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by Anonymous Dad
How do you tell someone that you are having a down day. Although you may exude strength on the outside, you feel helpless, weak and alone, and don’t know how to ask for help. This is what I felt, and on occasions still do (as I am sure many other dads do) after losing my child.
It is not in a man’s nature to ask for help when he is feeling down or alone. We have been brought up this way for men to be stoic and strong in the face of all adversity even when all we want is someone to ask how we are?……
Who would have thought that in today’s modern society that it is still a challenge for people to recognize a dad’s loss and ask how they are, or if they are OK? (although things seem to be slowly changing with organisations like Pillars of Strength being around).
A dads loss at whatever stage is a burden that he will try and deal with in his own way (because society has programmed us to do so).
We had many of our family and friends ask us what can they do to help, but in the state of losing your child you sometimes want people to do something for you without asking eg dropping off a cooked meal Although we knew peoples hearts were in the right place we wanted action and support, not pity as it is sometimes hard enough to function let alone take care of yourself in the early days after your loss.
In saying this we were also probably to blame, Trying to ask for help was and still is the hardest thing for me to do, and to this day I still probably haven’t asked for help as much as I should have even when I have desperately needed it.
I did try and ask for help early but it seemed a bit hard. I tried counselling and found it wasn’t for me. I found that I couldn’t handle being enclosed within four walls with someone saying, now tell me how you feel. I also tried a combined counselling session with my wife and couldn’t handle the times when she was telling the counsellors how good she was feeling when only an hour earlier she was crying in my arms and having a difficult time dealing with losing our child.
I also tried to find support groups for dads but were told they did not exist (but I could always attend one for bereaved mums with my wife although I would probably be the only dad in the room).
Then I found Pillars of Strength. Through this I have met some other dads at one of their events who have been through a similar situation to me and I was given tickets to a game so I could take a couple of mates who I hadn’t caught up with in a while. It may not sound much but it was something that recognized me as a dad and that I had needs and that I had lost my child too. That is sometimes how my rollercoaster feels since losing my son just after he was born. Family and friends didn’t realize (and still don’t realize) the hurt and the loss that we endure due to the masks that we wear every day.
Don’t get me wrong I have many more good days than bad and am grateful for my family and the life that we lead but it is hard for us sometimes to feel a part of society when no one acknowledges that you have a child. (even though they are no longer here).
Recognition is all I wanted, yet I will never ask. I want from people acknowledgement that I am a dad (although my child is no longer with us), It is support that I Seek, not pity from family and friends by recognizing that although we wear a mask we hurt every day, even though you may not see it.
Like many people say until you walk in someone’s shoes do you really know what is going on.
by David Moffett
A story from a dad in the leadup to his sons birthday tomorrow …………..
Today is August 26.
Tomorrow is August 27. The Birthday of Australia’s greatest cricketer, and probably the world’s finest sportsman ever, Sir Donald Bradman.
August 27 is also my son’s Birthday. August 27, 1992.
However, it is the events of August 26 1992 that are indelibly etched in my mind.
August 26 1992 was a Wednesday. I’d been out to Al’s Golf Centre and was heading back to Oatlands for my regular afternoon game of golf.
When I got the call. On my mobile phone. Well in those days it was an in-car fixed phone./
The call was from a lady who worked with my wife’s mother.
She said. “Jayne’s at the doctors’.” Jayne had an appointment at the obstetrician’s office that morning. She was at 36 weeks.
And then she said those words I’ll never forget….
“They’re having trouble finding a heartbeat”….
Much of the next twenty two hours is still a blur. Doctor’s office, home, hospital, birth, home….my wife has more memory of the detail…
I just remember arriving home the next morning, parking the car beside the house, and seeing our next-door neighbor over the side fence.
I still remember my wife saying to her “Oh Joy, I’ve lost my baby.”
Thirty-six weeks is eight and a half months. Close enough to full term.
James would have been 21 tomorrow….
The events of the next few days are a blur. Friends, family, time off work. I was back to work on the Tuesday in a daze. The funeral arrangements were stressful…the next months were stressful.
People would ask Jayne, where’s your baby? It was tough for her. Their comments, though meant to be kind, were often insensitive.
But rarely did anyone ask me, “How are you going?”
James would have turned twenty-one tomorrow… August 27.
by Ben Howard
Hamish Aubrey Howard was born full term on the 22nd of December 2004, after a long labour he was born by emergency caesarean section at 12.30pm.
We were all so happy when we held our healthy baby boy; he had lots of visitors, from grandparents, aunties, uncles, friends and his big brother Fergus.
