Do I tell them or not? C’mon Adam, think quickly. Is it worth getting into this now? Are they someone who needs to know? Are they just making small talk, or do you think they genuinely care about you and your life?
These are the questions that go through my mind when I get into a conversation with someone when I’m out with Caleb (my 14 month old son), and they eventually ask, “Is this your first?”
You see, Caleb is not our first child. He’s our third son. But he’s the only one that’s living.
And if someone is innocently asking a question about your child, the real answer can be a bit of a downer…
And yet, that is our life. That is our reality. That is our grief and our joy.
When Sarah and I had our first appointment with her doctor, and we were told that we were pregnant with twins…well, let me just say that we probably shared more expletives with each other over the next couple hours than we had in the previous history of our relationship.
We couldn’t believe it. I went home and immediately claimed the domain DazedDad.com because I had no idea how to handle the idea that I was going to be the dad of twins.
After the initial shock, it began to be exciting. And then we got nervous as hell…and then we’d get excited about our journey of life with twins. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy by any means, and we had a couple scares early on. But eventually things started to plateau, and on a Friday afternoon of the 19th week, we had an ultrasound appointment where we got to see Baby A and Baby B in detail. After that appointment, I wrote a post called “Two More Penises in the Walker Cleaveland Home.” Twin baby boys!
Three days later, October 25, 2010, just shy of 20 weeks into our pregnancy, our boys would be born. And would die. And our lives would never be the same.
We still don’t really know what happened. It was, unfortunately, one of those situations where the doctors scratch their heads and just say it’s horrible luck. The worst kind of luck. The one thing that everyone fears but doesn’t talk about: losing your children during the pregnancy. I still remember sitting with Sarah in the triage area of Labor & Delivery at the hospital, and the doctor saying the words for the first time:
“…in which case, we would need to terminate the pregnancy.”
At that point, we crossed a threshold into a world we never thought we would have to deal with. We would soon join the club of those parents who have dealt with infant loss. The worst club that one can ever join.
Once we got settled into the hospital room, I drove the 40 miles home to Livermore, California, to pick up a few essentials for us, since it was clear we’d be at the hospital for awhile. It may not have been the best idea for me to make that drive alone, because I don’t remember any of it. I remember listening to Linkin Park in the car, but nothing else. I got home, quickly gathered some clothes, toothbrushes, brush for Sarah, chargers for our phones and a few other random supplies.
Somehow, I made it back to the hospital. I walked through the hospital door (which now had a fake rose taped to the door – the universal symbol that meant “something horrible is happening beyond this door – prepare yourself”), sat down and Sarah said, “We have to name them.”
Just days before, we had decided on names, but as soon as we heard we were going to lose the pregnancy, our first instinct was to “save” the names. We loved the names we’d chosen and we wanted to be able to keep using them for future kids. But Sarah had read one of those cheesy pamphlets the social worker gives you in the hospital, entitled something like: “So You Just Found Out Your Babies Are Going To Die – Hopefully This Cheesy Pamphlet With Graphics From the 80s Will Help You,” and the pamphlet said we needed to name them.
And we talked about it. And the stupid pamphlet was right. These were our boys. We had named them already. And we would honor them by giving them their names.
Micah Walker Cleaveland.
Judah Walker Cleaveland.
Strong names, for our sons who would have to fight for every breath when they were born.
Somehow we got some sleep during the night…and as quickly as Sarah went into labor, it was over almost as quickly. Micah came first, at 6:49am, weighing 10 ounces. Judah followed at 6:54am, weighing just 8 ounces.
And they were breathing. They were alive. Our boys were alive, and we held them, and loved them, and kissed them, and cried, and smiled, and weeped and were amazed. I still remember noticing their fingers. Their toes. They were perfect. Tiny, but perfect. There eyes weren’t developed enough yet, so they remained shut, but as we held them in the palms of our hands, we could feel the vibrations of their bodies fighting for air, fighting for life.
They lived for one hour. One precious hour. Trying to remember it not, it feels like a minute. Like an hour. Like a snapshot. Like a full-length feature film. It’s a hazy moment for me. Yet it’s also crystal clear. The time spent rocking them in my arms – while they lived, and after they stopped breathing. Kissing their foreheads…touching their skin, which continued to get colder and colder.
After three hours, we decided it was time to say our goodbye. But not before they were baptized by one of the other pastors I worked with at the church. She was there, and helped us recognize God’s blessing and love and care for Micah and Judah, and we committed their spirits to the Living Spirit’s care.
That day our lives were changed, in a way that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. That day, I became a father. Prior to that morning, I was a dazed dad, wondering if I was really ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child. But as I held Micah and Judah in my arms, I believe I felt the closest thing to unconditional love I’d ever experienced in my life up until that point. I was changed.
Today, I am the father of Micah and Judah, and of a beautiful 14 month old boy, Caleb Elijah. Caleb has blessed our lives in so many ways. And while it completely messes with my mind to think about this fact, Caleb would not be with us if we had given birth to two healthy, full-term twin baby boys.
As anyone who has gone through infant loss, stillbirth or any other form of pregnancy-related loss can tell you, you are never the same afterward. This is part of my story. In fact, it’s one of the deepest stories I have.
I am a father of 3, 1 living.