Few experiences in my life parallel the intensity of emotion I feel when I find out we’re pregnant. When I first see the positive pregnancy test, a wild, exhilarating feeling grabs hold of my brain and I want to run and jump around like a crazed baboon.
Once that insanity subsides, I’m hit with an overwhelming wave of love and tenderness toward my wife, Sam, which promptly leads to me blubbering uncontrollably while I go on and on about what an amazing person Sam is and how’s she’s going to be such a great mom for this child.
About twenty or thirty minutes later, I manage to pull myself together just in time for the weight of parenting responsibility to come crashing down on me. I start planning out how on earth we’re going to afford another child and I say things like, “Let’s hope it’s a boy so we don’t have to pay for a wedding” (P.S. Addy girl, I wouldn’t trade you for the world, even if your wedding will end up costing me a small fortune).
Eventually, Sam convinces me that we’ll be fine, we’ll make it through just like we always have. Her little pep talk inspires me and I start imagining myself as a fearless knight riding valiantly into a battle against some great, unknown, powerful force.
This little emotional roller coaster ride goes on and on until I drop from sheer exhaustion. As I drift off to sleep, I smile and think about how I’m the luckiest guy in the world.
With my first two kids, those feelings lasted for months and months. With baby Avery, they lasted about three weeks.
Then she died.
All of sudden, all those intense, overwhelming emotions were sucked away and I was left feeling nothing. I wasn’t sad, hurt, or angry like I always thought I would be if I lost a child.
I was numb. Completely and totally numb.
More than anything, I wanted to be devastated. I wanted to hold Sam in my arms as we both wept over the loss of a child we’d never even had the chance to meet. That way, we could overcome this heartbreaking loss together.
But I didn’t do it. It just didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right. Nothing felt wrong. Everything just felt . . . like nothing.
For the first time in my marriage, I felt like I couldn’t be there for my wife. I simply didn’t have any emotional strength to provide.
I’m not sure how I made it through the rest of that day. I assume Sam and I made dinner for the kids and put them to bed like we always do, but I don’t remember any of that happening.
All I remember is sitting across from Sam in our living room around eight o’clock that night and saying to her, “I’m sorry, dear, but I need to be alone for a while. I think I’m going to go play basketball.”
She said she understood and she hoped that I would have a good time. The look in her eyes as I said goodbye made me think she was probably feeling just like I was. I felt terrible leaving her like that, but I knew I wasn’t going to be any help to her in my current state of mind.
When I made it to the gym, I laced up my sneakers and I started playing. At first, I was just going through the motions (grab the rebound, pass the ball, cut to the basket). But, as the night went on, I got more and more into the game. Eventually, I got so into it that all the events of the day disappeared into the background. Soon, nothing in the world seemed to matter to me except the hoop and the ball.
As I let the rhythm of the game flow through me, it suddenly happened – I felt something. The numbness of the day melted away and I was overcome with emotion. I know it sounds kind of corny, but it was almost as if my love of basketball broke through the emotional barrier I’d subconsciously put up, unleashing a tidal wave of unexpected emotions.
The first emotion I remember feeling was disappointment that I didn’t get to meet baby Avery before she died. Next came frustration (I really wanted another baby and it had taken us a while to get pregnant), despair (even though she was only a seven week old fetus, she was still my child and she had died), relief (I know this sounds terrible, but I did feel some sense of relief feeling the burden of another child being lifted off of my shoulders), guilt (for feeling relieved), and even loneliness (I almost felt like I was the only person in the world who had ever lost a child).
Ironically though, in the midst of this swirling storm of emotions, the one feeling I had stronger than any other was peace. Somehow I knew that things had happened the way they were supposed to happen and that everything was going to work out for our family.
Newly awakened to my sense of humanity, I raced home to talk with Sam about the day’s events. When I got there, one her friends who runs a child-loss bereavement group was at our house giving Sam the emotional support that I hadn’t been able to supply.
After talking for a couple of hours, we decided to let Sam’s poor friend go home and get some rest. As the night came to a close, I went to bed feeling distinctly fragile.
To this day, I still feel a little fragile talking about baby Avery even though it’s been over a year since we lost her. I’m guessing that feeling’s never going to go away.
And I’m glad it won’t. Even though “she’s still part of our family” (as Junior reminds me all the time) and I have faith that I’ll get to meet her someday, for now, I want to be sad that Avery died.
Because even though it hurts, it feels so right to love her and grieve for her.