16 July 2009

On The Ocean Voracious, Part One

Six years I have roamed the ocean, seeking to escape its ravenous maw. Six years I have mourned the loss of the vessel in which I had set sail on the waters of life.

Was I St. Brendan, setting out in my wood and leather coracle in search of Paradise? Not exactly, as I would never confuse myself with a dyed-in-the-wool true believer. And I certainly never founded any monasteries. What I did do, akin to Brendan, was to believe in something so deeply, want something so badly I was willing to journey far through dangerous seas in an improbably small vessel to find it.

So it came to pass that I found myself on the verge of fatherhood, a wife pregnant with twins and a head full of naïve ideas about what fatherhood really meant. The early days were filled with joy and anxiety, but mostly joy. Against some steep odds I was the father of twins, where I had been hoping and praying for at least one child to call ours. I still remember the day we found out. The evidence was right there on the sonogram screen. A fine pair, indeed.

I was so happy I thought I would faint. Or throw up. Fortunately, I did neither. Instead, I started laughing and crying a bit, it was so beautiful and overwhelming. Wishes and dreams coming true in a most unexpected fashion.

Twins. Time to put on my big boy pants.

In the days and weeks following our discovery, I was growing anxious and overjoyed in equal measures. One child would have been a lot to take on, so two…! I was able to put aside the anxiety, mostly, and concentrate on the joy, the excitement. I could see the evidence there, every day, in a swelling tummy and the radiance that only a mother could have. Natural beauty on par with anything Nature could offer.

Plans were made, thinking of life with not one, but two babies in the world. Clothes bought, thoughts of a nursery, scrapbooks to document the growth and arrival of strange and lovely fruit in our little garden. Birthing classes and doctor’s visits: all served to put us on notice, and we did learn the many dangers, the pitfalls, the awful things lying in wait for the unwary traveler. Even all that terrible knowledge, in this era of information overload and access to good medical care, did not sap the enthusiasm and happiness I had begun to allow myself to feel. Breaking new ground, I told myself, when I realized I was slipping the bonds of a lifelong pessimism about the world, and about life. It was absolutely wonderful.

Amidst that burgeoning optimism, I fancied myself setting sail on a vast and glorious ocean, in a fine boat of my own construction. This is easy enough to do under sunny skies and calm seas, of which we had aplenty. Once out on the water, not even a quickening wind and darkening horizon could dampen my optimism, so I sailed on into the storm, instead of away from it.

Of course, we had no choice. Hindsight is perfect…

The day we entered the hospital was surreal, and scary, but almost as if scary through a thick filter. My wife sick, severely so, only we had no idea at first just how severe. She in bed, hooked to devices and tubes and wires, monitored around the clock. Me, parked on the rollout couch-bed, disheveled, worried and not really comprehending the violence of the storm about to break.

Three days in a hospital room is no forty days in the wilderness, but it sure felt like it. All the testing and monitoring and alarms and constant checking of things. Very hard for everyone, especially the mother, and to this day I am still astonished at my blithe ignorance. Almost up to the last hour or two, I was still thinking that we would be home shortly, problem solved and that we would still be taking our planned vacation that summer. My god, I was so wrong. Towards the end of that third day, with a solemn look on her face, the doctor brought us face to face with the awful truth: our babies must be born now if we wanted the best hope of mother and children surviving. That sixteenth day of the month…

Imagine being at the top of mountainous wave, looking down on the green, glassy trough below. The mind reels, the mouth gapes and the knowledge sinks in that little boats aren’t meant to sail mighty oceans. For one small slice of eternity, I was standing in that boat looking down on the water and I could feel the bottom dropping out. Too scared to scream, to move, I gripped the gunwales as the water below came rushing up to meet my little vessel. On that warm summer day, I stood in the grip of dread while sliding down the foam-spattered face of Neptune.

My son and daughter, brought into the world through controlled violence. I stood helplessly by, cursing the roiling sea and screaming to God “I don’t know how to sail…” as the first of many towering waves broke over the bow.


  1. Oh Irish....so beautiful....and all the more beautiful in knowing what is coming...but sanity often comes from dissolution....oh shit....what can be said....xx

  2. Every time you post about Connor and Emma I get choked up. You do it so well, and so heart-renderingly.


  3. Irish,

    This one really got to me. Fantastic writing. Very moving and beautiful.


  4. There are no words that can possibly ease your pain Irish but hopefully some blogging love from your many friends will help shield you from the onslaught of those waves.

  5. Blogging as therapy, my friend. Will be back to read the storm when you post it.
    Hang in there.

  6. Powerful. Brings back memories of the fears I once had and the relief that they were only fears.

  7. Beautifully written. All of life is like this. We make plans. We think we know what to expect and what our lives will be like. And then reality intervenes shocking us with the truth that we don't get to control our destiny after all.

  8. "Once out on the water, not even a quickening wind and darkening horizon could dampen my optimism, so I sailed on into the storm, instead of away from it..."
    While this sentence makes an easy association with Homer's, The Gulf Stream, I'll defer intstead to The Herring Net. As the narrator, you seem to be the young boy, hanging off the side for balance.

  9. Bizarrely I nearly posted about fatherhood today. Glad you wrote this. I never trusted our scan, always suspect that even though they only spotted one heartbeat there was in actual fact a twin, disguising its heartbeat through stealth, snickering in the depths of the womb.

  10. Your words are so powerful. I'm sitting here watching my boys out the back window and thanking whoever gets thanked that I never had to go through that. I'm sorry you did.

  11. I read some of your post to my husband, he LOVED: Twins. Time to put on my big boy pants.

    I don't know the whole story and now I want to. Good job. Good writing.

  12. Incredibly good writing!!! You should write a book to help others who are going through similar situations. Your compassion is amazing, Irish.
    Hugs and Gumbo!!!

  13. Fantastic! I didn't know you had twins. I posted on that subject today with a baby photo of me and my identical twin. :)

  14. This stole the breath right out of me

  15. All I can say is that I don't know what to say. You faced a loss no person should face. There is no comparison, there is no way around it - it is just there. The thing about it though is that it has opened you and you are finding a way to breathe and wade through it all. Although starting the journey in a small ship - you are building upon that foundation to a larger vessel navigating through the rough seas to calmer ones. As always, all my adoration and respect - I am truly in awe of your talent and emotions. XOXO

  16. I have twins too. They are a lot of fun when the dust settles. It hasn't yet, but they're still a lot of fun.

  17. my heart to you. i don't often get that pit of the stomach wrench, but it's still lingering. i can't even imagine. holy shit, i can't fathom

  18. "I stood in the grip of dread..." Yes. The worst nightmare of us all, and you lived it.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...