All seemed to be going fine with him until Christmas Eve. I headed off to the pub for a few drinks with some mates to wet his head, when I received a call from the hospital to come straight up to the hospital as he had became gravely ill and they were unsure what was wrong with him. When I arrived at the hospital he was in the special care nursery with a team of doctors and nurses around him. The paediatrician came to speak to us and said that it looked like it was a heart complication but was unsure of the complexity of it but it would be touch and go for him until the NETS team arrived from Sydney. We had Hamish baptised as at this stage we were unsure of the outcome for him. The Doctors and nurses worked on him and had to resuscitate him once while we waited for the team to arrive, which they did at about 11.00pm. On Christmas morning Katie, Hamish and I were all airlifted to Sydney airport at 2.00am were two ambulances were waiting one for Hamish and I and one for Katie as she was still a patient at Calvary she needed to admitted to Westmead hospital and Hamish and I went to Westmead Children’s hospital Grace ward which is their neonatal intensive care ward.
We met with the cardiologist at 10.30 on Christmas morning; it really makes you appreciate what wonderful staff are at our hospitals 24/7, 365 days a year. When we met with the cardiologist he explained to us that Hamish had transposition of the greater arteries (TGA) and a hole in his heart (VSD). So at this stage he needed to have a minor operation to put another hole in his heart to help with the mixing of the blood, this all went well and I was to hold him by that afternoon.
On Boxing day Katie was able to start feeding him which was great, we met with the surgeon who advised us to wait for him to get a little stronger before he had his open heart surgery, he explained in great detail how the operation would work in all the operation could take between 4-6 hours, he was booked to have this operation on the 12th of January, this would be the start of a massive roller coaster ride for all of us.
We took Hamish up to surgery at 8.00am we gave him a kiss and the staff took him away, we went to do a little bit of shopping to distract us from the long wait, we got back to the hospital at about 12.00pm had some lunch. Then our pager went, we were all very anxious to hear the result when we got up to intensive care the surgeon spoke to us said everything had went well and that there was some small leakage but so far so good. We went in to see him which was pretty hard as he was quite swollen from the operation and had tubes coming out of him everywhere, his heart had started to race and the doctors were really concerned about this, he then went into cardiac arrest and they had to start to resuscitate him while we were there, his heart stopped beating for 15 mins but they managed to revive him and felt positive that he had good oxygen flow at all times.
Hamish had several things against him that day, he went back into surgery at 4.00am the next morning to be put on a heart lung machine as his little heart was struggling this would give it a break and help him recover a little, as anyone could imagine this was very hard for all of us to cope with especially seeing him so helpless, Hamish would go on to have another 5 operations after this every time they thought that had fixed something something else would go wrong.
Hamish never opened his eyes again to see us after his first operation he endured a lot in his 28 days of life especially in those days after his major surgery. His final day with us he again endured another operation which was to close his chest, all was ok for the first few hours then everything went down hill from there, he went into cardiac arrest again the nurses and doctors worked on him for close to 30 mins when our surgeon came to us to say I can make the decision or you can but I think it is time to stop.
We all agreed that it would be best for Hamish to stop the resuscitation, and Hamish past away on the 18-01-2005 at 7.45pm. We were able to spend time with him and cuddle him, Fergus our then 20 month old came in also he may never remember this but we will never forget it.
Hamish still had all the tubes and wires in him as due to him having surgery that day and his body had to have an autopsy done on it.
I think all you can feel is numb when you lose your child. We slowly walked back to our room after leaving him for the last time, I think we were all too shocked to really talk, we flew back to Wagga the next day I just wanted to be as far as, I could be from the hospital and the memories, Hamish’s body would follow us in few days. When we got back to Wagga it was good to be back but something was missing and will be for the rest of our lives. Hamish was buried on Monday the 24th of January.
We were so lucky to have wonderful family and friends who supported us through this part of our lives it will be a journey that will never be forgotten. We still talk about Hamish everyday.
We have since had two girls Sofia and Eliza they are very much aware of their brother who is in heaven and most nights we look for his special star.
by Ryan Calkin
Arielle Emma Calkin 23-07-2011
Words from a Dad….
On the 23rd of July 2011 we got to meet our baby girl who was born still, that day will always remain in my memory as a very special day.Though I may not speak of that day or our daughter as much as my wife I still have my own way to honour my daughter. She will always be missed and my love for her will always be strong.
Arielle was 36weeks when the realization set in that she hadn’t moved in sometime, this was confirmed by an ultrasound. This moment still remains quite clear even though it was such a mix of emotions and thoughts. I think the shock is such a state that as a male you feel hopeless that something is out of your control.
Arielle was born 1 day after my wifes 31st Birthday and 4 days after we got that life changing news. In some ways we consider ourselves thankful that we had these 4 days to grieve and make some of the harder descisions before we met her. From the beginning we had decided that we owed it to Arielle to give her the best we could in her honour and that is excatly what we did. My wife was amazing and we made sure that as a family we included our children Addison (boy)6 and Arabella (girl)5 who were also amazing despite what we had happened.
At just over a year 14 months since this happened we still talk about Arielle and all deal with our grief in our own way. I found that I tend to most think about her when I have time to myself driving and listening to music like Coldplay or Adele. Since losing Arielle we have had a liitle Rainbow baby Boy, Blake Riley who was due to be born on Arielles birthday however we brought him into the world on the 16th of July 2012. When he is old enough we will share our story with him and tell him about the precious girl that is now a precious star.
