I had kind of a revelation lately. Perhaps it would better be described as a crystallization of thoughts. I finally feel like I understand why your Daddy didn’t want to see you when you were born, and still doesn’t want to see the pictures.
He was always up front. He didn’t want to see. We made absolutely certain his wishes were clear and respected. When you were born, he was standing next to my head, holding my hand and looking into my eyes with total intensity. There was a drape over my knees to block the view. Your grandmothers went with the nurses that took you away and not long after your Daddy left so that I could hold you and see you. For those few hours (and only for those hours) we were apart, while I held you and kissed you and memorized your tiny, perfect face.
After, I never pushed him to see the pictures we took. I told him that I was sad that he didn’t want to see and that I would be pleased if he ever changed his mind, but I did my best to accept it and let him grieve in his way.
But it did hurt. It hurt because in this whole world of people only we were your parents. No one else shared you the way we did. We loved each other so much we had to make you to hold some of it–and it hurt, knowing that he couldn’t, wouldn’t even look at you. That he didn’t ache for you the way I did, that he didn’t really feel that he’d lost a son the way I did. I sort of intellectually knew that he couldn’t feel as much for you as I did because, to him, you were a few blurry, grainy images, a bulge in my middle that moved a little under his hand, some wishes and half-formed plans, and me being a total bitch to him for three months straight while whining that I was nauseous.
Of course he loved you. Of course he wanted you. Of course he lost when you died. None of that is really in question. But in my heart it was. Name a way to feel about his choice and I felt it, intensely, at least once. Anger that he wouldn’t acknowledge you the way I wished he would. Frustration that I can’t have a picture of you out in our house. Pride that he knows himself well enough that he can look out for his needs. Gratitude for his calm and steady presence as I clung to him in the middle of my hurricane. Pity that he had never smelled your scent, or seen for himself that your foot was his in perfect miniature, or seen the dark rose color of your lips.
But the one thing I never really felt was understanding. I didn’t really get why he didn’t, even though I thought I knew. It was talking to a guy friend about his wife’s pregnancies. He was talking about the moment he really felt connected to his kids; really felt like a dad, felt that amazing, overpowering tie. It was the first moment they made eye contact. He said he loved them and dreamed about them and was excited for them, but he still didn’t really feel like he was a father. Not until he met them. And somehow that supplied a kind of missing piece.
For me, holding you brought tremendous relief. For that little cocoon of time I just marveled at this tiny being I had created. Like any mother. I reveled in those short hours between when I could only see you in my imagination and when you’d exist only in my memory. They were what reward and joy and validation I could gather to try and salve my shattered heart. The only flaw in those moments of peace was that your Daddy wasn’t sharing them with me.
But I finally understand that, even had he been right there with us, he wouldn’t have shared that with me. For him, it would have been a sudden flood of the magnitude of that loss. Suddenly, instead of being profoundly disappointed he would have become a fully grieving father. There would have been no surcease, only ghastly, indescribable pain. The same pain that holding you eased for me. He withheld himself from meeting you not so that he could deny that he was grieving for a lost child, but so that he would not have lost a child.
And I am glad. Because he certainly did not escape feeling pain and grief. But it wasn’t as much for you as it was for me; for my pain, for the loss of the life we thought we were going to have. The awful helplessness of watching me through that hell. But because he wasn’t walking beside me he could be my shelter. He could provide for me, everything from making sure the bills were paid to making sure I ate occasionally. He could give himself completely when he held me and listened to the constant variances of why did this happen, instead of being so wrapped in his own grief that he had nothing to give.
He could not be a broken, grieving father to you, as I sometimes in my anguish wished he was. What he could be was a strong, loving and supportive husband. And that’s an important part of being a father too. I trust him more deeply because of how much he was there for me. I knew he meant it when he said “for better or worse,” because he’d already done both.