Monday, November 30, 2009

What Happens When You Lose a Baby?

Trying to Make Sense of a Tragedy

I have read a number of blog postings over at Socon or Bust, and at Catholic Dialogue about what they are calling euthanasia at St. Joseph's Hospital in London Ontario. In their submissions, they have both chosen to go after a Roman Catholic Priest, Fr.Michael Prieur, who I know personally, from working with him for many years, and who I know to be a man of great compassion and kindness.

In a couple of the postings there were references to articles on LifeSiteNews, which made mention of particular cases where the parents of the now deceased children spoke out. I again happen to know one of the couples and discussed the issues and this particular couple with Fr, Prieur. I wrote this posting about it among others.

But, in the last several days, something has been gnawing at me, and when I woke up this morning, I had planned to write this particular piece, until I read an article at National Post. Now I am sure that I need to write this piece.

In the National Post article is a bit of the story of a couple, Barb and Tim Farlow who lost a baby at Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto, and have been on a bit of a crusade to get justice because they believe that the doctors killed their baby with drugs that were administered after Baby Annie was born. One of their problems is that they do not have the money to fight the case, and so tried to get a Human Rights complaint out of it, and a small court claim. The HRTO would not take the case because of the other court action, and the small court claim was bumped up by a judge, and therefor will drop because the Farlow's cannot afford the attorney fees to take a case against a major well legally backed hospital.

That was the final nail in the coffin of my own personal grief that is the subject of this article. It took a long introduction to get here, didn't it?

26 years ago, my father passed away. We were very close, and my then wife and I were very saddened by his passing. To us all, he was a great man. We had some consolation in the fact that my wife was pregnant with a child that was due near his birthday.

However, one month later, we went for our ultrasound. The technician was notably quiet during the procedure, particularly when the baby was visible. In what seemed like no time, we were in the offices of Dr. Jeff Nisker, who is now, and was on the way then to becoming, one of the foremost neonatologists in the country. He is also a professor of medicine at UWO. Dr. Nisker told us that the baby was dead inside my wife's womb, and that she would have to be hospitalized and labour induced to remove the deceased baby and to prevent my wife from becoming seriously ill herself.

We went to my mother's house and the three of us had a good cry over this second death in the family in a month. My wife was admitted to the ward at Victoria Hospital where women go to deliver their babies, but was isolated in a room by herself, while surrounded with women who were excited about what was happening to them bringing new life into the world. It took two days for her to deliver a dead baby.

During that time, I was not allowed by my boss at my place of employment to be with her, but was required to work during the two days she was in induced labour. Though I saw her in the evenings for some time, as allowed by the hospital, it was not the same. I could not concentrate on the work at hand, and did a pretty lousy job actually. Finally, in mid afternoon of the second day, I told the man I was working with at the time, that I was out of there, and went to be with my wife. Not too long after I arrived, she delivered the dead baby in her hospital room. She was covered, and we never saw the baby, which was at 5 months gestation, prior to death. Whoever was attending never showed us our child, nor offered any comfort to my wife. In a rush, we were left on our own to try and figure out what had happened, and how to go on from there.

We later spoke to our parish priest about this and he was sympathetic. However, I realise now that we only glossed over some of it with him, and did not know what to do.

My work performance went to hell in a hand basket, and I went to see a psychologist through the company Employee Assistance Programme, but my wife dealt with it or not, on her own. Shortly thereafter, I was sent by my boss to work in Toronto for several months on a special project, and lived in an apartment in Toronto for the work week, returning home on the weekend. Though I saw the psychologist when I could, the grief, I realise now, stayed with me. After 3 months working in Toronto, I was fired.

Our marriage was never the same as before. We had 3 beautiful daughters together, and I became very protective of them. My wife, on the other hand, was not close to them emotionally, though she loved them. Over a number of years, we drifted apart, not knowing how to bring it back together. We saw a marriage counsellor, but it was not of great help. We eventually divorced, and I remarried. My now former wife still carries much of the pain and sorrow of our life together. I have worked hard to deal with the grief issues in my life, in part because of the disabilities I suffered a number of years ago. But, I can trace the issues in our marriage back to that sad pregnancy.