We deal with greif and loss in our own way and time, even though as a male I may look ok I haven’t forgotten our Baby girl.
In time choose to laugh,enjoy life and family…by no means does this mean that you have forgotten your journey and the precious child that is here in memory. XX In memory of Arielle Emma Calkin.
by Matt Silvester
“You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have” – Author Unknown 29 September 2010 is a day we will never forget. Our lives changed forever. Our whole world was turned upside down when our son Samuel was stillborn at 36 weeks term. Samuel’s umbilical cord got tied in a true knot and he had cut off his own oxygen supply. The pregnancy had been completely normal up to this point to with no complications at all. Losing Samuel was devastating to our family and friends and I clearly remember thinking at the time, “If we can get through this we can get through anything.”
Today we will be celebrating Samuel’s second birthday. It’s hard to know how to spend the day. We could hide indoors feeling sorry for ourselves or we could go out and face the world. Should we have birthday cake to celebrate? We couldn’t bring ourselves to buy a cake for his first birthday. Last year we celebrated Samuel’s birthday by releasing balloons from a bridge over a lake at a local park. We went to a party shop and all chose balloons to release.
Our eldest son Oliver (8) chose a balloon with soccer balls all over it “because I would have taught Samuel how to play soccer.” Thomas (6) chose a bright orange balloon with stars “because Samuel is up in heaven near the stars.” My wife Alison and I both chose balloons with butterflies on them. We had released balloons at Samuel’s funeral so it seemed a fitting way to celebrate and butterflies have come to symbolise Samuel. I am sure we will do the same again this year.
I often wonder what Samuel would look like now. He was the spitting image of Oliver when he was born. He had my “big” big toe! Would he have light hair and blue eyes like Oliver, or dark hair and hazel eyes like Thomas? What would he be doing? No doubt terrorising his older brothers I would imagine. Samuel is very much part of our family and we often talk about him. The boys bring his name up unexpectedly which always makes me happy. Every time any of us see a butterfly we say “hi” to Samuel, I am determined that we will never forget Samuel, although I know there is no way that we ever will.
Since we lost Samuel I have been determined to do anything I can to help others who have experienced a similar loss. I ran the Sydney marathon in September last year in memory of Samuel and to raise money and awareness for The Stillbirth Foundation Australia. I cannot describe how much it saddens me that on average six families every day in Australia have a stillborn child, and their lives have been indelibly changed. I found that training for and running the marathon was good for me as part of my own grieving process. It gave me something positive to focus on and new found purpose. I was doing this for Samuel.
To be honest the day of the marathon is a bit of a blur for me. It was an unseasonably warm spring day with temperatures reaching 31C during the run. The heat and the emotion of running for Samuel really got to me and from 27km to the end (42.2km) I was doing more walking than running. With Samuel on my mind I was determined to make it to the end. I still laugh when I think back to just after I had crossed the finishing line, Thomas came running up to me scolding me by saying “Dad that was so boring. You took so long!” I was completely overwhelmed to have raised $7,672 in sponsorship for The Stillbirth Foundation which was beyond my wildest dreams. I did promise Alison that I would never run a marathon again.
Early this year on my daily bus ride home from work I noticed that entries were open for the New York Marathon on 4 November 2012 – coincidentally just two days after our 10 year wedding anniversary.
I half-heartedly read the information on the New York marathon website about the lottery draw for international entrants. The website stated that the percentage of successful applicants accepted for my category would be between 8% and 12% depending on the total number of applicants. I thought “what the heck” and I’d give it a go anyway and entered the international lottery draw.
Alison and I actually met in New York in 1996 when we were both part of an international exchange program – Alison is from Orange, NSW and I am originally from Kent in England. For the past few years we had said that it would be great to spend our 10 year anniversary in New York. With Alison due to give birth to our fourth child in March we had discounted going this year. I am delighted to say that in March our beautiful daughter Lucy was born.
I had pretty much forgotten about my New York marathon entry until, to my complete surprise, I received an email in late April saying “Congratulations! This is the beginning of your New York City Marathon journey.” I was in! Wow! As a friend said to me at the time, “Maybe fate is playing its part. After all you guys have been through, the arrival of Lucy and with the marathon coinciding with your 10 year wedding anniversary. You just HAVE to go to New York!”
After a lot of discussions we have decided to take our children too. Oliver and Tom were so incredibly strong for us that there was no way we could go without them. Lucy will be only 8 months old so it is a shame that she won’t remember the trip.
So after promising to never run another marathon I will be running in New York, again in memory of our son Samuel. This year I am also running for bereaved dads and for a recently formed charity called Pillars of Strength. I consider myself fortunate that I have always been someone that can openly talk about things, and I find that talking helps.
