Common ground

photo by  Basheer Tome

photo by Basheer Tome

I quietly and swiftly made my way to the conference room that I had reserved, closing the door behind me without bothering to turn on the light. Sitting in the dim sunlight that had struggled to find its way through the grey clouds, I drew a long breath as I attempt to dive into the afternoon’s work.

The invitations and updates had been coming for weeks, complete with exclamation points. Celebration! Gifts! Coworkers had organized a small surprise baby shower for another that anticipated his first born to arrive soon. I had struggled to keep a low profile, reluctantly agreeing to purchase the cake since I was only the one in the department to have a company credit card. I stared at the screen, rotating through the phrasing of the particular words “hope” and “wish” that would eventually be squeezed atop the cake, stubbornly determined to save my congratulations for when, and if, he holds his daughter in his arms.

Hiding in a dark was the final step of my poorly executed plan. Avoidance. Protection. Head down. It will be over soon. In an hour, we can all just move on and forget about it. But I couldn’t let it go. The notion that my absence would be noted, that the assumptions others made would be wrong. There are coworkers who have made no mention of my daughter, despite the pictures and stillbirth research fundraising flyers, her name written all over my office. Even from the ones that know of all three of my children, I lack the confidence in their ability to consider my past in the context of the present.

He is unsupportive, too busy or too dense to make time for others.

He is too stiff, unwillingly to let go and have fun at work.

He is a fake, uninterested in who we are.

So at the very end, I abandon my floundering plan and pledge to set the record straight. While they stood gather in a room gushing over excitement of new life, I sat in the dark and scribbled out the reasons why it would be so very hard for me to join them. The truth is that I feel lucky to work in a place that would take the time to celebrate other’s milestones and especially that of a new father no less.

And perhaps this is one of the things I miss—the shared common ground of early fatherhood. The flowing banter of product reviews and assembly instructions, techniques of sleep training and teething, shared knowledge on the biology of sleep regression and object permanence. The immense feeling of being unprepared and the ultimate concession that you never can be. On some level, I do still share in this bond, and I remind myself that I am lucky to have this opportunity. But it is never complete. Even when asked, most likely in jest, about how you actually get any sleep at night with a newborn at home, I can deliver the punch line that you don’t sleep, but can’t let the line end without the assertion that there are much worse things in life than lost sleep while holding your child.

I find my coworker later in the day and close his door behind me and, whether he noticed or not, state the importance of making sure he understood my absence. He is uneasy, but attentive as I explain the line that I walk daily, of the constant pull and push of engagement, the camaraderie of a shared community and pang of envy from only truly being able to look in from the outside. I inform him that I can’t share in his happiness. At least, not in the pure and gushing manner that is so common in the days leading up to an expected birth date. I admit that perhaps this is selfish, but I painfully know what can exist on the other side of expectation. I simply cannot go back and pretend that everything will be alright. But, I let him know, that I am hopeful that he is able to hold a healthy and living daughter. And that, at the moment, hope is all that I have to offer.

Are you able to find common ground with others? Do you find you have something to offer?