By Craig Papeyan
HAND of Santa Clara County
Three years ago, I was really looking forward to the birth of our first child. Having gotten married later in life, I was both excited about having a baby and anxious about all the usual first-time dad fears and concerns. I was trying to balance a job which required a lot of travel with getting prepared to be a good father and husband. Fortunately, the anxiety subsided as the pregnancy progressed and my thoughts turned more to the future. That is, until “The Day.”
When my wife Julie was 32 weeks along in her pregnancy, I was returning from a trip and called her from the car to let her know I would be home in an hour. She was very upset and said the baby had not moved in the evening. I told her to get to the hospital and I would meet her there.
When I arrived, Julie was being monitored and the baby’s heart rate was very fast. At 6 a.m. the following morning, the doctor decided an emergency cesarean section was needed to save the baby. Even at this point, I had a strong belief that things were going to work out fine. Call it blind faith or ignorance, but it seemed like whatever the problem, there was sufficient medical technology to fix it. My primary concerns were to be there for Julie and to comfort her.
I don’t recall Emily making any sound, although Julie remembers two distinct cries. Emily’s APGAR score was only 2 out of a possible 10 so she was rushed to the neonatal intensive-care nursery.
The doctors included both of us in discussions of options, treatments, and outcomes, but it became clear I would have to be the decision maker and the champion for what my wife and I wanted to do. The nurses were very focused on caring for Julie and Emily and tended toward the “human” side of the issues. I really appreciated that. It was all I could do to try and take care of my wife, baby, and work through the technical discussions and choices that I felt were on my shoulders to understand enough so Julie and I could make the best decisions for Emily.
Over the next three days, we dealt with the agonies of watching our baby in the neonatal intensive-care nursery suffer seizures and struggle to breathe. We ultimately came to the realization that, because of a kinked umbilical cord, she had been deprived of oxygen. She was perfect in every way, but brain dead.
The next morning, the doctors told us she was going downhill, and would probably not survive the day. Our minister met us at the hospital and baptized Emily, my wife and myself as a family. Throughout the day, we held Emily, sang to her and read her poems until she passed away just before midnight.
In the early days after Emily’s death, we read about infant loss and various people’s stories, so I was prepared for the role that I would be cast into. As the father and husband, most people asked me for factual information and how Julie was doing. I think that it is still commonly expected that the man will be in charge of the situation and deal with all the details, buy cheap lasix. I was fortunate to have some very close female friends with whom I could share my feelings about the situation, and that helped a great deal.
I understand that there are many cases where one partner blames the other for the death of their baby, and the divorce rate after the loss of a child is extremely high. We were fortunate to have had a relationship with a counselor from our premarital counseling, and we met with her while Emily was alive and regularly after her death. During the depths of my grief, there were times when I wondered if there was something Julie could have done to prevent this. Intellectually I knew there wasn’t but the thoughts persisted. Fortunately, I kept them to myself.
While I didn’t feel that my wife blamed me for Emily’s death, I did struggle with a lot of feelings of inadequacy. I am a person who is driven to achieve — to do things well and to do them right. I felt that I had let my wife down, as I was powerless to help her with the physical and emotional pain she was enduring. I couldn’t help my baby — there was nothing that I could do to “fix” her problems and make her better. I felt I had let my parents down too. They were getting on in years and had been looking forward for a long time to a grandchild. I think that this lack of control was a very significant element in my grief — the inability to “do” anything to stop or change the course of events.
The experience of losing a child has significantly changed my life and relationships in a number of ways. The most obvious to others, although not to me, was the realignment of priorities. My family is clearly number one now, and I strive to spend as much time with my wife and subsequent daughter, Kristin, as possible. I’ve also found that I am more confident connecting on a personal level with my business associates. This usually comes about when I am asked, “How many children do you have?” My answer almost always is, “Two. One living and one who didn’t survive.” I think the loss of my daughter has drawn me closer to my friends who remember Emily and talk about her openly and the effect she has had on our lives.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with grief, and each must deal with it. This seems to be harder for men than women, though either way, it’s hard. Seeing a counselor helped us understand our feelings and really get to the heart of the choices we would be making. We got involved with HAND immediately so we could see how other parents were dealing with their grief and learn what to expect. To be honest, at our first meeting a week following Emily’s death, we thought we had our act together and all these other people were having a much harder time dealing with their losses. Later, we realized we were still in shock and denial. We had all the same issues to deal with as everyone before us. Had we not stuck with the meetings, I don’t think we would have realized this or dealt with our grief as well.
Volunteering to help other HAND parents, contributions to our church and hospital and the sterling bracelets we had made to replicate the hospital identification bands we were given when Emily was born — all help us remember Emily.
Although it does get easier over time, there are moments that bring me back to the time of our loss. “Butterfly Kisses,” by Bob Carlisle came out at the time of Emily’s death. It’s a song from a father about his daughter growing up and getting married. To this day, whenever I hear that song, it brings tears to my eyes as a reminder of all the things in life I won’t get to do with Emily — watch her play, go camping, walk her down the aisle. It gets easier, but the hole in my heart never goes away.