I know this doesn’t come easy for a lot of dads who tend to keep their feelings to themselves. Pillars of Strength provides a peer support group with other bereaved dads who have experienced a very similar tragic loss. No matter how great your family and friends are it is hard for anyone to truly understand that feeling of utter loss, devastation and pain that you feel when you lose a child.
Update one year on
Well we all went to New York for the 2012 marathon and had the family holiday of our lives. Memories that will last us all a lifetime – especially Oliver and Thomas. Unfortunately, the day after we arrived, New York was hit by the remnants of Hurricane Sandy which caused considerable flooding, loss of power and sadly loss of life. Rightly, considering the state parts of New York were in, the marathon was cancelled. I still couldn’t help feeling the most disappointed I have ever felt in my life that I wouldn’t get to run for Samuel and for my sponsors. As we heard the news of the cancellation Alison turned to me and said “it’s ok – I give you permission to come back next year!”
At that stage I had raised just under $5,000 for Pillars of Strength and thought that I had to run a marathon somewhere. I checked a few websites and the next marathon in NSW was in Orange – Alison’s home town! So in February 2013 I ran the inaugural Orange marathon as one of just 80 entrants. The crowds were somewhat smaller in Orange than they would have been in New York, but at least I had numerous friends cheering their support around the course. Oliver and Thomas ran the last kilometre with me and we crossed the finish line holding hands. In the end I had raised $5,154 for Pillars of Strength.
We recently celebrated Samuel’s third birthday. We were up in Bathurst for a family wedding and released balloons at the top of Mount Panorama. The releasing of balloons has become the way we celebrate Samuel’s birthday. When the time came to release the balloons Lucy (now 18 months) wouldn’t let go of hers and then carried it around everywhere with her for the next few days! We thought this was precious. I have found that each birthday has been a bit more bearable than the last, although I still kind of want to just survive the day in one piece. I don’t think we will ever have a cake. Every year I am touched by the number of friends who remember what the day is and send us messages that they are thinking of us. Alison was true to her word and I am heading back to New York in November 2013. I have already decided that this will be my final marathon, and this time I know I actually mean it! Again I will be fundraising for Pillars of Strength. Unfortunately I will be going on my own this year, but my brother and his wife will be joining me from the UK for the weekend and I am still lucky to have a number of close friends who live in and around New York to cheer me on.
I think that running three marathons in memory of Samuel has been a fitting tribute. Over the past three years I have found that training for marathons has helped me immensely with my grieving process for Samuel. I don’t think I could have survived as well as I have without having something to focus on. In the future, instead of running marathons and raising funds for charities, I plan to give my time to the charities instead. Hopefully my small contribution will in some way make the lives of others who experience a similar loss slightly more bearable. I still live by the quote I read not long after Samuel was stillborn. “You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” But in saying that don’t be afraid to cry. Don’t bottle up your emotions. Talk. You will find it helps.
by Matt Silvester
I don’t take anything for granted anymore; I thought it would all follow the plan, how wrong I was.
I learned to adjust my focus when Alexander came along; things that once took more from me had to settle for less.
This is as it should be, I was a dad, and I had a son to look after, to care for, to guide, to love and to cherish.
The feelings grew stronger, the anticipation and excitement with the news of another pregnancy. How quickly things can change, a routine visit, all is not as it should be.
The next few weeks feel like months, routine is thrown out the window. I have a 19 month old son to look after and a ‘20+ week’ old son battling increasingly grim odds.
There is no chance of ‘viability’, Declan arrives too early. I am numb. Amidst our shock and despair we follow the midwife’s advice, we take photos, we bathe and dress our son.
I adopt my ‘role’ and somehow we get through the next few weeks. I return to the routine of work, seeking shelter from the reality of what has occurred.
Many months pass, we find out we are expecting another baby. My feelings are different this time, I have the same anticipation and excitement, but also the uneasiness of knowing what can go wrong.
Surely not again, the look on the obstetricians face gives away more than he realises. We are back in the hospital, the same soaps and smells from the year before.
My daughter Ella is born at 24.5 weeks. With enormous strength and courage she lives for five long weeks in the NICU.
Everything is put on hold. A strong connection is formed. She senses my presence, strongly grips my little finger and etches her piercingly beautiful gaze in my mind forever.
I don’t hasten back to the routine this time, we spend precious time together as a family. We talk and agree the ways we want to remember all of our children. We discuss how important it is to help others feel comfortable to remember all of our children and talk openly about them with us.
We are also offered hope. After the loss of Declan and Ella we are given more specific medical advice. We confront our fears. We travel to Melbourne for surgery to prevent a reoccurrence of what had previously happened.
We soon find out that Kylie is pregnant. We anxiously pass through the second trimester this time. A date is chosen and with almost ‘German precision’ we welcome our beautiful big smiling baby boy Isaac into the world.
I now have a six year old and an almost two year old son to look after, to care for and to guide. I will always have four precious children to love and to cherish. Each of my children provide me amazing memories, insights and strength that I hope to draw from always to lead a fulfilling and positive life.
by Jarrod Maher
On the 21st of July 2010 at 2am George Clarence Maher was born by the way of an emergency c-section. Virginia, my wife, had to be rushed to Calvary Hospital in Wagga in the middle of the night because of sudden serious bleeding.
