I was recently asked to write this blog as part of Baby Loss Awareness week. Thought I’d write about my story and why I’ve created Dad Still Standing!
When it comes to baby loss the phrase that springs to mind that resembles my story closest is “Been there, done it, got the t-shirt” - but only if that T-shirt is unimaginable hurt, heartbreak and grief like I’ve never experienced. I can say that with confidence as grief is something I’ve experienced from a an early age. My Dad died from cancer when I was 15 and my Mum died from cancer when I was 20. As hard as that grief was to deal with it was nothing compared with losing my babies.
My first experience with baby loss came in June 2015, that year had started happy, I’d married the love of my life in January and a short while after we found out we were expecting our 2nd child. Our first child Freddie was 3 at this stage, we had no problems with Freddie’s pregnancy, it was straightforward, normal delivery and no complications along the way. My wife Lauren and I had wanted a ginger baby and it still makes me laugh that her first question when Freddie arrived wasn’t “Is it a boy or girl?” rather “What colour hair has it got?”
Fast forward 3 Years to a sunny June morning, my wife woke up early and went to the toilet, whilst she was on the toilet I heard her call my name in a panicked slur. Rushing into the bathroom I found her slumped sitting on the toilet in and out of consciousness. My wife being my wife insisted she was fine and had just got up too quick. Having never seen someone look quite so grey as she did I called an ambulance and explained the circumstances that she was 12 weeks pregnant and had passed out at home.
The ambulance crew arrived and were pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. They insisted it was probably Lauren’s blood sugar being low, but as she was pregnant she was taken taken to Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow. I arranged care for Freddie and followed the ambulance. We spent a short while in the majors department of A&E, whilst we were there Lauren’s condition worsened and she started experiencing pain in her left side and her shoulder. Dr after Dr kept uttering the phrase “You’re probably just having a miscarriage!” Very soon we found ourselves in the resus department. None of the staff Could tell me what was happening to Lauren, an ultrasound couldn’t pick up anything due to obstructions. Eventually a paediatric consultant told us that she was either having a heterotopic pregnancy or had a cyst on her ovary. It was explained that it was highly unlikely that it was heterotopic pregnancy as we’d conceived naturally and had no history of twins. The odds of this we were told were somewhere in the region of 1 in 250,000. A short operation later and you guessed it - Lauren had a heterotopic pregnancy. If you don’t already know a heterotopic pregnancy is an ectopic pregnancy alongside a “normal” pregnancy.
After the operation I remember asking the anaesthetist if the surviving baby was ok, I was met with the response “Don’t hold your breath you”ll probably miscarry!”
Well we didn’t and January 2016 our feisty little baby girl Lily was born. Knowing her now there was no way she wasn’t going to survive
I don’t think following this that I gave much thought to baby loss, I think I was so pleased that we had Lily I just didn’t think about the fact that she was at one moment in time a twin.
My next experience with baby loss was a lot more definitive and hit me like a tonne of bricks.
Fast forward a short while after having Lily and we found out we were expecting again. I remember a distinctly different reaction when we told people we were expecting our 3rd child, friends and families reaction wasn’t the overjoyed reaction I expected, and reaction ranged from puffed out cheeks, a short sharp shake of the head, a wry smile and lots of other minor discouragements, these were then followed by kind words once people had gauged our reaction that we we happy.
My wife suffered with post natal depression after having Lily, as a result we had appointments with consultants at hospital who specialised in depression and pregnancy. These appointments were booked in for in between scans and were intended to check how Lauren was doing.
The day before our first such appointment was a Sunday and we’d held Lily’s 1st birthday party at home and friends and family were now a little more warmed to us having another baby and were showing an interest. We’d had a our 12 week scan and all was fine, and we’d had all the the usual questions from friends and family about finding out the sex etc.
Come Monday morning we dropped our eldest Freddie at school, he was excited as he knew Mummy was growing a baby and that we were going to see a picture on a telly. We dropped Lily at nursery and made our way to the hospital for the appointment with the specialist.
The next bit is such a blur but so vivid at the same time.
We sat outside the room where our appointment was and awaited to the see the consultant (coincidentally it was the same consultant who had diagnosed the heterotopic pregnancy)
As we were called into the room we were met by one of the consultants registrars and a midwife.
The registrar asked a few questions about mood and then said. “While you’re here shall we listen to baby’s heartbeat?” Obviously we were both excited to get an extra scan.
I distinctly remember Lauren getting on the bed, undoing her jeans, the gel being rubbed on her belly and then the registrar placing the scanner on her stomach. I’ll. never forget the next word out of his mouth. It was short simple, uncharacteristic lapse in bedside manner, he simply uttered the word “Oh!”
I don’t remember my response but I then remember he quickly left the room and left us with the midwife. Lauren was in tears at this point as she knew what was happening. I just kept repeating. “It will be ok, it’s fine, it’s fine!” In reality my heart was sinking and I was being ripped apart.
A flurry of activity followed and senior midwife after senior midwife came into the room. They were amazing, kind, caring compassionate and everything you want from a midwife. I remember being told we would need to go round to the ultrasound department to be scanned by a specialist.
That walk from the appointment room to the ultrasound department is one that will stay with me forever.
