Hi. I’m Chris, I’m Henry’s dad. Hannah’s invited me to write a guest blog for her to talk about the impact of baby loss on fathers – thanks Hannah!
So I’ll start by telling you all a bit about our story. My wife Briony fell pregnant in autumn 2013. We were braced for a complex journey as she was a forty-one year old first time mum, insulin dependent diabetic, with an Ilizarov frame on her ankle for the whole pregnancy. If you don’t know what an Ilizarov frame looks like:
Despite all this though, Briony’s pregnancy was trouble-free. She went off cups of tea, which was the giveaway for the girls in her office that something was up. I was out of the country for her 20 week scan, so the sonographer wrote the sex of our baby in a little card and Briony kept it sealed in an envelope until I got home.
So we needed a name. My best friend from school was called Henry. He was killed in a car accident when we were fourteen, and I always knew I’d name my first son after him. So I got in touch with his mum and asked her permission, and she couldn’t have been happier.
On Wednesday 30th April, my last day at work before paternity leave, I was in Macclesfield, about 2½ hours from our home in Harrogate, and Briony headed off with her mum to a routine check-up appointment – she was being induced at 38 weeks on the Friday, but they told her to come in anyway, no worries, won’t do any harm.
Just as I pulled up in Macclesfield, I got a call from an unknown number. In my line of work, unknown numbers are hospitals. I figured it was Macclesfield Hospital calling to see where I was.
It was a hospital. But it wasn’t Macclesfield. It was Harrogate. It was Briony, and she said “You need to come home. Henry’s gone. We’ve lost him.”
I think the natural assumption is that you’d feel distraught at that point. I didn’t. I just felt numb. Like a lot of blokes, I suppose I’m a bit of a control freak and I need information to fully get to grips with a situation. At that moment, I didn’t have enough information.
Two days later, on Friday 2nd May, we went into Harrogate Hospital as per our original schedule, and Briony’s induction began around 10:00. Nothing much happened for hours, and then come early evening (conveniently timed to co-incide with the midwives’ shift handover, my wife doesn’t make things easy), everything started happening REALLY fast.
Briony got really sick, she was fitting, vomiting, and passing out. She had really bad pre-eclampsia, and her blood pressure was two-hundred-and-something over one-hundred-and-something. In short, at that moment, I was pretty sure she was going to die too. I remember saying to the consultant “you don’t have to save my son, you just have to make sure she doesn’t die”.
I’ve never been so totally in a situation that was completely out of my control. And yet, because she always does, she came through. And at 2105, we met Henry, 4lb 13½oz of perfection.
Now I’m not really writing this blog post to specifically tell you our story, because it’s not unique. Fifteen families a day in the UK lose their baby before (at 24 weeks gestation or above), during, or shortly after labour. That means as I write this on April 9th, 2018 – 1,438 days after Henry was stillborn – 21,585 British families have joined us on the path we’re walking. It’s a far more common tragedy than most people realise. If you’d asked me about stillbirth on the morning Henry died, I’d have agreed that I knew it was something that happened, but surely only in previous centuries or in impoverished countries. It doesn’t happen to white middle-class families in the UK, right? But it does…
No, the main reason I wanted to write this guest blog was to talk about the impact of losing a child on FATHERS. Pregnancy and maternity is widely seen as a ‘mum’ thing – quite rightly in many ways, of course. Dads don’t carry our baby for up to nine months. We don’t give birth to our baby. We don’t breastfeed, and until recent changes to the law, we don’t take significant amounts of time off work following our baby’s arrival.
But when a baby dies, we lose our baby too.
Wider society in Britain isn’t great at dealing with death or grief. People try to put a positive spin on it in the hope that it’ll get someone ‘through’ or ‘over’ their grief.
On top of not being good at dealing with death, our society is particularly bad at dealing with the death of a baby – because it’s against the natural order of things, and it’s too devastating for many to contemplate.
For good measure, British people are also terrible at dealing with MALE emotions – “stiff upper lip” and all that. As men we aren’t encouraged to show emotion. So we bottle it up because we’re conditioned by society to do so, to be “strong”, yet we feel all the emotions too – I’ll never fully come to terms with the guilt I feel for not being there when Briony found out Henry had died. But it’s a false economy, because you can’t bottle things up forever. They will come out, one way or another – something has to give. We lost our babies too.
I lasted about ten months before it all caught up with me and then I crashed. Hard. If you don’t show emotion following something as tragic as the loss of your baby, people take the easy option and assume you’re coping. I spent months after Henry died repeatedly fielding the question “how’s Briony doing?”, and yet I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times anyone asked me “how are YOU doing?”. It’s a vicious circle, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Talking publicly has been a saving grace for me.
Much of the (much-needed and vitally important) publicity surrounding baby loss simply adds fuel to this fire by focusing massively disproportionately on the mums who’ve lost their children. One of the main unintended consequences of this focus is that it forces the dads and their unexpressed emotions still further into the corner. Dads’ voices need to be encouraged, not marginalised.
So at the start of this amazing series that Hannah’s launching, I just want to bang the drum and say DADS GRIEVE TOO. We have to say goodbye too. Our hopes and dreams are dashed too. Our lives are changed forever too.
So to all bereaved dads out there, your feelings are valid too. Your voice matters too.
And if you know a dad who’s lost their child, please remember that they’re also grieving themselves, not just supporting a grieving mother.
They lost their baby too.
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