In my mind, I can still picture my husband standing in shock. I can still remember wanting to reach out to him, to utter words that would bring him comfort. But no words came. Hindsight. It is both beautiful and a curse. Because now I know the words I would have said to him yet time alone has taught him everything I wanted to say.
So, to the dad whose heart has been broken today. Let me tell you the things I wish my husband had known. . . . .
You are not a spectator of your own loss. I know it may feel like it. Your partner’s pain and your baby’s care has just become the main focus in the room and you feel pushed to the side. The medical team may even forget you aren’t one of their own and encourage you to help your partner through her pain. She has a whole team behind her and you feel you have no one. But you are in no way a spectator. The little life that will heartbreakingly enter the world without a cry is both of yours to love. This experience is both of yours to share. So make it yours too. Let the room feel your pain. Hold your little one in your arms. Take the photographs that you tell yourself you may never want to look at because in months or years to come that may be what you crave.
You will make many phone calls. And depending on your partner’s physical state, you may make them all. You will have to listen to friends and families excitement down the line give way to shock and tears, all the while cursing the new dads down the hallway who got to make a different call.
For a while, you may feel like an ‘after thought’. Most people will enquire after your partner before they do you. How is she feeling? How is she coping? If there’s anything she needs, please let us know? Please know they are not intentionally trying to hurt you. People just tend to focus on the physical side of a mother’s pain and forget that emotionally, there are two broken hearts in the room. Or perhaps, as the ‘man of the house’, they deem you to be ‘stronger’?
Just know that you don’t have to be. It’s alright to break down. You will break down. Over and over. And then when you think you’re done, you’ll break down all over again.
You’ll lose a few friends. So will your partner. But women talk. You may feel like she is getting more emotional support because she is being inundated with messages and phone calls and every bereavement bouquet is addressed to her and her only – or even your baby – but never you. I hope you have friends who do reach out first. I hope you have friends who pick up the phone. But sometimes, as your partner will also find, it may be you who has to reach out and start the conversation. You’ll ironically find yourself comforting others when it should be the other way around. I know – it’s bizarre!! Grief likes to play with us in these ways. Make sure you walk towards those who offer support and love, and walk away from those who don’t.
You’ll probably find yourself having to face the outside world long before your partner does because, sadly, the working world doesn’t recognise dads in the same way (another thing to add to your list of ‘shit-things-loss-dads-face’). The office environment may feel different and that’s when you’ll realise it’s because of you. No one will quite know what to say to you. So they’ll default and do the one thing you already hate with a passion and make you an ‘after thought’ again. How is she feeling? How is she coping? If there’s anything she needs, please let us know?
You’ll probably cross them all off your Christmas Card list within that first hour and you’ll curse your colleague who sits in the corner, his desk adorned with framed photos of the baby who entered his life three months ago. You’ll find yourself Googling new jobs in your lunch hour just to feel a sense of escape. This is normal behaviour. And most of your colleagues do have well-meaning hearts. They’re as new to this grief as you are (just on the other side of the coin where you so wish you could be too).
You may question the stranger you’re now living with. I know this because she’s probably questioning you too. And that’s okay. It feels worrying, but it’s okay. Only weeks ago you were both so happy, yet here you are now grieving. And neither of you may know what grief looks like on the other person. Even more so when you are grieving for your child. You may question her grief. How was she able to laugh today when all you feel is numb? Or why is she not getting out of bed for the fourth day in a row when you have to get up and go to work? You have no choice. You’ll deem her selfish. She’ll tell you that you don’t understand. You’ll shout at her and ask her how the hell could you not understand? It’s your baby too! She may even throw the ‘hormone’ card in your face at which point you’re already halfway out the door.
She doesn’t mean it. And neither do you. You’ll both apologise and learn over time that you aren’t living with a stranger. You are just learning more about eachother in the most cruelest of circumstances.
And it’s not fair.
It’s not fair at all. . . . .
In my mind, I can still picture my husband standing in shock. In my mind, I can almost picture you too. My words may be relevant or they may not be. But there is one last thing that I want to tell you that is perhaps the most important of all.
On those days you feel like a spectator. Remember, you matter.
Those times when somebody makes you an ‘after thought’. Remember, you matter.
On those days you don’t want to be strong, don’t be. Cry. Your tears matter. Your feelings are valid. You matter.
And when the world makes you feel less of a parent because your baby is not in your arms, remember this isn’t the case at all.
You are a parent.
You are a father.
Your baby matters.
And so do you.