It was only 30/40 yards but i remember Lauren being in floods of tears and me following behind just wanting to wrap her in an invisibility cloak and keep the pain away. The last thing we wanted to do. was walk though a department of expectant mums when we were about to find out if our baby had a heartbeat. While we walking around I remember people looking and trying not to stare and I remember an older woman who was there with her daughter just looking at how upset Lauren was and uttering the words “Oh no!” It was so vivid it was as though she was feeling the loss we were feeling, for all intent and purpose she was with us.
I remember the distinct feeling of my world crashing down around me as the consultant uttered the words “I’m sorry we can’t find a heart beat”
Things happened pretty quickly, we got taken to a side room, Lauren was given a tablet to stop her hormones from working, we were then told to go home and come back in two days time to deliver the baby. This totally threw me as I hadn’t even thought of Lauren having deliver our baby, I don't know what I was expecting in hindsight but this knocked me for 6.
The two days wait are still such a blur, being a man I was doing my best to keep it together in front of Lauren while really I was falling apart, but men being men I didn’t show it I carried on as normal, or as normal as I could.
Two days passed and we were back at hospital in the specialist suite at PAH Harlow named Star Room.
The next 24 hours flew by, and to be honest I’ve never felt so useless in all my life. My wife being my wife absolutely smashed it, she dealt with everything with a toughness that those who know her will be familiar with. Seeing her be so tough kept me together and kept me strong.
25th January 2017 the day we welcomed Baby Harry into our lives, so small, so still and yet so perfect.
I’d never felt grief like this before, it was so raw and still is something I think about every day.
The hardest thing after was explaining to my 4 year old what had happened, I researched Google for how to do it. I explained that the baby in Mummy’s tummy wasn’t going grow big and strong like him and that baby Harry had gone up to heaven to be with my Mum and Dad so they can look after him for us. I don’t know how I expected him to react but in his own childishly innocent way he simply responded “Ok Daddy!”and he just carried on playing.
Fast forward to October 2018 and we experienced the exact same loss at the exact same stage of pregnancy. 27th October 2018 Daisy was born, just as perfect, just as small.
When we got back from the hospital Freddie asked “Is the baby gonna be big and strong like me?” I remember saying “No mate!” Holding back tears and again came his little voice “Ok Daddy!”
At this point I looked at my father in law, a man who isn’t emotional and doesn’t show them, a man I’ve known over a decade, there he was sitting on our sofa tears streaming down his face. That image will stay with me for a long time.
While nothing can prepare you for this kind of grief, nothing can prepare you for the comments people will make. The most common things I had said to me from blokes was
“At least it works”
“Could you,afford another one?”
“Don’t worry it wasn’t meant to be!”
“Did you really want another baby?”
The list could go on forever
The most savage thing I had said to me was by a manager at work who very simply said “You know you’re not the only one this has happened to!” Said through a smug grin. My simple response was simply “Thank you for your kind words, now shut up and go away!”
If you’ve been through baby loss then you’ll know people will treat you differently, not intentionally but sub consciously. They’ll fall silent when you walk in a room, they won’t know what to say and often they won’t want to talk to you for fear of upsetting you.
One thing baby loss will show you is who is in your corner, who has your back and sadly who never will.
I remember being lost in my grief for a long time. Didn’t know how to process it and for a while didn’t want to process it. But that’s not something you can do with grief. If you don’t deal with it will come up when your least expecting it and smack you in the face.
Baby loss doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care for colour, age, financial status etc.
Since the losses I’ve suffered I’ve become involved with Sands United FC Essex. Sands United is group of Dads, Uncles, grandads who have all experienced loss, they meet up, play football, and forget all their worries. There’s no obligation to talk about anything, no judgment, no pressure, just a group of men supporting each other.
This has helped me more than I can say, and I count every lad in our squad as a friend.
After our loss I wanted to share my experiences and try and help other Dad’s with how to get though baby loss and the mental health battle that so often comes with it.
Why Dad Still Standing?
Well it’s simple, if you’re a Dad and you’re struggling, grieving, having a rough time then there’s pretty much nothing there to support you.
There’s this stupid preconception that if you’re a bloke you should just “suck it up, fix up, man up!” Well all I can say about that is what a load of bollocks!
I’ve found out first hand on more than one occasion that if you’re a Dad and you’re grieving the loss of a child, however old, you won’t get much support.
Over the last few years my wife and I have suffered two still births and lost another baby due to a heterotopic pregnancy. Prior to that I lost both my parents after long battles with cancer before I was 21. On top of that I’ve also got a lifelong illness to manage.
But this isn’t about me or what I’ve been through and am still going through. It’s about me trying to help other Dad’s going through stuff.
Ok I’ll be the first to admit I’m no professional when it comes to dealing with this stuff, but I’ve experienced most types of grief, so if I can put that into something positive to try and break this nonsense idea that men have to be strong all the time then you bet I’m gonna do it!
As a man I’ve experienced that sometimes your grief has to take second place, and as far as I’m concerned grief shouldn’t be prioritised, grief is grief, to the person going through the grief it’s the most painful thing ever. No one should go through it alone. Especially just because they’re a Dad!
I consider myself fortunate enough that I’m getting through everything that’s happened to me and my family! I’m not there yet but I’m moving in the right direction!
If others are going through anything like what I’ve been through, or are struggling with the pressures of being a modern day Dad, then to them I want to be the person I needed when I was at my lowest and when I felt at my most helpless! I want to help them see that things will be ok, that as a man it’s ok to let your emotions show. It doesn’t make you weak it means you’ve been strong for too long!
You can find out more @dadstillstanding