Michael Redhill : "We Saw Stars In His Eyes"

"We sat in the brightly coloured atrium of the Hospital for Sick Children and rocked back and forth, weeping in terror, and promised him, from the terrible distance that separated where we sat and where they punctured him, that if he made it through this, he'd have a free pass until he was 18." So recalls Michael Redhill in the aftermath of his first born's spinal tap at three days old. Looking back nine years, "I Saw Stars in his Eyes" subtly explores parenthood, fatherhood and that "dark knowledge" that can emerge from a child's health crisis.

In a beautiful metaphor, his fatherhood grows as a concept alongside his partners belly, he lays out unvarnished parent- staff angst ("One morning, I had to be held back from attacking a nurse who was being too businesslike with him. Maybe I had the right kinds of instincts after all.") and offers a deep meditation on how the act of birth signifies death and how love and grief are one.
"She puked through the whole pregnancy. It was supposed to be "healthy," but I couldn't help seeing it as a response to an existential problem. Having a child is sowing the seeds of your own obsolescence: birth is the fuse that leads to that other thing. You appear, you replace yourself, you die. I had preferred to see myself as outside the swim of the normal process of things. As a younger man I'd imagined an unmarried life, unfettered, an artist without ties. Now I lay abed in the mornings with my pregnant partner as she groaned for crackers and cantaloupe, and I knew I was forever on God's radar. It was good to be found."
After describing surreal moments as his son totters between life and death, Michael moves from humor to "dark knowledge" that, in the normal order of things, those we bear will bury us.
"He's going to be fine, they told us. It was nothing. These things happen. They kept him another night to get the full dose of the antibiotic into him, just in case, and then they sent us home. I filmed us taking him into the house, fully ours at last. But I was so out of it that all I have of the momentous homecoming is a full minute of my mother-in-law's bottom moving up the stairs. She had the baby in her arms. But in the film I can hear him. He's cooing. The last moments before he arrived, when his head was out and only Anne's last pushes were to come, the awareness washed over me that mere instants separated me from the last moment in my life when I wasn't necessary to the first moment when I was. This thought frightened me, as I imagine it should frighten any sensible person. You can love those who are going to leave you – either because they precede you or because they can leave you if they choose to – and you can love in the dark knowledge of this. Your parents will die, your loved ones may suffer a change of mood and move on. But to begin to love someone you know you will leave, because nature must have it so, is a very heavy thing indeed. Here came the boy who would bury me. Whom I would love for the rest of my life, but not for all of his. I was bringing him into future loss. There is nothing more beautiful or dreadful than this. And then someone seemed to ask me, Are you sure? and held him away from me. Yes, I said, I am sure. I'll give my life."
This Dad reminds us that it is in the broken, grieving, scared and trusting heart we find something akin to a secret Sickkids handshake, a deal with whomever we take solace from. Every Sickkids parent knows that terror of loss, leading to those promises in a personal search for salvation.

Michael, thanks for your exploration of life and death and fatherhood and Sickkids: I wish your family the happiest of new years. And in the spirit of your telling, I wish in the most fullness of time that your heavy fear you bore a child who will bury you will come true. And thanks for ending where we begin our blog each day, that it is family-centred care, at its most fundamental, that provides support for the family's love amidst its greatest grief. "I often wish I could go back to our younger selves, paralyzed with fear in the cold atrium of Sick Kids, and reassure them that their son would be making a hell of a mess in the kitchen in 2007, but we wouldn't have heard; we were inconsolable and unreachable. Love kept us whole those days, nothing else."

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