Superman, but not
Written by Ben D. Boudreaux
Fatherhood is a gift. It brings men out of boys. Sometimes, though, life throws its challenges at us when we don’t expect it and there’s a journey to make. This is mine.
April 29th, 2009,I was at work and my wife had an appointment with the ob/gyn. It was a typical visit, so I remained at work, hoping to hear from her and meet her for lunch later. I did get a call, but not from my wife. It was her doctor. He said I should go in to the office to meet her. Something was wrong. I remember this putting me in a frenzy. I dashed to my supervisor to tell them I needed to go, like NOW, but then….I froze in my tracks. Like those sheep that can’t handle being scared and their legs just lock up. I couldn’t figure out which way to go, left or right!
Once I finally got there, I walked in and was gingerly escorted to the back. Pretty unusual for the office staff, who were quite familiar and usually very friendly with us since this was our 10th pregnancy. Entering the room, I found my wife on the table sobbing uncontrollably. Our 33 week old twins had died in the womb. No heartbeat could be found.
Ten years later now, in hindsight, it was at that moment I found that a ‘normal’ husband just wouldn’t do. For all of our other pregnancies and deliveries, I was the ‘normal’ husband. Just a guy on the sidelines. Doctors and nurses do their jobs and we all go home. No input was needed or requested of me. Obviously, other moms were usually more in tune with what my wife was going through physically, so I was like Clark Kent; I was THERE, but I’m not sure anyone would’ve really noticed if I wasn’t around. (Except of course my wife.)
Reporter Clark Kent on the sidelines wouldn’t cut it now though. I felt a need to console her, but what could I say? There was a need to fix things, but what could I do? All I felt I could do, after getting over some of the shock and disbelief myself was to just be present. We went to the hospital from our doctor’s office to induce labor. At the hospital, it felt like the doctors and nurses didn’t really want to deal with us. It felt like we were damaged goods, contaminated. We were brought to a room at the far end of the labor and delivery unit, like we were quarantined from other delivering mothers. There were no heartbeat monitors on my wife’s belly for making sure the twins were ok. No constant chit chat with nurses during their check ins. There were the occasional sounds of faint cries from the infants being born in the rooms around us. Cheers in the halls from other families who’d had the expected happy outcomes, lullabies over the hall speakers announcing another happy birthday for someone. But not for us. No. Clark Kent would not do.
Superman had to show. I needed to be more than just any other new dad. I needed to be with my wife in a way that I had never been before. I wanted to hold her so tight that we would fuse together. I wanted so much to hold her heart in my hands and calm it somehow, but I knew I couldn’t do that. This grief was real. This loss was going to hurt. But it was also such a busy time; we couldn’t just BE. Family had to be notified. We had to find a priest. Do we need to have a baptism? Do we start planning the funeral? How? When? WHY? Counselors would come in to tell us about an organization that gave baby blankets, did we want some? Another organization sends a photographer to “capture” our day for keepsakes, did we want them to come? An emotional, question-filled, decision-making day. And all these things needed to be decided right now and it felt like it was my call in all of this. Yeah… Only Superman could do this kind of work.
In the days that followed Eric and Adam’s funeral, I developed this feeling of being alone. Like no one in the world had ever gone through what we were going through. Or was it me? Maybe I was still being Superman. An alien living on a new planet with my only home base being some cold, dark, lonely ‘fortress of solitude’ at the north pole. I still needed to be Clark Kent to the world, though, because no one wanted to see the ugly truth that was now my life. It reminded them, I think, of the fact that bad things don’t just happen to ‘other people; they could happen to anyone. When I went back to work, there were no requests to see baby pictures and all the usual co-worker reactions. Just office gossip behind my back. The Superman/Clark life is hard. Its living a lie, but at the time, it seemed necessary just to be able to function. For me the grieving process was really only just kicking off and I was headed for another change. Life was switching from the DC Comics Universe and “upgrading” to the Marvel Universe. Avengers to be specific.
The Kubler-Ross model of grief talks about 5 stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression/despair, and acceptance. Strangely enough, I can see each of them in the characters of Avengers. Some are more obvious than others: the anger of Hulk and Bruce Banner trying to maintain the beast. IronMan’s denial of not being in control or having a solution for every situation and the frustration that went with it. The arc reactor that gave his suit its powers also kept shrapnel pieces from coursing their way toward directly into his heart. I gotta say, that visual of sharp pieces of metal tearing at the heart was a pretty good visual for the heartache I was going through. Captain America however, is a little more of a stretch. He wanted to serve in military so much he bargained his way in, even by risking his life to take the serum that physically turned the scrawny Steve Rogers into Cap. Thor has a moment when, after he’s experienced so much loss through the course of the movies, he comes to grips with it all finally and struggles with deep depression and despair. (See “Endgame” for references and because its just a good movie.) When each of the Avengers characters accepts their issues, they are able to excel and become a better version of themselves.
This multi-personality ‘Avengers’ life is difficult to say the least. We don’t like the bad feelings, but they’re there. That pain and those feelings will always be there. There may be more “good” days in between, but trigger days can throw you right back to those first days and be just as hard. You still feel as an “alien,” alone and isolated, but, we were not put on this planet to be alone. Its not until you find someone else that has gone through a similar situation, someone else that has lost a child, a fellow Avenger, that you learn there is more to life, that you can find healing. It doesn’t even matter that they don’t have the exact same loss as you. Just that they have similar battle scars.
Fatherhood sometimes takes a sideways journey. It is definitely not the ideal way, but there is beauty in the “rough” way. In becoming Superman, in recognizing and balancing the Avengers ‘characters’ within ourselves, we are surprised to find ourselves amongst friends. Real Friends. Friends that don’t judge. Friends that get you, that you want to be around so you don’t have to explain your feelings, or put on a happy face all the time. Not having to feel like the worst person in the world for struggling to be ‘sane’ some days or feeling singled-out for being the one with the most “battle scars”. We become sorta like the Knights of the Round Table from Camelot: no head or foot higher than the others; all equal.
To my fellow Supermen, Avengers and Knights of the Round Table, I love you, my friends and I salute you. For the glory of God and the pursuit of Heaven, onward, knights. Onward.