Whether a baby is lost at four weeks, twelve weeks, twenty weeks, or at full term, the news is devastating to both parents. Don't ever assume the scale of that loss. The notion that because the baby wasn't actually here makes it any easier to deal with is a myth and very dismissive of the parent's feelings. Also don't assume that the loss will have little or no effect on the father.....IT WILL.....believe me, it did.
I'd like at this point to paint a picture of what my wife and I had been through in the years leading up to this event. Not just to add gravitas to the situation, but so you feel you know me a bit more. Our journey had begun eight years before and amongst other things it had involved numerous infertility investigations. Nina endured operations, giving samples to hospitals, spending time in clinical rooms, and being poked and prodded by Nurses and Doctors. She also faced being told 'Well, you are nearly 40'. She went through three attempts at IVF and more Doctors, hospital, and clinic appointments than are reasonable. We were told we should be grateful for even having one child and being made to feel selfish for wanting a bigger family and we had numerous counselling and therapy sessions. Miraculously, we were pregnant on our third attempt at IVF. We were elated, although apprehensive, so we waited a little longer to make an announcement.
It was 26th February 2015 when mine and Nina's world came crashing down around us. 'I'm just going to turn the screen off for a second.' I can hear the Sonographer's words in my head like it was yesterday. 'I'm so sorry there's no heartbeat.' then the guttural, primal scream from my wife. The next couple of hours are something of a blur as phone calls were made to parents, friends, employers and hospitals and they passed by in a haze of tears, screams and questions.
Then came the hardest thing that we have ever had to do. Telling our ten year old son George. To deliver the news that his unborn brother had died was the most heartbreaking thing we've ever had to do. I can still hear his cries of how unfair it was and how was it that other people could be brothers and not him? The wetness of the chair cushion from his tears is something that will stay with me forever.
The next day we had to go to the hospital so my wife could deliver our son. Say miscarriage and people don't imagine that the woman still has to give birth. I don't know what was worse, the thought that my wife had to deliver our sleeping son, or the fact that we were taken onto the maternity ward with newborn babies crying and the screams of mothers-to-be in labour. It was still hard to accept and to see Nina in so much pain, so desperate for them to say they had made a mistake and everything was fine, was so hard to watch. Of course someone had to be with Nina but George needed his dad, so Nina's mum stepped up and stayed with her. I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like for her in all of this. Hours later after having to go through labour, all the while knowing the outcome (which must be the most horrendous thing a mother can go through), our son was born sleeping. Nina rang to tell me and all she could say was that he was here and he was perfect. But there was no birth certificate. And no death certificate. Just another sleeping baby seemingly erased from the annals of history. Yet he existed. I know he did. He had a name. Louis. I held him. I was at his funeral. I think about him every day. What kind of uncaring country do we inhabit when you don't get a certificate to say a child existed? To add to our grief, when my wife was off work with what was described as 'gynaecological problems', she was harassed by her employer so much she felt she had no choice but to leave. These are just some of the things that have to be faced on top of the loss of your child.
It was nine months later when it hit me hardest. I'm not saying I hadn't been affected; I had been and more than I knew. But I had gone into 'survival mode' and was literally going through the motions of life every day. I had to be strong. I had to look after Nina. After all wasn't that my job? It wasn't that I felt that she was hurting more or that I felt better equipped to deal with the grief. I had to support Nina. The pain from watching her grieve for our son was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and I truly hope I never have to see her like this again. I was at work and I'd felt myself getting lower. My enthusiasm towards everyday mundane tasks was waning. Then came the day when I snapped. A fog descended around me. My mind was a blur and I just had to get out. And that's what I did. I just walked out. A friend chased me and asked if I'd be okay to get home. I said yes, but to be honest I didn't care. I didn't go home. I went to the pub. What better way to banish that feeling of falling into a bottomless hole than by drinking copious amounts of alcohol? I posted a status on Facebook while I was in the pub and turned my phone off. I turned my attention to drink. It wasn't a suicide note (a cry for help, maybe) however I think people SAW it as a suicide note. I can see how it may have been seen as that, but at the time I just posted how I felt. Nina came to the pub to say that her phone had never stopped ringing with people asking if I, and she, was okay. I went home, got into bed, and stayed there for most of the next six weeks. When I did surface I felt as if I was seeing the world through a fisheye lens; like I wasn't really there. I felt detached and removed from the world. In some ways I still do. I felt like I had a sign that said 'broken man - avoid at all cost.' I felt guilt because I couldn't protect Nina or Louis or George. I felt like I'd failed as a husband and a father.
What do you say to someone who has lost a child? I understand that it is a difficult question and something which is very hard to deal with, but I will tell you one thing. Pretending that that child didn't exist and not talking to you about how you feel is about as bad a way to deal with it as there is. People asked me how Nina was but I can count on one hand the amount of people who asked how I was.
There is very little support for men, and what support there is, is very difficult to access. There are support groups for miscarriage and baby loss and they encourage fathers to attend, but the whole masculinity bullshit comes into it and men don't like to talk. I was lucky I was already getting counselling for my depression before this happened, so I had a place to go. Others don't. Well, not a place that is conducive with how the male brain functions, anyway. There are some amazing organisations out there such as Sands and 4louis, to name the two that helped us. The memory box we received from 4louis will be treasured by us forever and the Christmas and birthday cards Louis receives from Sands are just wonderful.
Eventually, the trauma DOES pass and I can now talk about Louis without getting upset or having flashbacks and I talk about him a lot. When people say Have you just got the one?', (little tip: don't say that with your head cocked to the side in a patronising tone), I say I have George who is twelve and I had a son called Louis who was born sleeping. If people have a problem with hearing that then that is THEIR problem. I will not stop acknowledging him just because they feel uncomfortable.
Louis was and still is a huge part of our life. I have his footprints tattooed on my arm so I feel like he is always with me, and I often think about how he would be, how much he would be loved by George, and all the dad things I won't get the chance to do with him.
So please spare a thought for the dad. He will be hurting more than you know and no doubt more than he will admit.
Peace, love & laughter Dan. x