What kind of grief does a woman live with, who in her own mind has failed at the most important thing that differentiates a woman from a man? It was not my wife's fault that our baby died. She ate well, avoided the things that she should avoid, and was preparing to bring this child into the world, as her body was designed to do, and as her hormones and other systems were preparing her to do.

I felt my own failure from being unable to be with my wife at the time, all the time, to comfort her and to love her. But, my grief and feelings of failure are secondary to those of the one who carries the child.

Grieving a loss, particularly of a child, is almost impossible. How can your child not outlive you? That is not the way it is supposed to be. Part of the grieving is a period of blaming. In our case, we blamed ourselves and to an extent each other, though we never discussed it and never recovered from it.

In the case of the Farlows of the National Post story linked above, they are trying to blame someone for their loss. It could be that someone has done something wrong, but it is also possible that the Farlows are trapped in the grieving over the loss of their daughter. It has taken me over 26 years to get to this place of being able to express my immense sadness at the loss of our unborn child, and to accept it, and deal with it.

In the situation of the alleged (by Socon or Bust, Catholic Dialogue and LifeSiteNews) euthanasia scandal at St. Joseph's Hospital in London, there have been 3 families referenced in their writings. One of the 3 families I know of met with Bishop Fabbro of London, and in that meeting distanced themselves from what they had previously said, and had been published, while in his presence.

In my opinion, and I frankly believe that my opinion has as much merit as those expressed by the bloggers above, these 3 families and all others who have lost a child in this way are grieving, and are unable to make sense of a tragedy. Based on personal experience of a similar nature, which none of the above bloggers have, and based on the length of time it has taken me to come to grips with the loss that we had, I think that the families involved are dealing with a sense of shame, and sorrow at their loss which cannot be explained easily, and as part of the grieving process may lash out at someone to blame. Their grieving process is ignored by those who would like to make a scandal of it, because that makes better reading.

Only now, as I complete this piece can I see why I have been defending Fr. Michael Prieur. He did offer much comfort to my former wife and to me during our time with him, even though we did not know we were in a period of grief and mourning, and that was not the primary reason for us being together.

These families who have lost a child, have much to deal with, and will risk losing their marriages over that and other issues that test the fabric of their union. So, as one who has grieved for way too long, I speak to these bloggers, and ask them to desist from their pontificating about this issue. I thank them for forcing me to deal with my own grief, but believe that what they are writing and wringing hands over is not generally helpful to those who have suffered such a loss. I hope that none of the families involved have read what has been written, because it would only open wounds again for them, as it did for me.

Both Fr. Tim Moyle and I have discussed this matter with Fr. Michael Prieur, who advised us that the matter was going to the Vatican for final approval, and that the policy here in London mirrors a policy in Anchorage Alaska that was approved at the Vatican.

Finally, I pray for all the families that have lost a child prematurely that they will turn their hearts completely to the Lord for his Love and Comfort, and that they will seek Godly counsel in grieving their loss.

I commend myself, my former wife and them all to the tender love of our Blessed Mother Mary, who suffered the loss of her own Son, who died so tragically so that we all may live.


Osumashi Kinyobe said...

I am sorry for your troubles and cannot even imagine what it must be like.
Sometimes I think people don't appreciate life.

Michael Brandon said...

Thank you for your comment. Life is such a precious gift to us, that we really ought to live it to the full. The problem for us is that we do not easily know how to do that. Figuring how to live life fully is our quest.

Fr. Tim Moyle said...

My prayers are with you. To tell you the truth, I has assumed you had experienced such a loss for the insight and passion that you brought to this issue revealed insights that one does not often find in blog postings.
Whereas I have not experienced the immediacy of loss that you have shared, I lived the impact within my family when my parents three times in five years lost children - each of which was born alive, but none of them made it home. I did not have the capacity then to understand what was really happening - but I remember that my parents and to some degree my older siblings walked the dark paths of grief.
Thank you for sharing as you have, and for continuing to work for the faithful and compassionate voice of Christ.
Fr. Tim

Michael Brandon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Brandon said...

Thank you Father Tim.

We are all formed by our experiences, and it is amazing how God can use them to good, and if we let Him so we are participating in the journey, then it is even better.

I missed it at the time, to my continued sorrow, but get it now, I hope.