This post follows on from our last one about genetics where we learnt about Nick's super mutant power of poor sight. If you missed it, have a read here
I was four years old when I got my first pair of glasses. Apart from a brief stint in my late teens when I felt like social standing was more important than ACTUAL BLINDNESS, I've always worn them. I guess they're a part of my identity, although I don't think of them that way. I actually feel more natural when they're off - when I'm in the shower, or swimming, or laying down to sleep and I can run my hand over my whole face without touching anything artificial.
I know other people think of me as a "glasses guy". I'll often get comments if I'm not wearing them for one reason or another - "I didn't recognise you without your glasses", "wow, you look really different", "are you wearing contacts now?" (I can't get contacts due to the nature of my condition). Since having eye surgery, I even have to wear protective glasses when playing sport, which earns me schoolyard-style "banter" from the opposition and the occasional black eye when I catch a ball to the face (since the edges of the glasses create a nice round impact spot). So it's safe to say, glasses are with me for life.
Sam is four now, and he just got his first pair of glasses. He hasn't had them long and still every time I see him wearing them, it stops me short. I don't know if it's parental concern, sympathy, guilt, or some kind of echo of my own experience that gets me - but it makes me sad, angry, nostalgic and filled with love for him all at the same time.
We only started noticing problems with Sam's vision recently. He was clumsy, walking into things and falling over, and he would occasionally go a little cross-eyed. I wonder if we were slow to pick it up because we were distracted with our own stuff. Or maybe because he's always been a little clumsy, given his size (he's a big lad, in a good way - unlike his scrawny Dad). Or maybe it just wasn't easy to recognise. Either way, we got him checked and the doctor confirmed he has a lazy eye, so he'll need glasses and probably patching (yarrr pirate child!) later on.
I am glad he's getting the help he needs, and the doctor thinks he may not need glasses in the long term - but it still makes me uncomfortable seeing him wear them. I remember getting picked on at school for my glasses. I remember breaking them in fights. I remember picking fights or taking on impossible challenges just because I felt like I had to prove I was tough enough (this probably still informs some of my behaviour today - tell me I can't do something and you better get ready for some bloody-minded blind determination).
I remember embarassing moments. I played cricket all the way through school , and seeing a small red ball on green grass often proved a challenge (if you're even mildly colour blind, these two colours do not mix well - or rather they mix a little too well). Combine that with the fact I only had one good eye (so my depth perception was pretty poor) and it's a recipe for Chagrin Soup.
I was a fast bowler, so most of the time I was throwing the ball at other people (I wonder would I have ended up in that role if not for my vision?) so it wasn't a problem. But I still had to field (try and catch the ball) and occasionally bat (try and hit the moving ball against other fast bowlers, whose heads I had previously ruthlessly tried to crack open, so they weren't letting up).
On one particularly memorable occasion, I was standing in the field, praying nobody would hit the ball near me, when someone did. It landed somewhere in the outfield, but it didn't cross the boundary line, so the ball was still in play. I had lost sight of it for a moment, and now it was somewhere in the long-ish grass that makes up the edges of a schoolboy cricket field in NZ. I couldn't see it. I had absolutely no idea where it was. I ran in the general direction I thought it must be, given the flight and bounce of the ball. I searched all around, but i just couldn't find it. Meanwhile, the batsmen are still running, racking up the score with occasional furtive glances in my direction to see if I was playing some kind of joke. The opposition bench started laughing. My team tried to help. They were yelling directions to me - left, right, this way, that - but ten other people all shouting instructions at the same time doesn't exactly result in clear direction. Eventually, another fielder ran over. He grabbed the ball (it was about 2 metres to my right) and threw it back, ending my ordeal. Mercifully, the coach subbed me off. I was crying, as quietly as I could.
I don't think about my vision very much these days - it's got to a point where it's good enough that people don't really comment on it, though I still get the occasional question about why I'm winking at my computer screen (I tend to close my left eye when I'm concentrating, since it's basically blind and not helping me at all). In fact, since my condition is so rare, my vision makes an interesting talking point in certain social situations (I always win those work "ice breaker" things where they ask you to tell the group something they don't know about you). I'm in the Lancet medical journal (or at least my left eye is) We have a photo block in our house of this image in our house - it's quite a nice piece (most people think it's a moon or sci-fi scene, rather than my eye). So I suppose there are benefits to being "unique".
So, what does all this have to do with pregnancy loss and grieving? Well maybe not a whole hell of a lot. Maybe I just thought it was interesting and felt like writing about it. But let me try (even if it's as tenuous as the threads holding that lens in place) to get us back there.
If you've read our post on Genetics, you'll know that my eye condition seems to have been caused by a random genetic mutation. The loss of our baby, and the hell that my wife went through to get us here, was also caused by a random genetic mutation. So when I see Sam wearing his glasses, when people tell me how much he looks like I did at that age*, I feel a pang of guilt, a deflating feeling in my chest, the way I feel when I think about the statistical odds of our molar pregnancy, and the fact that it happened to us.
(*Note - Sam's glasses are much cooler than mine. Whereas I looked like Baby Napolean Dynamite, he looks more like that cute kid from Jerry Macguire )
The death of a child, born or unborn, has this way of weaving itself into everything you do, everything you are. It reverberates through the rest of your life, reminding you of your other perceived failures and weaknesses. When you're buying Salada crackers, you think about when that was the only thing your wife could hold down; when you plan a family holiday, you stop for a moment as you select "Children - 1" for the flight booking. Your loss is nowhere, and yet it's everywhere. That's how I feel when I see my son wearing glasses, like there's something defective in me, like maybe I shouldn't have been allowed to have children, like I'm a faulty robot that needs to be taken off the production line before I screw up another unit.
And then I catch myself. Yes, I'm messed up. But aren't we all? Yes, I'm "defective". But so were loads of inventions that eventually changed the world. I've had a pretty good life - or at least I'm still going, which is a big part of the battle. I've got a pretty darn special family. If I hadn't existed, all of this wouldn't exist (and that includes the baby we lost).
I've read a lot about Stoicism recently, and they have this technique called "negative visualisation", where you imagine the worst-case scenario - if you lost your job, your family, your home. What would you do? How would you go on? I know that sounds a bit grim (hey, you're reading a blog about pregnancy loss - I assume you're OK with grim), but bear with me. When you do this, you quickly realise that while it would suck big time, your life wouldn't actually be over. There are things you could do - move in with a friend, seek help from local charities until you get back on your feet. Ask for help.
The Stoic's point was, in part, to stop us from taking for granted the things we do have, and I've found it useful. I'm not saying you can't be sad or feel down - hell, that's half my week - but that's why I think this technique can be so helpful. When I feel that empty, crushing sadness, the last thing I want is some pep talk about how lucky I am to have one child - that might be right. but it feels false, forced, and just plain wrong. However, I find it much easier to deepen my wallowing by imagining how bad it could really get, and then (eventually) coming out the other side to realise how grateful I am that it hasn't.
So I guess in the end this post is about moving forward. Like my eyesight, my life isn't perfect - but I can find joy in it. I can choose to dwell on the eye I can't see through, and the fact I'll never be able to fly an airplane, or park a car better than my wife, or even see 3D movies properly (and sometimes I do wallow in that crap) - or I can close my eyes, and feel deeply grateful for the fact that I can open them again.
A final note - as we've mentioned before, we are not doctors or mental health experts. Thoughts can be powerful things, especially when you're feeling vulnerable, so whatever you try, be careful, be kind to yourself, and don't be afraid to reach out for help (you can find some links we like in our resources section here. If you're in NZ you can reach out to Lifeline Aotearoa here)
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.