The next 24 hours was a real rollercoaster ride – it went from being the worst to the best and back to the worst again of my life so far.
When we arrived at Wagga hospital the first concern was for my wife’s life as she was losing blood at a rapid rate. We were advised that she would have to have an emergency caesarean and the baby would be lucky to survive as it was only 27 weeks old. My wife was then wheeled off for emergency surgery. An hour later (felt like 20) I was sitting with my mother waiting for some news, pacing the corridors feeling like vomiting when a trolley with a baby on it went racing past. I was not sure if it was my baby and even if it was I was too frightened to follow just in case he/she was not alive. The nurse came and said “come and see your beautiful little baby boy, he is over a 1000 grams (apparently that is a good thing) and is doing extremely well.”
I walked in and met my son, George, for the first time. He was beautiful, little but long with good colour. I spoke with the paediatrician and obstetrician and everything was positive. They said being born at this stage he should have a 90% chance of survival. Being a bloke that likes a punt I was extremely confident that everything was going to be fine.
My mum, and family who were around came to meet George. This was a very special time for them. Now that George was looking good I focused on Virginia again as she was taking a long time to come out of theatre it was probably another hour before she came out of recovery. She was very pale and was still sedated. We wheeled her in to meet George and all she could ask was if he was ok. She loved his name and thought he sounded like a strong big boy. Virginia rubbed his leg and held his hand.
After speaking with the nurses and doctors again we decided to try and get some sleep as George would have to be transferred to a hospital in Sydney with the facilities to look after him until he would be big enough to come home. This would be happening at some stage that day. I tried to sleep on the floor next to Virginia without a great deal of success. At about 7am all our family started to arrive to meet George. Pa parked his truck out the front hoping George might get a glimpse, Poppy arrived and was impressed with how long he was, thought he might be a front rower! During this time everyone was trying to get onto Brendan my brother as he was running a camp in the Tee Wee Islands. There is no phone coverage up there so I am still unsure how he received the message. Paul and Chris (Virginia’s brothers) came up and met George as everyone knew we would be heading to Sydney so they might not see us for a while. Nat my sister came from West Wyalong with her children. I tried to tell her not to come over as it will be ok, just to come to Sydney in a week or two. Lucky she came then.
That day the Neonatal team arrived and prepared George for his first flight. This was a long process. I was walking from Virginia’s room to his all day. Most of my mates had found out and called by this time. The medical staff had warned us the first 24 hours were going to be the most critical, especially with having to move him to Sydney. The time came when George was ready to go, I was concerned about Virginia and thought she should come up a day or two later when she was a little stronger. It must be mother’s intuition and there was no way she was going to miss that flight.
I said my goodbyes to both of them as they were wheeled into the ambulance. I touched George’s leg and said, you will be fine. This was an extremely tough time saying goodbye. I do remember clearly my little niece Liv came cuddled my leg as I watched the Ambulance leave.
I then had to organise how I was going to get to Sydney and I wanted this done quickly. Lisa my sister said she would drive me so I went and said goodbye to my little girl Sadie, packed my bag and headed off. Once again this was a long period not knowing how they both had travelled. I had not had a great deal of sleep but we battled our way to RPA.As soon as I arrived I went straight down to visit George and the Doctor gave us a run down on what was happening. Once again they said the first 24 hours are critical and because he has had to fly up here that might not help. I was still confident though. We said our goodnight to George and headed to Virginia’s room in the hospital maternity ward for another bad sleep.
The next morning I had to go and see George. As I walked into the nursery I could see a lot of people standing around George. One nurse told me to stay there the doctor would come and see me in a second. At that moment my heart broke. I knew this could not be good. The doctor came to me after about 10 minutes after and said that she would like to talk to both me and Virginia together…. This was the longest walk of my life. As I walked in Virginia knew that something was not right, the doctors explained that George had had a bleed to the brain and it was not good. We went down and were with George for the rest of the day. During this time we bathed him, said everything we could to him, cuddled him and he was baptised for the second time. Mum flew up to Sydney and arrived just after George had passed. This was a very sad time also to see your mother so upset and something no one should have to go through losing a child or grandchild.
Throughout the day we had family and friends come to meet George and also say goodbye. They will always be remembered by Virgina and I for their support.
That night we were moved out of the area so we could not hear babies crying all night. We were given sleeping tablets but they didn’t really help. The next morning we were taken to Sydney airport by Ambulance with George and flown back to Wagga. Nursing him in a box on the flight home was awful. We arrived home and had to go back to the hospital where the funeral directors would pick George up.
From there we had to organise the funeral…
We feel extremely lucky to have George in our lives for only a short period of time and he tried his best to stay with us. My only wish is that he could have stayed a bit longer.
