Ask for Broader Shoulders

This is not going to be a happy post. I’m talking about a part of my life that hurts, and I don’t want you to read it if you think it might be too difficult to read. I understand; it wasn’t very easy to write. You can stop now, and I’ll never know. There are just some things I needed to say, and I don’t know who I should say them to. So, they’re on here.

Thursday, the sixteenth of January twenty-fourteen, my wife gave birth to our first child. Jamie Shannon White was due June ninth, and at birth weighed two ounces.

I was sitting in a staff meeting Wednesday morning, tweeting about how much I didn’t want to be there. The main purpose of the whole meeting only took fifteen minutes, and most of the younger staff already knew what we needed to do. I wanted to leave, so Emily and I could make sure we were at the ultrasound on time; we had hoped we’d find out the sex of the baby that afternoon. We signed in, met with the doctor to ask some questions about the next month’s appointment, and went down the hall for the main event. Our technician was named Brett, and he looked a little bit like Andy Richter. They brought out the blueish jelly and started waving the wand over her abdomen. Brett wasn’t saying much, and I was impressed with how businesslike he was. Then he told us one of the scariest things I could imagine: he couldn’t find a heartbeat. I followed him into the hall to find the doctor. I kept thinking that maybe he was wrong, and the man with the slightly more expensive degree would be able to find what Andy Richter could not.

From the measurements of the head, they guessed we had lost the pregnancy in week fourteen, the middle of December.  We ended up back in an office to talk with the doctor. I don’t really remember how we got there, but I’m sure Andy/Brett or one of the nurses helped. The doctor said we needed to go up to labor and delivery to, well, deliver. The process could take anywhere from a few hours to a full day. While we went home to take care of some things, the office called upstairs to let them know we’d be there in a few hours. The woman who usually scheduled appointments said something on the way out. We made it home. I’m pretty sure I was the one who drove, since I have a vague memory of swearing at Utah drivers who are confused by turn signals. We started making calls. Our parents, our bosses, our priest, anyone who needed to know or might be able to help. Somewhere in the process I called my writing center, and the frantic email I received later leads me to think the uncontrollable sobbing scared the hell out of them. Sorry, ladies. All the phone calls and gathering of supplies only took about an hour, and we called L&D to see if they could take us early. We were admitted around 3:00 pm.

We talked with nurses, lab technicians, social workers, and volunteers while we were there. There was a lot of blood sent in for testing, a lot of uncomfortable exams, and not very much sleep for either of us. The lab tech had been through something similar, and he made us feel a lot better, like this really wasn’t the end of everything. The water broke a little before midnight, but it took almost six more hours to deliver. Emily handled it all like a champ. I’m sure the morphine helped. A volunteer group named Share Parents cleaned up the baby, dressed her in some little handmade clothes, and made some records for us. We have pictures, hand prints, footprints, tiny plaster molds of her hands and feet, and her outfit.

We’re never going to know if our first child was a son or a daughter. I say she, but I don’t really know. It’s not that certainty would change anything, but it still seems wrong that we’ll never find out anymore than we know now. That’s a part of the process, though; we won’t get to see what she’s like when she grows up, either. It’s not very likely that we’ll even find out what caused the miscarriage. Something in Emily’s genetics makes her blood clot more easily than the average person’s, but none of the tests she had done or studies on factor V Leiden give me any reason to think that was anything more than a minor contributing factor. Most likely it just happened for no reason at all, and sometimes you end up with the short straw. That’s not the way most of us like to think of the world, but that is how it works sometimes. We’re never quite going to have the family we imagined. Close, but nobody ever imagines this situation. We’ll still have four more kids. None of them will ever replace Jamie Shannon, but she’s going to make us appreciate the rest of them a lot more on the bad days. I’m told it’s a lot easier to keep things in perspective when you’ve already lived through one of your worst nightmares, and come back from it. I know intellectually that there’s nothing I could have done, but that doesn’t make it feel any less like I broke my promise to protect both my wife and child. I feel like it was my responsibility to take care of them, to keep them safe. I found out that not only had that not happened, but it had been a month and nobody had noticed.

I shut down. I was afraid that one fell swoop I was going to lose my wife and my child. Maybe it’s because I watch too many movies, or read too many fairy tales, but in that moment I was convinced I was going to bury everything that I cared about. I don’t place value on much in my life, really just Emily, my work, and now the baby. I know that I can always turn to my family, both biological and through marriage, and that I should prioritize God more. Friends and neighbors are important, but I couldn’t focus on any of that right then. At that moment, it felt like I was going to lose everything. Thankfully, Emily remained stable and healthy.

I held Jamie. They had given her a tiny golden ring, not quite big enough to fit on the tip of my pinky. It was too big to fit around her arm. She was smaller than my hand, and it hurts to know that won’t ever change. I’ve heard people say you really feel like a dad when your baby grabs onto your finger. I haven’t had that experience, but I’m still a father. I’ve had an experience that most parents never will. No late night feedings, no diaper changes, just a trip to pick out an urn. We chose a small green one with fish on it, because Jamie seems like a fisherman’s name.

I’ve spent the last week alternating between dazed and depressed. I’m functioning. Not very well, but enough for now. Every day seems to be a little bit better than the day before. Our neighbors, family, coworkers, and friends have been great throughout this entire ordeal. We really appreciate the support you’ve all given us. Now I’m just doing my best to live my life, and take care of Emily.  I know that I could be doing a better job of that right now, and I’m so immensely grateful that Sherry has been so understanding and such an amazing mom. I like to think when Grandma Schmid got to heaven a couple of weeks back, Jamie was waiting there to show her around.

Ultimately, we’re not the ones who died. We still have lives to live, and a family to raise. I won’t become someone whose life is defined by sadness. The memory will outlast the pain.

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