What on earth compelled me to publish that intensely personal essay on my professional blog?
I’ve been mulling that question over for the past two weeks. I tend to be a very private person; I never learned to be a good share-er in the online sense. Until the miscarriage, we'd kept our cards very close to the vest—even with most of our closest friends and family members. It was a fairly drastic reversal.
Was I looking for sympathy? The realization that hit me before clicking “PUBLISH” was that I would soon be receiving sympathy notes, not only from the few friends I know read the blog, but also quite possibly from professional acquaintances and total strangers—in short, lots of people who probably wouldn’t really know what to say but might compelled to say something anyway. The whole "at a loss for words" feeling. Ugh, awkward. That wasn't it.
The notes from friends, acquaintances, and yes, total strangers (including from countries on the other side of the world) were amazing to receive, though, despite all my simultaneous feelings of awkwardness. I even got a hug from a parent the night I published the piece, as she was dropping her student off. I’m a big fan of hugs. So was it validation I was looking for? Like an affirmation that I was right to feel the way that I did, to express very publicly what I expressed?
No and yes:
No in the sense that the experience was mine alone. I was learning and taking something away from it as I processed it; it has meaning to me independently of anyone else’s reaction to it.
Yes in the sense that I wanted to make something out of it that others could respond to. I realized that in the midst of all the personal statement coaching I’d been doing that I hadn’t been finding time for my own creative work. I was craving it, desperately. I've been spending hours each day pushing students to be vulnerable, to find the courage to dig deep and take the risk of sharing something authentic, a story unmistakably their own.
I guess it felt like I needed to take my own advice. I went through the process of writing and editing and rewriting so that I could have something to share—ultimately to feel connected to a more collective human experience.
Time to have some fun by indulging the part of myself that wants to walk the walk: see what this piece would look like in 650 words or fewer.
Parent’s Journey: Eulogy
The stillness exploded the day the ultrasound turned up nothing. That little pulse, that blip of dawning consciousness had gone. Only the shell remained: dead tissues marked out in grainy greyscale splotches. My wife’s face twisted slowly with anguish. The air had left the room.
That hopeful dream had lived with us a few short weeks before its abrupt, nightmarish disfigurement. I had opened myself up to this tiny being, acknowledged it as part of our family's future. I had begun my relationship—my fatherhood—with it.
We’d been assured that the heartbeat was a good sign. It meant that the little peanut was strong. It had reached a certain level of stability, they said. Of course I knew the risk I’d taken, how I’d exposed myself. But that's what parenthood is all about, I told myself: you invest your entire heart in this being and you give up any semblance of control. With every day that passes, the stakes will only get higher. Get used to it.
It was a choice that had to happen. We needed to that optimism. For all the heartache and the sheer bewilderment of the fertility struggle over the previous years, we needed that hope. The dream had to live and breathe and grow.
But it was gone, and as I trudged through the days of a ferociously hot and frenzied application season, I knew that the feeling eating away at me underneath everything would not be ignored. I felt betrayed—utterly abandoned. How could you leave us? We’d been left stretched to our limits, financially, emotionally, and energetically. For what?
It was ugly. But for all the ugliness of that resentment, the anger slowly dissolved, giving way to sadness—not the small pity-me sadness that can become so habitual, but the deep echoing sadness that lingers in all the hollows of our lives. It was not for me or my wife, but for life as it passed through that little being.
He (as the test results later revealed) never grew bigger than the size of a pinky fingernail. He tried. He made it further than any of his predecessors. But he couldn't, for some reason or other, and he had to go, back to wherever it is we all go.
For well over two years, I've struggled with the question am I ready to become a father? Eleven weeks ago, at the moment that I witnessed that tiny pulsing light on the screen for the very first time, I asked myself that question for the very last time. The answer was finally clear, with all of the usual anxiety-fueled static about money and time and personal aspirations fading to a brief silence.
A new question then emerged: would a father left without a child still be a father? My only response was that the previous answer stood firm. I would act as a father would. And so I said my goodbyes, and sent him off to wherever he is headed with all the gentle love I could summon.
Parents are awesome. I mean that in the original sense of the word: parenting fills me with awe. You do the best you can through entire childhoods, but in the end, there's only one right way to do your job: to send your child out into the world with a whole life’s worth of love and encouragement. The strength it takes is staggering. It’s a choice to give more than you believe you have to give, made before you can think twice about whether it’s even possible.
Reach for it, however, really stretch for it—that’s all you can do. The journey of parenthood, at its heart, is a test of faith—not only in something greater than oneself, but also something greater within.