George was going to be in Sydney for up to 13 weeks (or at the very least the first six weeks of his life if he survived). I know when we flew him to Sydney I was worried about where I was going to stay, what to do with work and even paying for parking whilst there sitting beside George every day. Pillars of Strength would have given me the opportunity to get out and recharge the batteries, along with providing some of the day to day support which I can guarantee I would have required.
An organisation like this would have been most beneficial to me when we had George and I believe Pillars of Strength will be most beneficial to other dads and families from regional areas. Since 2011 I have been directly involved with PoS so that we could establish a regional program to provide support to regional dads that I didn’t have. In memory and to honour George (and Hamish Howard) an annual golf day is now held in Wagga to give dads some timeout and to raise funds for Pillars of Strengths regional InHospital support program.
by Gary Sillett
Father’s Day is a day of mixed emotions for me. A bittersweet day. Every year, I find myself engaged in a delicate balancing act.
There is the joy of the day and being a father to Callum, and the sense of loss over my other son Isaac not being with us and thinking of what our family could have been.
You see when people ask me how many children I have, I always tell them that I have two wonderful boys. But people will only ever see me with one son.
My second son passed away in December 2010 after two days with us in the NICU at Royal North Shore Hospital.
In the lead up to and on Father’s Day there is excitement in a normal household. This is a day of recognition for fathers for the work they do and the role they play and most importantly the joy they experience being a dad to their children.
Sadly, so many men, once excited at the prospect of being a dad (many for the first time), never get to experience a “normal” Fathers’ Day. Some also never get to experience a normal fatherhood at all.
These men are part of a club which swells by over 3,000 new members each year through stillbirth, neonatal or infant loss alone.
Coping with the loss of your child at any time is both emotionally heartbreaking and physically devastating. It is a pain that endures. You never know the moment when your next “down day” will come, no matter how long ago you lost your child.
Modern society has conditioned men to conceal their emotions as a sign of strength, but a grieving father feels the loss of a child just as keenly as the mother will. Although men don’t express themselves like women do, it does not mean that we grieve any less.
That’s why a special occasion like Father’s Day is a day of potentially tumultuous emotions for us dads as it can exacerbate the hurt of our loss and our wistful thinking about what could have been. These feelings may not always be able to be kept in check even though we try to be strong for our families.
To me and for the members of our club, Father’s Day is both a celebration and an acknowledgement that we too are each a father to a child we adore. A child who is sadly not with us today. While some men may prefer to let Father’s Day pass without any acknowledgement, it is important to understand that a father who has lost a child of any age is still a dad, his child is still the child he loves like only a parent can. And his loss is an anguish unimaginable to the very lucky majority.
For me, commemorating Father’s Day is a way to remember our lost child with love and to honour my role as his father.This day (as well as Isaac’s birthday and Mother’s Day) is a very special time for me and my family. It’s a time where we shut ourselves away from the rest of the world. It is my family time to be spent only with my wife and my living son where we remember Isaac and we do something special together without any interruptions.
That is what works for me but of course every father will be different. Some men will want distance on this day, and some men will want to be around friends and family. If you want to support a grieving dad during this time, the best gift I believe you can give him (and a mum at any time) is to acknowledge their child and recognise their loss, no matter when it occurred. It’s a loss that never goes away. Affirm his role as dad.
I miss Isaac every day and treasure my precious time with him. I’m proud to be his dad. I’m proud to call Isaac my son. Now and forever.
And I would like to acknowledge all dads on Father’s Day – and every other day of the year – with this poem by Judi Walker.
by Gary Sillett
Losing your baby (whether it be stillbirth or like me passing away in the NICU) your world is changed forever. Your state of normality is not the normal from a year ago, which unfortunately only the people from our select club would seem to understand.
Here is my story of the loss of my son Isaac and how I have tried in a small way to help myself by helping others who may be or may go through this difficult situation………………… On the 8th December 2010, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our son Isaac at 26 ½ weeks (13 weeks early). He spent two days in the NICU at Royal North Shore Sydney before sadly passing away on the 10th December 2010.
A father is expected to be the pillar of support (strength) for his wife/partner, extended family and friends. He is the communication channel to the outside world and on many occasions, if he has other children, he becomes the chief caretaker of those children whilst his wife/partner recovers from surgery and the birth.
In Isaac’s short time with us, I spent many hours in the NICU and worrying about my wife and child. I was expected to have broad shoulders with minimal opportunity to get away from things and in many cases continue with work to ensure that there was money still coming in to pay for the mortgage, bills, doctors fees etc.
Being in this situation you will find that friends and family always offer support or to do something for you but there really isn’t anything they can do to help you with your grief and the guilt of not being able to do anything to fix things. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a couple of mates who took me out for a round of golf (with the blessing of my wife) which allowed me a sanity check, some personal time and gave me the opportunity to reflect and more importantly time out to reenergise and refocus. It was the best thing for me and prompted me to create a support program for fathers in this tumultuous time. (NB. A year on I still need these periods of time out and will continue to do so as losing your son does not ever go away).
