Washington - Seven years ago, I was asked a question I did not know how to answer. "Do you want to hold your baby?"
A labour and delivery nurse usually asks such a question while already in the process of handing a newborn baby to her parent. But my baby was not in the delivery room anymore. So the nurse waited for an answer. And I waited for the right answer to come to mind.
I have had years to think about how a father is supposed to be Daddy to a baby who dies before being born, but I am still learning the answer.
A week before the nurse asked her question, I was dancing with my 18-month-old daughter at a wedding reception, crying at the thought of walking her down the aisle someday. I knew how to be her Daddy. I loved being Daddy. But standing with trembling legs in a hospital not long afterward, I did not know how to be Daddy to my second daughter.
When a baby is in the womb, a father cannot hold, feed or rock his baby to sleep. He is kept waiting until delivery day to comfort his baby with something more than words spoken through a belly. But in the case of a miscarriage, the opportunity to comfort your baby face to face is already gone. The job of Daddy never really begins. It never really ends either.
I knew very little about miscarriages when we lost our baby. We walked into the hospital that day thinking everything was probably fine.
Our heart rates did not pick up until a Doppler could not find our baby's heart rate. By the time a more sophisticated ultrasound machine was wheeled into our curtain-enclosed area of triage, I knew as much as you can about miscarriages in an hour of searching the internet on a phone. But I still had so much more to learn, the hard way.
Miscarriages usually occur in the first trimester, but they can happen up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy. The odds of having a miscarriage decrease with each passing week, but they did not decrease enough for us. My brother came to pick up our 18-month-old, and we were transferred to a delivery room.
It was surreal being back in a delivery room, where we'd had such a joyous experience less than two years prior.
When our baby was finally delivered, I wanted to vomit. I wanted to rid myself of all the emotions that were erupting in the pit of my stomach. But I could not even do that, much less hold back tears any longer.
There was no life outside the womb to flash before my baby's eyes, so it flashed through mine. I mourned the days I would never have to teach her how to write her name, pick her up when she fell off a bike, walk her down a wedding aisle or meet her in a delivery room to hold her children. But despite the sorrow, somehow my love for her was growing.
I was not prepared for a nurse to ask me if I wanted to make funeral arrangements. And I certainly did not know that while our baby was being dressed in another room, a nurse would ask me if I wanted to hold our baby.
Of course, I wanted to hold my baby. She was my daughter. I was her Daddy. I wanted to hold her more than anything in the world. I still want to hold her.
But I said no.