By: Jason Owen, Full Circle Board Member
There are a handful of topics no one wants to discuss. In not talking about them, our minds are tricked into believing they could never happen. But these things do happen, and the collateral damage lives deep in the hearts of those left behind. They are like a secret club with card-carrying members all around us, saddled and silenced by the yoke of grief.
One such topic is stillbirth. A stillbirth is the loss of a baby before or during delivery, at or after the 20th week of pregnancy. Every year in the U.S., stillbirth occurs in 1 out of every 160 pregnancies. This equates to roughly 1 in 72 total births, or one every 16 seconds.
Her name is Tessa Jewell Owen, born July 26, 2011. We call her Tess, and Jewell is the namesake of both her paternal great-grandmothers. She has two beautiful, vibrant, and intelligent sisters: Grace, who was just 5 years old when Tess passed away, and Jane, who keeps us young and on our toes everyday. We like to say Jane was “born from the heart” when we adopted her 8 years ago. Readers may be wondering why we speak of Tess in the present tense. Well, I’m so very glad you asked.
Butterflies are often mentioned as a sign of “after-death communication”. Perhaps it’s their transformation from an ordinary caterpillar into this magnificent creature that captivates people of all ages. Whatever the explanation, I can assure you no one is more skeptical about the supernatural than this guy. But for you dads out there with daughters, you also know little girls know how to touch our hearts when no one else can, and then tug hard at the strings. Our Tess is no exception, and the butterfly is her medium of choice.
My wife Joy and I have seen Tess chasing Grace and Jane across the yard on a warm summer afternoon, laughing while they play tag. She followed me for almost a half-mile on one of my evening runs along the river as if to say, “wait up Daddy!” She showed up as a light green specimen on the hood of Joy’s car the very day we said “Yes” to adopting Jane. Up to that point, the decision was excruciating — but Tess gently let Mom know everything was going to be OK. She was literally our green light! As if that wasn’t enough, while on a family trip a few years back we snapped this picture from the Top of the Rock in New York. By the way, that’s 850 feet, or 70 stories above street level. Coincidence? No way.
Our little story doesn’t change the bitter reality — there aren’t enough monarchs in central Mexico’s autumn to fill the void of loss — and there never will be, at least not while we are here on earth.
As a man, living with (and learning from) my family’s grief journey is a daily struggle. I’m inherently wired to support my family’s future. All too often I remind myself that by constantly looking toward the future, I could be overlooking that special moment to ask, listen, and learn. In the coming months, I’ll be working in partnership with Full Circle Grief Center and other imperfect dudes/dads like me to develop a Men’s Grief Circle.
Stay tuned for updates, and let’s figure out how to ask, listen, and learn — together.