“Chromosomal abnormalities” is such an odd phrase. It’s so clinical. It brought to mind teams of gene-like soldiers - mine in Cork jerseys, Vicki’s in Kerry jerseys - not getting along.
We're in a doctor's room in Hyde Park in Sydney in shock. August 16th, 2017. A date that will be etched on our psyches forever. We were going for a routine scan to check on our first child's progress, and discovered to our horror there was no longer a heartbeat. Our world fell apart in an instant.
There’s an old Yiddish saying: “Man plans and God laughs”. In June, I’d asked Vicki, my favourite human, to be my wife. By early July we were in Kenmare scouting the place we were going to get married in. On the drive back to Cork we had a date picked, a meeting with the priest that night and an exciting 12 months ahead.
Vicki had been feeling a bit off since we got back and decided to take a pregnancy test to rule that out. We’d put it down to jet lag, or a bug she’d picked up from her nephew. But it was positive.
We didn’t sleep much that night. What will this mean? What about the wedding? Are we ready? Then the joy kicked in. I was looking forward to being a dad. Vicki has always wanted to be a mom. We discussed names, changed our plans to fit around our new arrival. We were excited. Expectant. Nervous. It was wonderful.
And then it all came crashing down. Darkness became a tenant in our lives for the rest of August and September.
We craved our family’s presence, that familiar comfort, but had to make do with Skype calls and Whatsapp messages from another hemisphere. Further tests revealed that chromosomal abnormalities had not been the cause of the miscarriage after all. Instead, we were given an “unknown” verdict, leaving too much room for blame and what ifs.
Gradually we began to get back on our feet. The regular rhythm of life had begun to return.
And then we got the call every emigrant fears.
Early on the morning of November 22nd, 4.08am to be precise. My sister, Myriam, telling me that our Dad had taken a bad turn and we needed to get on the next flight home. I spoke to him briefly and he told me how much he loved us. At 6.32am, my father died.
The next six weeks were a blur of arrangements and milestones to be reached - a removal, a funeral, Christmas, a month’s mind and then the dreaded flight back to Sydney, all peppered with visits from well-wishers, cards, emails and endless cups of tea.
We hit another dreaded milestone in March when our baby was due
And now I’m here. Back in Sydney.
We hit another dreaded milestone in March when our baby was due, working our way through the fog in our heads and the hole in our hearts as best we could.
I’m back at work. I’m supposed to be back to myself again because what else do you do? You get on with it.
But grief is a strange imposter. At times, I feel like the solid footing of my life has been swept from under me and I spend my days wading through quicksand, each step a chore.
I know this is part of the grieving process. And I know in the grand scheme of things, my ills are mild compared to others. My father lived a great life. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. But knowing and experiencing are very different things.
There’s part of me that feels guilty for letting all of this affect me as much as it has. There’s part of me that feels embarrassed. There’s part of me that thought I should play it smart and publish this article when I was fully back to myself – another good news story from the other side of the world.
I don’t know if these thoughts come from being a man and feeling like I need to hold it together, or even being an Irish man and feeling we just don’t do emotion well.
But I should know better. I work in psychology and I’ve studied and observed this kind of thing – mental ill-health, bad periods in our lives, whatever you want to call it.
Maybe I’m giving myself further permission to feel, to get to the depths of my loss and pain, by opening up here. Because I know that’s where the healing comes from.
Some things provide comfort. A magnet on our fridge reminds me how the Japanese believe when precious objects get broken, you should repair the damage with gold. The gold becomes part of the object’s history, a reminder that its journey has not always been smooth. The last few months mean my family and I will carry many little pieces of gold in our hearts.
We’ll continue to grieve and to confide in one another, to have good days and bad. In time, we’ll think and we’ll plan for the future around life’s big decisions - family, health, work. And we’ll hope and pray that Dad and our baby will help to sway the Big Man upstairs to smile upon the direction we decide to take.