Vessels: A Love Story by Daniel Raeburn hits shelves today. Based upon an acclaimed New Yorker essay of the same title, the book concerns male grief and baby loss.
Rebekah and Daniel Raeburn lost their first daughter, Irene, to stillbirth more than a decade ago. In generous and elegant prose, Vessels takes us through a path to parenthood that included multiple miscarriages and Irene’s stillbirth.
While no one can understand the experience of another completely – no matter how deep the love – the idea that men are not utterly devastated by loss is shown in Vessels to be manifestly untrue.
In it, Raeburn explores how the relationship of a man loss complicates the nature and expression of grief, feelings of helplessness, and social isolation.
Miscarriage and stillbirth strain marriages. This fact tends to blind-side couples in the wake of loss.
This is a secret but it shouldn’t be.
As a bereaved mother myself, I cannot count the number of times I have spoken to women who feel misunderstood by their husbands or partners following pregnancy/infant/child loss.
Conversations often begin with phrases such as “he does not understand at all.” Loss strains and pulls at the fabric of a marriage as a tsunami-like grief swells and breaks.
Men are every bit as confused and lonely as women following loss. These feelings are compounded by a society which inadvertently nullifies the father’s experience of loss. Following our loss, I remember many people asking asking my husband how I was, but few asking about him.
Vessels is not only a work of art, but a valuable tool to address rifts between women and men. Vessels can prevent the riptide of misunderstanding that separates people – eroding (and sometimes ending) relationships.
The anger that many women secretly-but-not-so-secretly haul around has to do with being disappointed. Specifically, with an apparent lack of emotional response to loss from their male partner.
Ironically, living with loss sometimes makes partners unable to offer to one another. They don’t know how. In a certain way, a partner is a perfect mirror of grief and this can feel hard to bear. In a landscape dotted only with terrible, impossible choices, knowing that a partner is hurting can be a complex salve – if only because the alternative is worse.
But society does not affirm the grief of a father. Feeling unsupported and vulnerable, men struggle to express grief and incomprehension. A lack of feeling tends to be attributed.
The miscommunications that set in soon after loss linger. Words misunderstood fossilize. A phrase is turned over and over again – returned to in anger for years. The undiscussed becomes entrenched. Loss can permanently change the landscape of everything.
Beautifully, Raeburn describes how he and Rebekah mourned together but separately. He considers how the loss strained their relationship. How they struggled to make sense of their loss. How they battled depression. How they loved one another.
Love is phoenix from the ashes of Raeburn’s telling of loss. This story is about wanting and hoping and striving and losing and gaining. Vessels is truly a love story for families. The memory of Irene backlights all – and the children who are born subsequently are described in gorgeous terms that offer complex hope to those struggling to cope with loss.
Vessels: A Love Story should be in the company of memoirs such as Darkness Visible by William Styron about depression. Both are books that speak to one issue, yet find the thread that connects us all. In reading that we are not alone in our experience of grief, we less submerged in loneliness.
Vessels is a book about baby loss. It is, however, not a book solely for bereaved parents. Raeburn considers and honors also the accrued ambiguous losses that often mark the path to adulthood – underscoring the brave act and aspiration of parenthood generally.
Losses of all kinds that occur at any stage are considered and are honored. In generous and complex terms, Raeburn challenges all parents to be gentle with one another at all stages of gestational loss.
But Raeburn manages to do even more. He threads the reality of pregnancy/infant loss to other accrued losses both real and ambiguous. This makes Vessels: A Love Story a book for any reader in the parenting community and beyond.
This article originally appeared on BabyCenter.