I've always written in a journal. Since my wife and I aborted
a pregnancy due to severe birth defects, I've written to try and
make a connection with my son who I'd never know. I've written
to him, about him and about being his father.
March 22, 1992 We found out that my wife, Anne*, was pregnant
when she went to a clinic for having severe abdominal pains. I
am worried about this pregnancy. It has not started out well,
right from the beginning. At week 16 of the pregnancy, Anne had
a screening test for certain birth defects as is required by state
law. This test, which is called AFP -- alpha fetal protein, measures
the possibility of a badly developed central nervous system. It
was positive but this test has a lot of false positives so we
were not all that concerned, neither was the doctor at first.
The test was repeated and results were positive again. Anne is
scheduled for an ultrasound and then an amniocentesis. I will
be out of town on business for the ultrasound (returning that
night) and will go with her for the amniocentesis. I want to be
a dad so badly, but it would be very difficult to have an unhealthy
child or a child with serious birth defects. Down's syndrome would
be one thing but spina bifida or incomplete brain development
would be pretty tough to handle. I would certainly be tempted
to abort and start over. My gut feeling tells me that all will
be fine after the amniocentesis, but I still worry. It is a bad
time to leave on a trip.
March 26, 1992 Never in a million years did I ever imagine that
I would be dealing with and making decisions about things like
spina bifida, hydrocephalus and mental retardation. The thought
of ending my own child's life gives me the willies. If our child
does have birth defects, to me the decision is pretty much already
made: to abort. If it is chromosomal in origin then maybe it is
not in the cards for Anne and I to have a child of our own. I
have only cried a little, once just after the phone call and once
with my mom. Poor Anne, she has gone through so much for this
baby. I love you Anne!!
March 28, 1992 The ultrasound was so conclusive that we did not
need the amniocentesis to confirm the spina bifida findings. Anne
received this terrible news alone. Minutes later she beeped me
a thousand miles away. I feel so bad that Anne had to receive
this terrible news by herself. During an ultra sound examination
of the baby, very serious birth defects were detected. A few minutes
later the genetics counselor delivered the terrible news. Our
baby has severe spina bifida (an incomplete closure of the spinal
column) and hydrocephalus (an accumulation of fluid on the brain).
The test could not tell if mental retardation was also present
or if developmental disabilities may also be there but it seems
likely that one of these may also be involved. Since this test
was a pre-cursor to an amniocentesis, we were not expecting to
find out anything conclusive so soon We have decided to terminate
the pregnancy. Obviously this was a very painful decision. Although
we feel it is the right decision, we feel terrible sorrow and
grief over the loss of our baby. Knowing that we have made the
right choice is not all that helpful. Additional tests will be
performed later and we will learn more about origins of these
defects. The most important thing for us to learn is whether these
are chromosomal and what impact that might have on future pregnancies.
There is an increased statistical chance of this occurring again,
however, the chances of us having a normal baby in the future
are greatly in our favor.
April 3, 1992 Our baby is dead. This morning before Anne's surgery
I really sobbed, thinking of killing our baby. I am really sad.
Anne is going through hell, she was in such pain last night and
afternoon. I feel like getting drunk. Maybe I will? I wanted to
call my mom and cry on the phone, but I didn't. I've been seeing
lots of babies and families lately. It kind of tugs a bit. We
will have another baby. I hope and pray that this baby will be
OK. This has been such a sorrow.
May 25, 1992 We had the funeral for our son today. Anne and I
went to a favorite place at the dead end of a logging road and
hiked in a mile or so to a series of cascading waterfalls on the
creek. This place was always special to us, but now even more
so. All around there are moss covered rocks and stumps and lots
of wild flowers, mushrooms and other-worldly looking fungus. Animal
tracks dot the landscape. Even on memorial day weekend there are
no people here. We each read a poem we had written, a prayer my
mom had sent me and then we burned the papers they were printed
on. We took the ashes and mixed them with the fertile soil and
planted some columbine, which are indigenous to the area. We will
no doubt return here with our new family. As I prepared the ground
for the flowers and to symbolically lay our son to rest, a beautiful
American Dipper raced up and down the cascades. As we planted
the columbine and patted down the last soil a very light rain
started. I would like this place or a place very much like this
for my final resting spot. We read and studied about neural tube
defects and had chromosomal studies on us and on the baby. We
found out that our chance of having another baby with this birth
defect was still pretty slim. We now have two wonderful and healthy
daughters that are about two and a half years apart in age. Anne
has been taking folic acid daily almost ever since, even before
conception. At first when we had the autopsy, we did not want
to know what the gender was, but upon completion we asked and
found out that the child we lost was a son. We felt very guilty
and wondered aloud to ourselves if our son could ever forgive
us. As I saw my own father's health failing over the years, I
worried that he would never see his youngest son bring a new life
into the world. As it turned out he did meet my first daughter
before he died. The loss of my father was the final one-two-three
punch for me. This was the third loss of someone who I loved dearly.
Fifteen years ago I was a paramedic in Los Angeles, I saw death
every day. One day I hurt my neck and was instantly disabled.
I never worked again as a medic. I was off work for many months
and worked hard to try and avoid neurosurgery for my herniated
cervical spine. I employed every eastern and western technique
I could find. I had daily physical therapy, medicines, acupuncture,
massage and hypnosis. It worked, I never had surgery. In the following
years I had 75 hypnosis sessions and learned many skills for pain
control and relaxation. After my dad died, the loss of my son
hit me harder than ever. Even with the joys of fatherhood with
my daughter, knowing that I would not be doing "guy"
things with a son as I had with my dad was difficult. After months
of dull apathy I saw psychiatrist. Although hypnosis was not on
the agenda, it flowed naturally once I started. I was already
having daily flashbacks and nightly dreams of my paramedic years.
