Twenty-four weeks of gestation is such a short time and almost completely in the abstract, especially for a man. Nervous about providing for another hungry mouth. Nervous about Sarah's health. Distant anticipation for a new life. I've long hoped my kids would love each other as dearly as I love my brother. All of that emotional energy was focused on Sarah's growing belly.
Suddenly the conversation turned to death. And then more death.
Tears show the feelings that words cannot express
We learned of the fatal birth defects August fifteenth and faced questions no parent should ever have to ask. Is it more humane to have an abortion or to wait for the baby to die on its own? If no to abortion, would Sarah be able to endure conversations with acquaintances and strangers? Obviously pregnant and only becoming more so, people would ask about the due date and gender. Some can't resist touching a pregnant belly. All of which is weird enough alone without also provoking tears and the burden of sharing horrible news. If yes to abortion, what kind of abortion? I wasn't prepared for questions of method. Would it be better to choose dilation and extraction (aka. D&E -- disturbingly clinical term for a profoundly gruesome procedure)? Or better to induce the pregnancy knowing the baby would suffocate after cutting the umbilical cord?
I've long intellectually favored euthanasia, despite "thou shall not kill". I kept remembering Of Mice and Men. (spoiler?) Can one kill humanely, even lovingly? But thought experiments and intellectual banter are easy when hypothetical or fictional. Faced with real life and real death, nothing suggested direction. Abortion and euthanasia had always been balanced counterpoint. Never before were they the same thing. Is the lesser evil even measurable? With which choice could we live?
Real choices are difficult and painful because all the options are miserable.
On September forth we learned the baby's heart had stopped. Relieved of the choice and horrified to be relieved at the death of our unborn child.
In stillbirth the motions are Birth and the emotions are Death. Anticipation mingles with dread. He was literally beet red from head to toe. The Caucasian skin tones I expected don't develop until after twenty-four weeks. Amid that shock I still felt parental pride and a surprising sense of connection. Then I felt Dad's presence. It seemed exactly right that we name our little boy after Dad. Little Milton was stillborn on September fifth.
Grief for the baby has overshadowed grief for Dad -- I still keep waiting for the floor to drop out from under me. Dad survived brain cancer eighteen years ago, but between the tumor, surgery, chemotherapy, and lots of Dilantin (to control the seizures brought on by the tumor), he was never the same. He was left with a subtle mental disability and forced into retirement. My athletic, go-getter Dad became a couch potato. His death was a long time coming, despite always feeling a long way off. Dad called 911 around eleven p.m. on August sixteenth complaining of lower back and stomach pain. His heart stopped while undergoing a cat scan. Although they briefly revived him, his blood pressure never recovered. He was pronounced dead around two a.m. on the seventeenth. Better that he died quickly, but I wish I could have been by his side. His memorial service was held in Grand Junction on September fifteenth.
Little Milt at only twenty-four weeks (or is it negative twenty-four weeks?) has filled up the past five, while the nearly forty years I knew Dad are lost in the fog. Dad hugely influenced my character, for good and bad. I still keep waiting for the floor to drop out from under me.
On one hand, little Milt was a precious angel of death who came for my Dad. On the other hand, Dad left this Earth as a guardian angel for little Milt. I still imagine Dad and little Milt walking hand-in-hand in a park and it's still really hard to express how much that grounds things for me.