From my own personal experience when Isaac was in the NICU and subsequently passing away, I found that there was little assistance available to a father who has a child going through a traumatic experience (or something similar). It also showed me that there was little “me time” to take care of myself as I had to be there to be the Pillar of Strength for my family to ensure that everything continued in some sense of “normality”.
I have found that the above is a common theme with fathers who are faced with prolonged periods of their child being in the NICU, sick in hospital or passing away. There is little time for them to do something for themselves or get support as they need to provide it to everyone else (particularly their wives/partners).
This has provided me with a desire to make a change in father’s lives through facilitating something that can make a difference. This is “Pillars Of Strength“.
Pillars of Strength is an Australian first initiative which aims to provide fathers with some support and time out they need while their baby is sick, or to provide some informal support after the loss of their baby. (NB it is not a counselling service but more an informal peer support network).
Since August 2011, Pillars of Strength has been, assisting dads and families during this difficult time through the “Time Out” and “In hospital support” programs.
As sport has been part of the male make up for generations the Time Out Program provides Dads with the opportunity to participate in, or attend, sporting and fitness activities with mates, family members or another Dad who has experienced a similar situation. (eg going to an AFL or NRL game, having a hit of golf, going to the gym etc). This is to allow some “me” time during this difficult period. and provide dads the opportunity to reflect and more importantly time out to re energise and refocus.
PoS also provides a Range of services to Dads and families whilst in hospital:
- Emergency accommodation Program for regional dads and their families so that they have somewhere to stay in the first stages of their baby’s hospitalisation. Operating at RNSH NICU since July 2012 initially by leasing a unit next to the hospital, this may be expanded through support by an Executive Apartment/s or similar real estate organisation/
- Assistance with Parking, Travel and Food Costs whilst their children are in the hospital NICU
- Pillars of Strength may not be the answer for everyone but it is here to help fill a massive void and through establishing the organisation, helping others and taking time out has certainly helped me deal with the loss of my son.
- For further information about our programs, whether to get involved, access or to help support us so that we can expand our programs outside of Royal North Shore please go to our website www.pillarsofstrength.com.au
Losing a child at birth (or at any time) is one of the most painful and devastating experiences that someone can go through.
Sadly, so many men, once excited at the prospect of being a dad (many for the first time), never get to experience a “normal” child birth. Some also never get to experience a “normal” fatherhood at all.
These men are part of a club that swells by over 3,000 new members each year through stillbirth, neonatal or infant loss alone.
Modern society has conditioned men to conceal their emotions as a sign of strength, but a grieving father feels the loss of a child just as keenly as the mother. Although men don’t express themselves like women do, it does not mean that we grieve any less.
Whilst the grieving process may be different for men and women the grieving process is often based on individuality rather than gender. However there is a significant feeling that fathers are often forgotten in the grieving process.
During the pregnancy and birth of a child a father’s role is predominantly to support his partner emotionally and physically. A father is expected to be the pillar of support (strength) for the mother, extended family and friends. He is also the communication channel to the outside world and on many occasions, if he has other children, he becomes their chief caretaker while his partner recovers from surgery and the birth. Although of course he did not carry the child, there is still a deep bond that reaches a whole new dimension once the child is outside the womb.
During the period immediately after loss there is little time for dads to do something for themselves or get support. They feel the need to provide it to everyone else (particularly their partners) to ensure that everything continues in some sense of “normality”.
Many men take on the protector role in the family, supporting their wives or partners and not allowing time for their own grief. Even in today’s society, some men find it difficult to express their emotions and feelings can get locked up. Many men need time and space to grieve and this may happen many weeks, months or even years later. For some fathers sadly our role is to support our child’s memory rather than supporting them through life. I am a bereaved dad. My son was born 14 weeks prematurely, and passed away after two days in the NICU at RNS hospital in December 2010.
My son passing changed my world forever. However Fatherhood, once reached, is timeless.
Coping with the loss of your child at any time is both emotionally heartbreaking and physically devastating. It is a pain that endures. You never know the moment when your next “down day” will come, no matter how long ago you lost your child.
Being in this situation you will find that friends and family always offer support or to do something for you but there really isn’t anything they can do to help you with your grief and the guilt of not being able to do anything to fix things.
Fathers tend to take on the practicalities and keep themselves busy. Men also often find that other people ask about how their partner is coping without seeming to realise that they are grieving too. Men may feel helpless when they see their partner so distressed. However, it is important to recognise that although men may not show symptoms of grief they are grieving and need support too.
The important thing is to respect and support each family member when they are dealing with their loss. Acknowledge the father and ask how he is going – although it may seem small it will go a long way. Acknowledge him and acknowledge their child and recognise their loss, no matter when it occurred. It’s a loss that never goes away. Affirm his role as dad.
A poem by Judi Walker – A Dad hurts Too
- People don’t always see the tears a dad cries,
- His heart is broken too when his child dies.
