When I lost Mylo I think the over riding emotion (if you can even call it that) was shock. My body went through the motion of giving birth to our child in our bathroom. I remember fuzzy parts of the experience (which probably protected me from a full fledged breakdown following the trauma), but I look back now and can not even imagine the lasting pain of watching the experience from the outside and not being able to do much apart from cradle your wife and lifeless child (excuse the graphic imagery but my poor Husband had to retrieve our son from our toilet to wrap him up to take to the hospital as I wailed down the phone to the call handler “It’s a boy! He’s gone! Our boy is dead!”)
In a sense because it was happening to me, I was in the middle of it so had instantaneous support and was also on a cocktail of medication/drugs to keep me alive after the spontaneous placenta abruption and birth of our son. Being highly medicated, I personally believe, softened the blow slightly for me because I was in my own headspace for a good eight to ten hours after my surgery. My poor husband lost his first Son and there was a high possibility that he could have lost me that evening too. Once I had come around and was safely recovering in The Snowdrop Suite at the hospital Josh opened up to me and said how he was “terrified that I wasn’t coming out of that operating theatre” and that he wouldn’t know what to do if he had to say goodbye to me too. My Mother later confirmed that he was so anxious as I hadn’t come out of surgery for way over the expected time frame medical staff had advised, and did nothing but pace up and down that lonely corridor.
I think his pain is different to mine but equal and I hate to think about him having to be strong for me when probably all he wanted to do was grieve for his son too. I think the Fathers believe that they have to be emotionless and never cry the tears that they may want to because they want to protect their partners from further pain. But they have lost their child too and I think it is a damaging expectation to put on them. They should be allowed to cry openly and deeply for their child and experience the full range of emotions. I have only ever seen Josh cry a handful of times (one time being at Mylo’s funeral too so this preceded his birth), but for the four days we stayed in the hospital I only caught him silently crying twice. Again, I missed a whole chunk of time because I was on a high dose of Oramorph and I forget quite a lot of the experience as a whole (which is probably a good thing.) I wonder how much stays with Josh. He doesn’t really talk about our loss. Not in the same candid way as I do. I am sure he thinks about his Son as much as I do, but I think the whole experience will torment his soul for the rest of his life. I am never sure whether he has fully come to terms with it by allowing himself a full grieving experience like I did. In some ways I healed myself. I don’t think he has. He has never been the same, but he never articulates how and why.
I got thinking about this post after the coverage of Gary Barlow’s stillborn Daughter Poppy and that there wasn’t that much written about how he felt-
“It was a very strange time but as the man in the middle of all of this, it was very heartbreaking watching the person that you love walking around the room with their dead baby.”
(Notice how he almost makes it seem as if his dead daughter belongs to his wife and the distance he seems to put between himself and the situation.)
Refreshingly, he does admit to still grieving and that he was “devastated” but it breaks my heart that he continued his 2012 tour with Take That, and felt like he had to keep working through his pain. As in regular life; it would seem, Barlow felt like he had to carry on working. Having spoken to many Fathers of loss it is just diabolical the level of support (or lack there of) they get from their employers.
For my pieces over #BLAW18 (Baby Loss Awareness Week) coupled with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in October, I thought it was very important to talk to the other half of the partnership and get a feel for their true emotions and to find out what more needs to be done towards support for men following loss.
Are men forgotten about in loss? I believe so. Do they ask for help? Not so much. Do they feel like they have support outside their home/family? Again no. So it would seem that there is this vicious circle of feeling alienated from support, struggling to deal with emotions and perhaps the fear of asking for help when they need it too.
I reached out to Fathers in two Facebook support groups I am part of: “Angel Parents, Mums and Dads. Rainbows & TTC” and “Daddy’s With Angels”. I had an idea of the answers I would get back but some of the additional information shocked me and made me really question the current provision for men following the loss of their baby.
“Calling all MEN in the group!
For October I will be writing several blog posts about childloss and wanted to write something from the perspective of Fathers of loss.
Please answer the following questions – feel free to PM me:
– Do you feel that you got enough emotional support from your hospital/health professionals following your loss?
– Did you try not to cry in front of your partner/family/friends following your loss?
– How often do you talk about your angel (vs how often do you think about your angel?)
– Did you get any support at work (were you given any bereavement leave?)
– Do you think the level of support for men after loss is available? If so is it adequate? Other than this group have you joined any other groups for loss or attended any childloss events ie: SANDS events?
– If you are happy to do so please share the story of your angel (this is entirely optional).
Thank you for your time. I am intrigued to see if men feel forgotten about when couples experience child loss.”
I was pleasantly surprised with the flurry of inbox messages I received and answered returned directly on the posts.
(I have been given permission to directly share the following answers but some gentlemen wish to remain anonymous so I have not included their names if they weren’t happy to post their identities.)