In no time these images took over the hypnosis. The counselor
used this to try and get through to my current grief. Once while
under hypnosis I returned to a memory of another father who lost
his son. I was on the roof of our base-station hospital, standing
at the edge of the heliport in the rotarwash of an incoming air
ambulance. Thirty minutes earlier, a boy had been riding his bike
on a school playground and, daydreaming, ran smack into a basketball
standard on the asphalt. At home his mom and dad were arguing,
they had just filed for divorce and it was over. The boy had a
major head injury, a brain hemorrhage. As the helicopter touched
down, the mother was there and well-supported by friends and family.
She had her sister, women neighbors and the nurses huddled around
her, shielding her from the horror unfolding around her. Her boy
was near death and was on the way to Children's Hospital by air
ambulance. As I scanned the scene, I saw the dad, standing on
the opposite side of the asphalt. He was alone, very alone, dwarfed
by the chopper lifting off. I walked around behind the mother
and stood next to him. I placed my right arm around his shoulder.
We stood there quietly, not hugging, not crying. The man was so
alone, even with me there. As I laid on the floor of counselor's
office, remembering this real day, I was overwhelmed. I sobbed
like I had not sobbed since my dad died. I spoke about how when
the man's son was hurt, part of the man died and how sad it is
to die alone. It seemed so unfair that this man was naked and
unprotected and the mom had her strong shield. Through my tears,
I finally broke through my pain and loneliness. My doctor wanted
me to turn this around and feel the support and compassion for
myself that I once delivered to others. Later, during my final
hypnosis session I finally connected with my son and my father.
The session started as they all had, with me in my special relaxing
world. My mind was a dark blank with swirling fog and clouds low
underfoot. I was sitting relaxing on a warm rock in a meadow.
I looked over and I saw my son and my father. My son was an adult
and able-bodied -- whole, intact, and complete. I saw myself,
my Dad and my son just sitting around talking. It was outdoors
with nice weather so we sat and told stories of our journeys.
As I watched, I saw myself growing old and gray still telling
stories. As I looked at my father and son there was no sorrow,
no loss. I begin to sob. As the tears slipped onto the carpet,
I said good bye to my son. I said good bye to my son the way that
I knelt down next to my father when he died. I couldn't see my
son's face or features, I only know that it is him and that he
September 12, 1995 I visited my son's grave this weekend with
friends. When we got to the road that leads to the trailhead,
it had been closed...permanently. The road was filled in, culverts
removed and filled with football to baseball sized gravel. We
hiked on this road for the better part of an hour but when we
got to the park, the paths had all overgrown. Underbrush and saplings
had grown over what was already a poorly-marked trail. Even on
our last visit three years ago we had followed logging flags tied
in the trees. Now there was no trail to follow at all. Finally
we crawled on knees and bellies through the "tubes"
in the alders. Every step forward you had to move big branches
to make room. I had come for a special ceremony. I was there to
visit my son. When nothing was looking familiar I really thought,
"I may never see my son's grave again." I had several
indelible landmarks in my mind, the problem was that there were
hundreds of those same landmarks. We had started in a clear cut
and moved into a second growth forest and then into an old growth
forest just outside the park entrance. An ancient forest is in
a constant state of decomposition and nurturing growth. There
were as many downed trees as standing trees. It was very disorienting.
I was so confused. We hiked along a canyon edge on the left then
turned right and walked down to the cascading river at the bottom.
Along the way you would walk into an occasional sunbeam, but mostly
it was dark and cool and shaded. Finally, after several trips
down to the river and back up to the wall of the canyon., I found
the spot. It was the spot where three years and four months before
Anne and I laid our son down to rest in peace forever. After eating
lunch my friends left me alone. But I was not alone. My son was
there. I first felt his presence when I turned up the road from
the highway. I lit a candle I had brought in a wind proof container.
I re-read a poem I wrote three years before and as I read it I
poured some of the melted wax over the page. By the time I got
the bottom of the page, the wax had begun to turn opaque and harden.
I rolled up the page and lit it and held it as it burned up, turning
to take advantage of the licking flames. I set it down and cupped
my gloved hands around it, letting the smoke curl out between
my fingers. As the flames died down the wind blew cold ashes around
the folds in the moss. I could really feel his presence.
It felt good to be back there, I was pleased just to find the
place...it was not easy. I wanted to leave something from Anne
and our daughter. I scanned the area for some of the columbine
his mother and I planted before and there were none. I picked
a few tiarella flowers and leaves and pressed them in a book.
I picked up a few mini-pine cones thinking of our daughter. I
took out one of her "Spot" books and read aloud to my
son. I still wanted to leave something. I thought of leaving the
book, but it would not be right in such a beautiful place. I remembered
a trip to Indonesia seeing people offering daily gifts of food
to their dead. I placed a peanut butter cookie in the pile of
ashes, it had been baked with love by his mother. I talked with
him and told him about his mother and sister. I told him I was
sorry. I said good-bye. I knew that I may never see this place
again. On the way out we found an easier route. As we neared the
top of the closed road, I saw two burrows in the sandy embankment.
As I stepped nearby, eight little baby snakes squirmed away and
tried to hide. Later we saw the Mom snake too, beautiful garter
snakes, red and yellow striped.
Farewell To My Son
You live on
In the decaying logs of the forest
feel your cool humid breath As the water splashes from
wood to moss
As sure as you are
Part of my own flesh and bones
You are part of the boreal northern woods
As we watch over, nourish
and protect our beloved woods
We care for and cherish our child