When I first started my midwifery career I struggled massively with looking after fathers during times of loss. I wasn't 'qualified' (I had my midwifery degree but not the real knowledge needed for bereavement) to look after mothers losing their babies, let alone the fathers. It was far easier to focus on the practical aspects of looking after the mother than try to understand how the father needed support too.
I was awkward. I made sure the fathers were comfortable but did I really include them in the care of their baby, so very loved and so very still? I didn't. It wasn't because I didn't think they mattered or that they were not sad, I just didn't have enough experience or understanding of how loss affects them too.
But loss does affects them too.
From the very start of Holly's existence my husband has been there. From the big smile he gave when we found out we were expecting, to holding my hand through every heartbreaking scan, to watching our daughter peacefully pass away when I could not watch the screen. He was there when I was induced, he was there when the contractions started and he was there when I was screaming as Holly was being delivered. He was there when we spent time with Holly, he was there when we said goodbye, he was there at the funeral and he has been there every day since.
He was there.
How could loss not affect him? Holly was his blood, his hopes and dreams, his daughter and his heartbreak, just as much as she was mine. There is so much focus is on mothers that I fear father's are somewhat left behind. I remember when the Catholic Priest came to bless Holly at the hospital which was my husbands wish as I am not religious. The priest barely spoke to him. It was all about me and that was awkward and uncomfortable.
People ask how I am doing but yet I wonder how many ask how my husband is doing? Does he get messages from people checking in to see how he is? I may have had to walk around with a pregnant tummy and a lifeless baby and I may have had to endured the pain of labour but he would have taken this pain, had he been able. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him, watching me in pain knowing that there is nothing he can really do to take it away. And while I can take my maternity leave to mourn, my husband was back at work two weeks after his daughters death.
Each experience of loss is unique and whilst mine and my husbands experience are different we also understand each other more than anyone else can. The daily pain, the constant feel of loss and the sadness in our hearts is felt by us both. We both lost Holly and we both miss her, every single day.
I wish I had understood this a little better before Holly. I wish I hadn't neglected the fathers I have looked after in the past. The experience they have in baby loss is so very real and so very raw. They need to love their baby, have the chance to care for their baby and the opportunity to talk too.
It sounds so obvious doesn't it? But in an age where men are told to 'man up' and 'be the strong one' and where death (let alone death of a baby) is viewed as an awkward and 'silent' topic, loss for daddies is on the most part, neglected.
I can't pretend that I know what it is like for a daddy to lose his baby but what I do know is that daddies feel it too.
Daddy matters too.
On the 7th September 2016 at 25 weeks gestation, Holly was born, still after a battle with complete heart block.