As I had expected many of the answers were repeated time and time again for the first question of whether the Fathers felt they were given adequate support following their loss. It was a resounding chorus of “no”! It was certainly a mixed bag regarding support from their employer from the extreme of being offered unlimited leave to “fuck all support” and many variations in between. In some sense I think that for both genders a lot is left to be desired in terms of the support from work. In my case I was “given” my holiday days back, as if that was some kind of amazing gesture. Oh yeah, I was really having a “holiday” and whale of a time burying our Sleeping Son… *eye roll*
It was encouraging to feel that the men who are part of the Facebook support group that I am Admin for (Angel Parents, Mums and Dads, Rainbows & TTC) feel that the group has personally offered them enough support- “I came to grieve but now I stay for the friends I’ve made.” – Lee Patrick Jones.
If only the whole of society could make men feel as if they are allowed to grieve too and feel part of a community surrounding a loss. It is so important not to alienate the Fathers and it seems that healthcare professionals are completely missing a whole level of care… the duty of care to the Fathers who are crying out for more emotional support.
“I got no support from our hospital or health professionals after any of our losses.
I never cried about any of them as I was doing my best to support my partner through the losses (I grieved in my own way when not with her.)
Had no support from work.
I don’t think there is a good level of support for me after a loss, most people that offered any help only offered my partner support” – Mark Leggat.
The following was posted anonymously-
“Everything seems to be focused around Mums, Midwives, Drs, Nurses, are all concentrated on the female side of it.
Dads hurt too, we grieve, we feel loss, we also have to support our partners whilst going through the same thing.”
In the “Daddy’s With Angels” Group I was shocked to see that many of the Fathers were actually turned away in terms of support from both SANDS and The Miscarriage Association.*
(* This is by no means a full picture of the support offered by these charities, just a snapshot of experiences from a group that I am part of and helped myself and my Husband following our loss. This piece is about the Perspective of Men so it is an opinion based piece. Every situation is different.)
A lovely chap from the DWA’s group has a beautiful way of talking about what it means to lose a child from a Daddies perspective and it is so refreshing. “Big boys DO Cry” and other encouraging emotional responses to loss that I believe is a great starting point for understanding a males loss. Please take the time to read Warren Morris’s truthful and warming portrayal in his piece “The Loss of a Child, A Dad’s Perspective”.
Many of the Fathers that I have had the pleasure of talking to admit that they still do not cry because they feel that they need to be strong for their partners “even though a piece of (them) is missing” and that they do not talk about their Angels as much as they should. I truly believe this is a symptom of our society and the danger of labeling people with simplistic categories but not taking into account that we are all just humans and when times are tough, we all need and deserve a lot more help than we both ask for and are given.
Its worrying that when people are asking for support the system is failing us as a society. Why are we refusing to listen to cries of help? To put it bluntly no one ever fully recovers from loss because it is an absence of something that will never exist again!
“I did go to doctors and ask for help. All they offered me was sleeping pills.” – Jamie Fallick-Wicks.
I hope that one day Fathers feel that they get equal support following a loss, but in all honesty the ball is still being dropped in a Mother’s Care throughout pregnancy and labour and the aftercare (which in my opinion was very inconsistent in the case of my Rainbow Babies birth.) Nine babies are stillborn every, single day in the UK and there are no answers as to why the numbers are so high compared to other European counterparts figures surrounding Childloss. Is it the very British mentality of “Keep Calm and Carry on”?! Do we have that stiff upper lip as a society on the whole? I feel like this IS in fact echoed in the answers I found in my very unscientific thought experiment!
Despite the fact that one in 100 couples will suffer three or MORE Losses, there are just not the resources in place to deal with these tragic eventualities so it is no wonder Fathers feel like they have no support. I feel eternally lucky that there was such a keen focus on my care following my loss. I truly feel like our hospital is amazing at caring for families of loss. I felt nothing but respect from all the staff who cared for me after Mylo grew his wings.
The same sadly can not be said for triage who have let me down I feel during both of my pregnancies. I will never forget being told to “just take a paracetamol” when I called them when my contractions began with Mylo. Sadly they do not seem to care when your pregnancy is not at a viable stage. This needs to change!
Tommy’s Charity funded the UK’s first National Research Centre for Miscarriage at Birmingham’s Woman’s Hospital Just last year and it seems that there may be answers for half the miscarriages that currently have no explanation-
“Until now, everybody has thought, after the man has got the lady pregnant, that’s the end of his role. And if she loses the child, that’s something that’s wrong with her. Our research is really starting to turn that on its head. Now we think around half the time we can’t find an answer about miscarriage, it may be down to sperm DNA,” – Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown.
If there is potential to believe that 10,000 miscarriages could potentially be prevented a year due to a male factor in loss more support certainly needs to be in place for the Fathers that feel the system has forgotten about them! No one should feel like they can not grieve, especially if it is over the loss of their child.
With thanks to all the gentlemen who provided me their side of the story. The level of care for males and females is just NOT available so I do wonder if it is a case of a Mother/Father divide or just a lack of resources in this field which has been confirmed by Prof Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Right now male support is just seen as not essential within a cash-strapped NHS…. hopefully one day this may be revised. Until such time Fathers should be reminded to take the appropriate time to grieve for themselves too and know they are not alone. The support IS out there… you just have to reach out to find it.
– Bea’s Mummy x
(With thanks to Warren Morris/Daddy’s with Angels for their amazing support and providing the majority of graphics I have used in this piece.)