The following is the true story of my daughter, Freya Rose. She passed away on January 21, 2016 and was born a day later.
Part 1: The Screws
The screws are hard to take out. I’ve assembled and disassembled a lot of furniture in my time but I’ve never encountered any screws that were this hard to take out. Were they this hard to get in when I put it together? I can’t remember now.
When I first found out I was going to be a father, I remember a mild sense of shock, as if I had just been handed a complicated math problem and told I had to solve it in less than nine months. I didn’t feel elated like people seem to in the movies. I didn’t jump for joy around the house, planning what color to paint the baby’s room or what brand of car seat to get.
What I did do was smile and hug my wife and say how happy I was. We had been trying for a few months at that point but the reality didn’t really hit until that day. I remember I was fooling around with our camera, trying to take a picture of a houseplant when she came up to me with the pregnancy test. The memory seems so blurry now, almost as if it were a dream I had a long time ago and am now trying to remember if it actually happened or not.
We made the decision, after speaking with my wife’s referred obstetrician and doing our own research, to apply to get a midwife. Not long after, we got responses from the various midwife groups that there was unfortunately not enough staff to help us with our pregnancy. We resigned ourselves to, at the very least. find a better obstetrician.
Almost immediately after, the new NDP government in Alberta granted midwives a significant bump in funding as well as loosened the regulations on how many midwife centers could exist at any given time. We soon got a call from our future midwife telling us that she would be happy to take us on. Through a strange coincidence, it was the same midwife my co-worker had recommended to me when I mentioned that we were thinking of going that route. It seemed serendipitous.
We went in for our regular tests throughout the first and second trimester. I wouldn’t say that we flipped our lifestyles upside down to accommodate for the pregnancy but some things did change. Some things were upsetting–the sound of my wife vomiting every morning for months–while some were merely amusing–she started drinking grapefruit juice for the first time ever despite previously claiming that it was horrible. With each new development we voiced a concern to our midwife but she assured us that it was normal, don’t worry about it: every pregnancy is different.
The symptoms improved for a bit. The vomiting subsided, no more waking up to the sound of retching and grabbing a glass of water from the kitchen to wash the taste from her mouth. Less nausea, less pain in general. By now, the bump was showing, pushing my wife’s stomach out like a balloon.
Not long after I found out that I could stop referring to our child as “they” and could firmly say “she,” I felt a kick. It was subtle, not really what I expected; I thought maybe it would have been violent, a sort of “get me out of here” type of movement. Instead, it was more akin to not wanting to get up when your alarm goes off in the morning and you know you have to go to school. I found it fascinating.
In December of 2015, a few months before our expected due date, my wife started to feel a severe pain in her stomach. We feared the worst. Our midwife suggested a few over-the-counter, natural remedies. Those didn’t work. Eventually, we checked into the Women’s Hospital by our house, a perk of living in a big city.
The hospital was designed to deal with female health concerns, the most prevalent being pregnancy and birth. As such, it didn’t house the regular rabble: the punk with a cut on his head swearing into the public phone, the frazzled old woman muttering to herself in a winter jacket, the kids running left and right like crazed animals. It seemed like a blessing when we arrived and everything was relatively quiet.
It soon became a bit of a prison. My wife was held there for over a week, the pain fading only with regular shots of morphine and other painkillers. The doctors and nurses could not figure out what was wrong, despite all the ultrasounds and scans. We slowly began to learn to hate the establishment she was trapped in. We spoke poorly of the doctor who was caring for her. All of this happened while I was having to work my regular day job, coming by after work but not before letting the dog out to pee and eat her supper.
Eventually, the doctors told her she had to leave as they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. We asked what we should do about the pain. The response was the administrative version of a shrug and a “deal with it.” After all, every pregnancy is different: this is normal.
Thankfully, the pain seemed to subside after a while, leaving my wife to suffer through the final stages of pregnancy: the overwhelming increase in my daughter’s size, the lack of energy, the return of morning sickness.
Finally, when it all seemed like too much to handle, the contractions started. We had planned a home birth and had even bought a birthing pool for our living room. Oddly enough, after all the videos of screaming women and three-day heavy breathing labors, the whole experience seemed highly mundane. I went out and bought burgers, we watched Zoolander, I played some video games while my wife relaxed in the pool. There was some tension, of course, but it was largely due to not knowing exactly what giving birth was going to be like. We both knew what the expected outcome was; we just didn’t necessarily know what it would look like when it arrived.
The contractions began at night, which meant that we would have to find some way to sleep while this was happening. I think I got a few hours in before waking up the following morning to my wife telling me that the contractions didn’t seem to be getting worse. They’re supposed to get worse. I had read this. The contractions get worse and that’s how you know the final moments of labor are near.
On the morning of this second day, my wife turned to me, tears in her eyes, and said “She’s gone, I can feel it.” A day later, as the third doctor in a row performed an ultrasound on her stomach, I knew that my wife had been right and my daughter was dead.
I pull the last screw out of the bottom frame of the crib and get to work on prying out the fifty wooden dowels still poking out of the side but my hand is aching from twisting the screwdriver and I have to take a break. Did the screws have to be as tight as they were, as snug as they were, to make sure the structure doesn’t simply fall apart under the weight of it all? My shoulders slump. I lean against the wall and hold my head in my hands.