parking lot, snow swirling around us and flickering in the headlights.

I was lost in thoughts of storms, tranquility, past, and present when my phone rang. Fittingly enough, it was MJ.

“Perfect timing,” I said, skipping over the hello. “I was just sitting at the hot dog stand with Will and looking at the middle school and thinking about us and everything…”

She cut me off before I could finish, and I could immediately tell she was in a panic.

“Come home now. I’M FUCKING PREGNANT!”

**********************************

It’s not like we hadn’t discussed having a third child. Of course we had. It’s just that those discussions never ended with any kind of firm answer.

I think if you forced her to answer, MJ wanted another baby. As for me, well…I was truly torn. Do I want a daughter? Yes. But do I really want to go through the newborn phase again when I had such a tough time emotionally with Sam? Honestly, I don’t think so. Besides, we have terrible luck with pregnancies not to mention no room in our duplex (or our budget) for a third kid.

Also, three sounds like a lot.

I talk to parents with three kids and they’re straight up harried. Not like normal parent harried, but “tear your hair out holy crap I need six more hours in the day” kind of stressed. Three is a lot. Three’s company. Three is being forced to abandon man-to-man defense and go with zone. Simply put, three is scary.

So I told MJ the truth — I don’t honestly know how I’d react to a third kid until I was actually put in the situation.

**********************************

My first, split-second reaction was shock. Pure shock. And fear.

We can’t afford this baby. We weren’t trying for this baby. How the hell did we even get pregnant when I have a condition that gives us roughly a 2% chance of conceiving on our own without IVF? Where would the baby sleep? What would I ever do with a daughter? What the hell will I ever do with three boys? And it was all made worse by the fact that my wife was in hysterics, I wasn’t with her, and I had to keep it all together in front of Will.

I quickly collected our food and my son, and we hopped in the car to head home. I passed the middle school, I remembered dancing in the snow, I saw my oldest in the rearview mirror, and I looked at the picture on my phone of Sam.

And then I busted out laughing.

Not a giggle or a chuckle, mind you. I started belly laughing my ass off. Uncontrollable bursts of hearty laughter usually reserved for my favorite comedies. Will was looking at me like I was nuts, but for the life of me I couldn’t stop. I was laughing so hard I started crying, yet I was also wearing an ear to ear grin. As I pulled into the driveway, I laughed once more because I quickly realized I had answered my own question.

**********************************

Our baby had a due date of December 25. A Christmas baby. Our gift.

We brought Sam to the OB appointment partly because we didn’t have a babysitter (because we didn’t tell anyone the news), but also as a good luck charm — even if neither of us would admit it. Because if you’re new to these parts, we’re well-versed in miscarriages and pregnancy loss. Four miscarriages in as many years. A medically necessary abortion due to a fetal abnormality at 16 weeks. Not good.

Despite having two beautiful boys and having been through the wringer, being in that room with the ultrasound tech didn’t get any easier.

MJ hopped on the table while Sam bounced on my knee. The grainy image began to take focus on the small screen as I held Sam with one hand and took MJ’s in the other. Sam cooed and raised his hand to the screen, reaching out in an attempt to touch it. His little cherubic fingers finally found the glass, and he started tapping at it.

Right at the void where a flickering heartbeat should have been.

 **********************************

We’re fine. Really, we are.

I don’t know why or how we’ve lost five pregnancies in the seven years we’ve been trying to have kids. But you know what? I don’t know how I became so blessed to have the two unbelievable boys who call me dad. A lot of people would say we’re unlucky, but we’re not. If anything, we’re incredibly fortunate to have the life we do. To have our happy and healthy sons.

I don’t know if we’ll have another baby. That will most likely involve IVF and all the risks, effort, and potential for disappointment and heartbreak that carries with it. But at the very least, I now have an answer to the question.

I’d be thrilled to have another baby. As if there was really any other answer.

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Men and Miscarriage: It’s Time to Include Dads in the Conversation

depressed_manI felt scared, depressed, angry, heartbroken and utterly confused. Not that anyone ever asked.

Such is the case for many men like myself, whose partners suffer multiple miscarriages while hoping to start, or expand, their families. Perhaps it’s because miscarriage is still a taboo topic people are uncomfortable addressing publicly, and even when it is discussed the conversation almost never includes men and their feelings. That’s understandable to a point, since this loss is, and always will be, harder for women who have to physically and mentally endure the anguish of losing a very wanted baby.

But I’m here to personally tell you men hurt, too. And it’s time we start talking about it.

Read the rest of my article at iVillage.com by clicking here!

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When Death Comes for Your Child

***Edit: Little Leah passed away early on July 26 with her loving family by her side. Our thoughts are with her family. The world will miss you Leah, but thank you for leaving your mark of happiness, bravery and strength.***

Many a night has been spent by my son’s bedside, just watching him breathe.

All you parents have probably done the same thing. You’ve had a rough day and nothing seems to relax you. Work is crazy, you don’t see your family enough, the bank is sending foreclosure letters…whatever the case may be you feel like the walls are closing in quickly. So you quietly sneak into your kid’s bedroom late at night. You sit on the floor, put your hand on his/her chest and just watch.