- He tries to hold it together and be strong,
- Even though his world’s gone wrong.
- He holds his wife as her tears fall,
- Comforts her through it all,
- He goes through his day doing what he’s supposed to do,
- But a piece of his heart has been ripped away too.
- So when he’s alone he lets out his pain,
- And his tears come like falling rain,
- His world has crashed in around him,
- And a world that was once bright has gone dim.
- He feels he has to be strong for others,
- But Dads hurt too, not just the Mothers,
- He searches for answers but none are to be found,
- He hides behind a mask when he is feeling down.
- He smiles through his tears,
- He struggles and holds in his fears,
- But what you see on the outside is not always real,
- Men don’t always show how they really feel.
- So I’d like to ask a favour of you,
- The next time you see a mother hurting over the loss of her child, please remember…..
- A Dad hurts too.
by Adam Awty
Losing a child at birth (or at any time) is one of the most painful and devastating experiences that someone can go through.
The 11th of July 2009 – a date that marked the end of the joy and innocence of pregnancy for my wife and I! this was the day that with six words ” I am sorry your baby has died” forever changed us and defined our future!
Our scheduled visit to the sonographer for the 20 week scan was supposed to be the day we found out if it our impending arrival could wear our sons hand me downs or if pink would be the new blue. But instead it turned out to be one of the most defining and saddest days of our lives when the joy turned to tears, fear and anger when no heart beat could be found!/
Stunned and in shock we drove home to finishing the cleaning for our first open house while we waited to talk to the obstetrician. Naively I thought we would just have to wait for a miscarriage to occur, but no our baby needed to be delivered in hospital by inducement.
We then spent the next 24 hours in the delivery ward waiting for the inevitable. That was one if the cruellest things I think could happen to anyone to have to watch your wife endure the pain of labour knowing it was all for nothing, knowing we would go home without our baby!
It’s been over four years since we delivered our middle daughter on the 12 th of July. For most people a delivery means a healthy baby – for us this time it meant the beginning of one of the toughest journeys for unlike most babies, Matilda was delivered without joy or the sound of a baby’s first cry, she had died inutero and was delivered a few days short of twenty week gestation.
Even today, some days it is all a blur – like it was all a dream, yet other times it was like it was yesterday. The 12thof July 2009 will stay with me for as long as I take breath. In life you expect to lose your grandparents and your parents, but never your children. I never got to know my daughter because she never got a chance to live, but that doesn’t matter she is still my daughter none the less. That day and the days and things that followed are etched in my memory and can never be forgotten. But therein lies one of one of the difficult journeys that you are thrust into. I have grieved for the loss of my daughter, but I have learned to live for today and what I can control. As a man you are expected or sometimes you put the expectation on yourself to be strong, to shoulder the load for everyone else, to try and fix the unfixable. As a man you may not cry regularly for what you have lost, you may not speak child’s name often, but you do remember and feel the emptiness from time to time. As my wife regularly reminds me when we look in the back seat of the car there is an empty space in the middle where Matilda should be but for some weird twist of fate.
While it does get easier it is never gone. I can still see my wife’s pain for a loss we cannot explain nor understand why. In the early days, weeks and months I wanted to fix it but I couldn’t and I still can’t, and that is hard for a man who for some primal reason needs and wants to protect his family from pain. I have learnt that losing a baby is a taboo subject for many because they don’t know what to say or how to react; so you when people would ask you only have one child you say yes because it is easier, when in reality all you really want to say is no I have two but ones dead – bit of a conversation stopper really! I have also learnt that men and women grieve differently and are impacted in different ways from the loss of a child; my wife wanted to talk and didn’t. I love my wife but I know I struggled to give her what she needed at times and this is hard but grief is a very personal and individual thing and we all get through it differently.
It’s funny that after the appropriate grieving period had passed it was like it was everything was ok again but it’s not our demons were still there, they impacted us as we tried to have another child while grieving for the loss of Matilida. I know a lot of people are not comfortable with grief (me included) or talking about such unpleasant issues as the loss of child. But we have been determined not to forget her, each year we continue to acknowledge Matilda as a family with a cake and spending the day together. At the end of the day our daughter lived in my wife womb, I was there when she was delivered. She is my living children’s sister, our parents granddaughter and siblings niece. She was just taken before they got to meet her. If she was born and took a breath would that make her more real? For us no!
The irony is my son who never met his sister is most at ease to talk about her. He has two sisters just one died in mums tummy and is in heaven now with his grandfather (who also never met). He is quiet happy to tell anyone even the girl at the checkout about his sister in heaven.
While the time has passed and we now have a beautiful sister to Matilda my memories are still strong. I still remember the day I had to talk to a funeral director to have Matilda cremated, I remember the support of the great midwife Barb, I remember calling my parents and blubbering like a baby because I didn’t know what to do (who would!), I remember the sadness and emptiness in my wife’s eyes, I remember being scared in would happen again, I remember the little package wrapped in a blanket that I was too scared to hold, but most of all I remember my daughter!