Tania is lying on her back with her tummy exposed at our appointment for the twelve-week scan. A grainy image of a new baby appears on the computer screen, and as I make a point to mention that we’d like a photo to take home with us I notice the lack of activity in the arms and legs, and before the ultrasonographer even says, ‘I don’t think this is good news,’ I know it’s dead. When she moves the probe and shakes it across Tania’s stomach, our baby fl oats lifelessly to the bottom of the womb.
I reach out and hold Tania’s hand as the ultrasonographer apologises and turns away, but her presence is too much for me and when I move closer to Tania to console her I find I am unable to say anything.
Tania starts asking questions – when exactly the baby might have died, what procedure will be needed to remove it, can the appointments be scheduled today – and although I want to take over and make it easy for her I am weighed down by an aching inside that forces me back to this meek pose – hands in lap, shoulders hunched, gaze drawn to the screen again and again. Even though the image is no longer there I can still see it.
Everything feels a little skewed as we walk from the consultation room. The woman waiting for her appointment, whom I smiled at when Tania’s name was called, is now an imposing presence. The late afternoon sunlight is still beaming upon a toddler playing by the window, but instead of encouraging a lazy smile from me it signals the dark night that’s coming, and I’m just holding on, surrounded by our secret.
When I walk to the counter to pay for the appointment Tania walks in the other direction, away from the people who know, and I whisper time to myself as I pay for the appointment – the discounted amount for those who leave without the glossy photo and CD – hoping this hurt won’t linger for much longer, or at least won’t get any worse.
As we’re driving home Tania keeps talking, scheduling medical appointments, and my hand keeps moving from the gear stick to her hand and back again. I’m acutely aware of people everywhere – the pedestrians crossing the road and the strangers in the cars beside us; family and friends only a phone call away, waiting for news; Tania’s parents waiting back home with Archie, Lewis and Tyson; and I don’t want to see anyone. I just can’t talk yet, not until this pain fades.
When we pull into our driveway there are two parts of myself fighting for ascendency. The ache is burning me towards tears and my mind attempts to cool it down and clear it away, saying, It hadn’t even become a real baby yet, and there is no way for me to shelter from this as we enter our own house to be greeted by our children and their grandparents.
‘Let’s go outside and play,’ I manage to say to the boys as Tania gathers with her mum and dad for support and unloading.
Archie and Lewis jump down the steps, talking excitedly about the bugs they found with Gramps, but everything is still skewed, even here in my own backyard, and as I take hold of Tyson’s fully formed hand to guide him down one step at a time I hear the voice inside my head say, It was just a collection of cells, and I have to use my other hand to press back the emerging tears. Why can’t I stop this?
Miscarriages happen all the time. They’re common. We have three healthy children. As long as Tania’s okay . . . I have to keep it together and help her.
The squeaking back and forth of what was fi rst Archie’s swing and then Lewis’s swing and is now Tyson’s swing, is a focus point, and I’m determined to fi nally search the garage for some oil to fi x it when Tania calls the boys to say goodbye to Nanny and Gramps. After handing Tyson through the sliding door I go straight there, to the garage, where my gym is, and as I pull the door closed I’m thinking, I don’t have any oil, I don’t even own a toolbox and how did my baby die?
I realise why I’ve come to this familiar place where I’ve spent so much time alone. The fi ght is over. The ache takes the reins and steers my mind on a course of its own design.
We are a suburb away from the ultrasonographer’s probe and I have the palms of my hands pressed hard into my eyes, but the image that was on the screen refuses to be erased. I can see the familiar slope of my baby’s forehead and imagine warmth in the chub of his cheeks and neediness in the limbs that should have been grabbing and kicking and eventually reaching for me, and from that comes this racking, torturous refrain that I can’t drag myself away from: I let him die alone.
I wasn’t there to help him when he died. And to let him down even more, to complete the abandonment, they are going to take him out of Tania and throw him away.
When the door rattles open it reveals me sitting slumped on the bench press in the centre of my gym, completely helpless.
I can’t even attempt to stand for Tania, to be strong for her, and every time I wipe my cheeks they’re covered by a fresh wave of tears, and this avalanche of pain needs to stop right now so that I can be useful and so I say, ‘I’ll be okay,’ but then Tania hugs my face to her stomach and the avalanche rumbles on with even more force, and I’m not sure I will be.
*This is an excerpt from the book Reservoir Dad.
To purchase the kindle version go here.
To purchase the hard copy go here.
‘If David Sedaris had got married and had kids, he would have been Reservoir Dad. Fall-on-the-floor funny, sharp, witty and just a little bit sexy.’ Kerri Sackville, Best Australian Blog 2013 judge A sharply funny, fresh and irreverent chronicler of real life in today’s parenting trenches, Reservoir Dad is a stay-at-home dad whose award-winning blog has already won hearts and minds all over Australia and beyond for telling it like it is and making us laugh out loud – and sometimes cry, but in a good way.