Will’s rhythmic breathing never ceases to calm me down and make me smile. Watching his chest rise and fall and the look of complete serenity on his face is the most soothing thing I can think of on this planet. I’ve spent many hours by his bedside gazing adoringly at him and thanking my lucky stars I have him. I’m sure many parents are in the same boat.

But what if you went to your child’s room like usual, opened the door expecting to find a slumbering kid, only to find an empty bed?

What do you do when death comes for your little one?

It’s a question I mercifully have no experience with. But despite how unnatural and incomprehensible the death of a child is, it does happen. It happens everyday all over the world. It’s happening in my world as we speak, as 5-year-old Leah fights a prognosis that…well, it doesn’t look good.

Leah is the daughter of Rhiannon and Peter. I went to middle and high school with Rhiannon,  and my family has bought our groceries from Peter and his family for years. Although we lost contact after high school, we found each other on Facebook and that’s where I learned about Leah. I’ve been following their story—filled with excruciating ups and downs—since March. I wish I could tell you the story is shaping up for a happy ending, but as Peter and Rhiannon have so eloquently written to all of Leah’s supporters, the odds aren’t good. At all.

According to her dad:

“We started a treatment that is currently being used in a study in Austria. Leah has Neoplastic Meningitis. It’s deadly and chances of her survival are slim. Unfortunately that is our brutal reality. Still wish I would wake up from this nightmare.”

I looked up Neoplastic Meningitis on the Internet. I shivered when I read the results. Not that anyone should be trusting completely in information from the Internet, but if it’s any indication she has anywhere from 1-4 months. A fact that doesn’t even compute in my head because it’s so ridiculously incomprehensible.

I’m not a joiner or a do-gooder. Actually, I’m more of a selfish prick. But from the first time I saw Leah’s picture her story has captivated me and pierced me to the core. Perhaps because when you become a parent, you know how precious your kids are and you learn to love on a whole new plane you didn’t even realize existed. You join this unofficial club. And even though I hadn’t met her, it didn’t matter. Because all I had to do was look at Will and imagine what it would be like to have him taken from me. I have a panic attack every time I even consider it.

Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with aggressive brain tumors, there’s not much that can be done from an outsider’s perspective. All I could do was write about Leah, do my best to get them some play in the media to raise money for her treatments and bring them dinner. Although that was probably more of a punishment than assistance because I cooked it myself. Sorry guys.

I was so nervous going over there. But Rhiannon answered the door with the same beautiful and reassuring smile I remembered from high school. I got to meet Peter too, who I immediately identified as a kindred spirit when we started talking about atheism and how no “God” would ever be so cruel as to give an innocent 5-year-old girl such an insidious and deadly disease. Without a word, their son Lukas started playing with Will knocking balloons around the house.

And then there was Leah.

I actually didn’t get to meet her because she was asleep. When I walked into the house the first thing I saw was all the medications. It didn’t seem possible one person could possibly take them all, nevermind a little girl. Leah was curled up on the couch, taking a well-deserved nap. When I walked over to her my heart sank. She was so small and looked incredibly frail. She had lost her hair from the chemo and her thin face belied all the hearty smiles I had seen in so many pictures.

As soon as the tears started welling up I pushed them back down. Because the amazing thing about Peter and Rhiannon is their strength and grace. They have openly shared their ordeal with everyone, displaying class and grace the whole way. It’s been nothing short of astounding. So if they weren’t crying, I sure as shit had no right to get all weepy. Especially right there in their house.

Out in the car afterwards? Well that’s a whole other story.

The thing is, I thought about Leah napping and how they can go over and check on her and sit there and play with her hair. I thought about how I do the same with Will. But as Peter and Rhiannon bravely admit, the odds are they won’t have that option for much longer. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all fighting with everything they have and they’ll never give up. Ever. But they’re also intelligent and realistic. They’ve listened to their doctors and done their homework.

They’re preparing for what seems to be the inevitable. They’re thinking about the unthinkable. They’re unhappily beginning to embrace the notion of walking into that bedroom only to find it empty.

There are no words that can soothe a parent when death comes for your child. I can’t tell them I know how they feel or that it will be OK. It will NEVER be OK. It will be semi-bearable at best one day far from now, but that’s about it. All I can (and will) offer is unconditional support, although I’m at the bottom of a VERY long list of people who love them. And I can tell them how brave they are. How much I respect and admire them all. And how extraordinarily sorry I am for what they’re enduring.

I know everyone is hoping for a miracle, and they should/will hold onto that for as long as possible. But perhaps the only silver lining is no one has to look far for it, because Leah is the miracle.

She may not beat this wretched fucking disease that I hate with a passion, but from my perspective the courage is often in the battle. And the whole Fernandes family has it in spades. Not to mention a 5-year-old has galvanized a community both in person and across the Internet, affecting the lives of people she’ll never meet. That doesn’t make up for never being able to grow up and grow old—not by a long shot—but in my opinion Leah has shown more strength, bravery and backbone in her five years than some people do in a full lifetime.

