Yesterday was Fathers’ Day. People celebrated fathers here and gone, and fathers of children here, gone and yet to be. This is a plea to all healthcare providers involved with baby and child loss, however such a tragic event happens. Sadly, many bereaved mothers will have many tales to tell about the difficulties of getting any kind of appropriate and timely emotional and psychological support. The whole system of baby and child loss support needs review, and that system support needs to include bereaved fathers, too.
My partner and I lost our son Hugo at the age of 35 days at the end of March this year. He had to be born 16 weeks prematurely to save both our lives because I had severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome.
It has been very difficult to find grief counselling to help us deal with our baby’s death – that’s a topic for a different blog.
I have recognised that I need support to help me deal with the ‘double whammy’ of the trauma of my illness and losing my precious son. I am still waiting for this support, but as a mother I have at least been seen by my obstetric consultant, a midwife, health visitor, and been summonsed by my GP for a post-natal check. These checks have made sure I am physically ok after the illness and birth, and professionals have made referrals to appropriate places to help me get support for my emotional and psychological well being. That support is taking a long time to materialise, and again it’s a subject for another day.
However, my partner Martin, Hugo’s proud daddy, has sadly not been offered anything. He might not have suffered physically as I did, but he was involved with the whole drama. He feels the loss of Hugo just as acutely as I do.
The consultant in charge of Hugo’s care on the day he died said that the hospital is required to inform only the mother’s GP. This very old-fashioned policy seems to offer a formal denial of a father’s grief about the death of their child. It also helps perpetuate the stereotype and expectation of the father’s ‘stiff upper lip’ and emotional distance.
Nothing could be further from the truth for Martin.
He was a proud dad from the moment we realised I was pregnant. He did everything he could to look after me and our burgeoning bump.
When I had my all-day-and-all-night nausea, he would cook my favourite meals in an attempt to get me to eat something, and didn’t complain when I ate only a token mouthful. He came to every antenatal appointment, and had the biggest smile on his face when we heard our son’s heartbeat and saw him moving around on the sonographer’s monitor screen.
I had started to feel our son’s movements, but he wasn’t yet big enough for Martin to feel him, too. He was so excited about sharing in those kicks. Our baby was due to be born just before the World Cup and he was so looking forward to sitting with our new baby in the wee small hours watching the matches.
In the week before Hugo’s birth, Martin was up with me in the middle of the night, helping try to get rid of the excruciating ‘heartburn’ (it later turned out to be my liver in crisis).
When I was admitted to hospital and given the terrible diagnoses, he was there every step of the way to cuddle me, reassure me and hold my hand. He was just as scared as I was of losing our much-wanted baby.
He was also scared of losing me. In my delirious state, I was blissfully unaware at that time of the very real threat to my own life.
Martin waited outside the operating theatre while seemingly half the hospital’s staff battled to save my life and deliver our son alive, not knowing whether he would have a partner or a baby by the end of the day.
After Hugo’s dramatic and traumatic birth he spent the next 10 days, while I was still an inpatient, walking from my bed to the neonatal unit several times a day. Our son was critically ill, and I received regular monitoring. He kept most of the knowledge of how poorly Hugo was to himself, to make sure I had more energy for my own recovery. He never complained he was tired, and made sure I had everything I needed – I was immobile and quite literally helpless.
When I was discharged, he still took good care of me, being very bossy and telling me to rest.
During our son’s life, he spent hundreds of hours, both with me and without me, holding vigil next to his incubator. He read Hugo stories, and told him all about what they would do together. He helped to do his cares: changed his nappy, did his feeds and helped wash him. He loved his skin-to-skin cuddles with his son. Being a numbers man, he took an obsessive interest in Hugo’s stats.
When the end came for Hugo, and nothing more could be done, Martin was the best father in the world. He accepted the situation quicker than I did. He didn’t want our son to suffer, and took the lead on the decisions that I could not. His action meant Hugo spent his last moments calmly, in my arms and with the people who loved him most.
He carried our son’s coffin in to the church for his funeral. The man who hates public speaking stood in front of 60 people to pay proud tribute to his little boy, talking about what he meant to him, how much he loves him, and how much he will miss him.
Since Hugo’s death and today, Martin holds me while my whole body is wracked with sobs. He gently encourages me to overcome the anxiety that threatens to paralyse me on some days, and helps me talk things through.
Hugo has the best daddy anyone could wish for. It breaks my heart that Hugo is no longer here for Martin to actively be his daddy. Martin is one of those men who is a born parent: kind, patient, a good teacher, firm but fair, and with so much love to give.
Martin suffers just as much as I do about what happened to me, and about losing Hugo. He experiences it differently, and expresses it differently, but the hurt is the same. He should therefore be offered support, too.
I have written this after Fathers’ Day as a way of making the point that bereaved fathers need appropriate recognition and support – and every day of the year.