Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Brute Squad

This was intended to be a Father's Day post as a tribute to T but I'm a few days late.

Over the past few days I've read several eloquent posts on other blogs reflecting on the particular challenges to babylost fathers. It's no surprise that the common theme among these bloggers is the lack of space granted grieving men. While mama deals with the particular physiological, hormonal, and emotional effects of birth and loss, dad is frequently left to handle administrative tasks with a stiff upper lip. This makes sense at first. After all, life does go on and someone needs to keep things together. Over time the division seems less practical but dads are still expected to be somehow less heartbroken than moms.

This situation was exaggerated in our case because T tends to operate on high alert even under perfectly ordinary circumstances. During any type of emergency he's like a thoroughbred twitching and thrashing in the starting gate while I'm more of a fat, shaggy pony merrily grazing the infield. When R died, T made the phone calls, answered the questions, and handled the necessary arrangements. I snuggled C and forgot my ATM PIN number...repeatedly. Confronted with a challenge he batted it down with alarming expediency and dragged me forward through the muck. Woe to anyone who got in his way or said anything unpleasant to me. March of Dimes telethon operators, insurance company customer service representatives, MaryPIRG canvassers--all bobbed in his wake as he went about the business of surviving.

A week after C was discharged from the hospital T went back to work and I was left to face the world of a new parent without my bodyguard.

Most new parents come home with the baby, spend a couple of days entertaining guests and then get down to the business of learning how to be parents. Visitors offer advice, share stories of their own children, demonstrate techniques for swaddling, bouncing, burping—in short all of the things that new parents need to master. When the proceedings also involve mourning the loss of a baby things are less clear-cut.

C was easily the tiniest baby most of our friends and family had ever seen and her size alone filled up hours of potentially awkward silence. Her immature digestive system was a veritable symphony of whooshes, squeaks, and grumbles—a tiny one-woman gas-powered band. Baby farts, however, can only do so much to mitigate the pain and permanence of death.

I have a vague recollection of carrying on many intensely cheery, primarily one-sided conversations with surprise guests. Talking incessantly seemed to be the best way to keep my panic at bay—panic about the microbes they carried into C’s sanctuary, panic that they wouldn’t leave in time for my next pumping session, panic that they’d start asking questions and T wouldn't be there to provide his steady answers. Determined to seem like the same old me and stubbornly convinced that crying would just make visitors linger I charged ahead like a demented cruise ship director sharing priceless conversational gems --“Have you seen R’s urn yet? We thought pink would be nice for a girl.” “One healthy baby is more than some people get.” “It’s probably better this way, she was very sick.” “Maybe it’s so that my Dad could have a grandchild too.” These statements sound completely insane to me now but, at the time it was better to hear them coming out of my own mouth than risk hearing them come out of somebody else’s.

Without T there to help me maintain my equilibrium I felt drained and exhausted by even the briefest visit. I wanted nothing more than to hand the burden over to him for a while so that I could rest.

Recently I got to thinking that there has to be a better way for couples to navigate this type of loss and grief and I came up with the notion of a babylost Brute Squad.

If the hospital had sent us home with a Brute, T wouldn't have had to take on any unpleasant tasks. The Brute would have sent canvassers packing, the Brute would have answered the phone and taken messages, the Brute would have dispatched the priest who was a little too happy that our daughter had gone to meet Jesus. In short, the Brute would have made it possible for T to grieve beside me instead of dashing ahead to remove any obstacles from my path.

Sometimes I imagine quitting my current job and starting a Brute-for-hire service with T--surely the MacArthur Foundation would give me a grant. We could offer a couple of different packages. The Basic – we camp out on your porch and function like bouncers. The Premium – we follow you around like bodyguards and terminate any conversations that veer into undesirable territory The Deluxe – we masquerade as you and pretend to be perfectly calm, ‘brave’ people for the benefit of your friends and family.

Any takers?

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