No matter how this turns out, Leah will never be forgotten. Her character and spirit in the face of adversity will always be remembered. And when I lecture my son about the kind of person he should aim to be, I will tell him about Leah. And Peter, Rhiannon and Lukas.

And I will hope he turns out half as amazing as them.

 

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We Lost the Baby

“Oh please, not again.”

That was my initial reaction after MJ called me late Friday morning to tell me she was having cramps. It’s funny, because despite never having been pregnant (and obviously lacking the anatomical requirements for such a feat), I believe I have an unbelievable handle on women’s cramping. The ones in her stomach and back are par for the course. But these cramps were different. They started in her stomach and went into her thighs. The same cramps she got just before she went into labor with Will. Not good.

Our doctor told us to head immediately to a diagnostic facility in Falmouth. The same place we received our not-so-tactful news about Alexandra eight months ago. As if it wasn’t unnerving enough to be reminded of that awful day, my heart sank into my feet when they led us into the exact same examination room where we got the fateful diagnosis.

With a passing glance, MJ and I simultaneously gave up hope right then and there.

The uber-chipper ultrasound tech squirted out some gel and began searching the contents of MJ’s uterus. She searched for a while. Then a few minutes more. But there was nothing there. Just an empty sac. Three weeks ago MJ  housed a tiny blob with a flickering heartbeat, for which I had been so grateful. But now there’s no flicker. Of life or of hope.

We filed out of the office without looking at one another. I’m usually good with words, but what do you say to someone after four lost babies? It’s all been said. The tears have all been cried. We hit rock bottom last summer with Alexandra and the hateful protesters, and I think both of us truly believed this pregnancy would be some kind of Karmic reward for having endured that hell. After all, we just want one more child. We’re not John & Kate. We simply want our son to have a brother or a sister. And this baby was going to complete our family.

But it looks like our family is done growing.

I don’t know why neither of cried on Friday. Maybe we were in shock. Or perhaps we’re used to this by now. Four miscarriages in five years will do that to you. And it could be this will all hit me like a ton of bricks in a few days, but this weekend something pretty miraculous happened.

I fell in love with my wife all over again.

There are all kinds of bravery. Soldiers who fight to protect us. Firemen who rush into burning buildings to save lives. But then there are ordinary people like my wife, who—as it turns out—are anything but ordinary. One miscarriage is hard enough. Two really sucks. The third was Alexandra, and that ordeal was enough to push most people right over the edge. But MJ stayed sane. And not only that, she mustered up the courage to try again. To put herself in a situation with a fairly good chance to have her heart crushed again. And yes, unfortunately that ended up happening. But that shouldn’t take away from how brave it was to even try for another child after all this shit.

It’s easy for us to whine about “why us?” There are unexpected and unwanted pregnancies that yield healthy babies everyday. There are women who are crack addicts who miraculously give birth to babies without health problems. These women don’t want their kids and probably won’t treat them well. Meanwhile we’re desperate for a second child who we can love forever, yet we are treated to nothing but heartbreak.

But there are people out there who have had more miscarriages than us. And some of them don’t have a Will. Those poor couples don’t have a beautiful, kind, miraculous baby boy to adore and squeeze and love until it hurts. We do. And I’ve never been more grateful for that.

But the fact remains, I’m feeling pretty jilted.

I’m writing this from the hospital waiting room. It’s Valentine’s Day. Instead of roses, chocolates and dinner, MJ is having a D&C. It’s a day created solely for recognizing the love in our life, and my wife is literally having the life sucked out of her. It’s not right and she deserves better.

The silver lining is the reaffirmation of my feelings for my wife. My hero. Some couples have it easy. They get married, buy a house, get pregnant and have perfect children in a Barbie dream house. Am I a little jealous of them? Sometimes. But we have something they don’t. MJ and I are battle-tested. Our relationship has hit landmine after landmine, but we’re still here. And not only that, we have a deeper appreciation for each other than ever. It would be so easy to resent each other and throw in the towel. But as I gazed at her Friday night, taking it all in stride, the only explosion I felt was my heart expanding to an unprecedented level to accommodate all my love for her.

Not to mention my love for all of you. My in-laws and my parents for helping out with Will. Alicia for coming out on Friday night, as well as Dave and Amanda for keeping us company, keeping us laughing and literally fighting me to pay for the bill. All of my friends who called, texted and e-mailed. And last but certainly not least, hundreds of you who dropped me a line on Twitter or through the blog. Make fun of the Internet all you want, but the support you have provided us is real. Tangible. And we are eternally grateful on a level you can’t possibly comprehend.

In a few hours I’ll pick up my groggy and worn wife, and I’ll spend the rest of the day caring for her. I’ll pick up my son and bring him home from preschool. Then I’m going to hug them until they can’t stand it anymore. Because as much as I’d love to complete our family, the family I have has already completed me.

And that makes me a lucky man.

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