Losing a baby is hard for dads too

I would burst into tears driving home from the hospital, convinced that I would never be a father.

Could it really be true? I always wanted kids. Even when I was a kid, I wanted kids.

We had our first miscarriage in 2003 and lost a second baby at 12 weeks in 2007. It was now 2011 and a doctor had just told me we were about to lose the twins my wife was carrying.

I fully appreciate that it’s harder for mums to lose their babies – what with them growing inside their bodies and all that entails – than it is for dads. But I suffered being childless.

We got there in the end. Fourth time lucky. I feel desperately sad for those whose dream never comes true. After losing I know the feeling and I feel blessed. I don’t take anything for granted.

My partner had her first miscarriage quite early in our marriage but it wasn’t even clear what had happened because the foetus was so small and had to be confirmed as a pregnancy in a hospital visit.

The stupid thing on my part, which was quite inconsiderate to my partner, was that I was like: ‘My boys can swim!’

Not that I actually said it but I thought then that it would inevitably happen for us, maybe just a few months later. I was wrong. So wrong. 

There was a genetic problem which meant that any baby we had would have a 25 per cent chance of suffering a crippling blood disorder. But when my partner next got pregnant a few years later, we were full of optimism.

We had rebuilt a beautiful house, with a lovely garden, which was mostly my work. It was a wonderful place for kids to grow up in.

At that time, the ’25 per cent diagnosis’ could only be done once the pregnancy was three months in. We went along to have a sample taken and saw our child on the scan. My partner and me looked and smiled as we watched it moving in the womb.

A three in four chance of a favourable outcome seemed like pretty good odds.

A few weeks later, I got the phone call at home from the specialist while my partner was at work. It was the worst phone call I’ve ever had. Bitterly, I said to the doctor: ‘You’re probably used to this.’

She insisted it was always hard to deliver such devastating news. I didn’t mean to lash out and be rude, I just didn’t know what else to say. I recall that I told my partner on the phone while she was at work. Maybe that was a mistake but it’s what we had decided to do. 

She couldn’t understand because the odds were stacked in our favour. But I explained that someone has to be in the 25 per cent. We had decided to have a termination if we had that diagnosis. The alternative was a short, painful and restrictive life for the child.

Our child. 

I will always have that memory of the scan seared into my mind. A dark cloud always gathers above me when I think about it. More hurt was to come.

My cousin, who is eight years younger than me, came by a few months later with loads of fancy pastries in white boxes…and the scans of his baby. Blood rushed to my head as he pulled them out while we were sitting in our idyllic garden on a blazing hot day.

My partner was plainly distressed, made her excuses and left. I’m sure my cousin didn’t set out to hurt us but he knew our story and he was that much younger than us, with all that entails when it comes to making babies. We should have had the opportunity to absorb his news in our own space.

My marriage was never ideal but losing that second child sort of haunted us. It’s like we could see little ghosts in the garden on a summer’s day. I’d be playing silly games with them. Maybe we’d have a paddling pool and my wife would be preparing our cold lunch outside. Potato salad and cheese sandwiches.

To cut a long story short, things took their toll on me and I had a full-on nervous breakdown. I lost my sense of reality. I wondered whether the baby in the womb had been healthy but…I don’t know, paranoia. My life fell apart as my mental health deteriorated.

In the following years, we had to sell our dream home because I couldn’t work. Eventually, we started to turn things around and got our lives back on track.

The great thing was that science had moved on. Cutting edge IVF procedures meant a one-cell sample from an embryo could determine which ones were in the ’25 per cent’. Two that weren’t were implanted and they both took.

I was truly happy for months on end and I think my partner was as well. We started letting people know after three months that we were expecting twins. 

But a few weeks later, our world fell apart, again. One twin was on its way to a miscarriage and the doctors said the other would follow. I couldn’t stop crying whenever I was on my own, especially coming back from the hospital where I was trying to keep it together in front of my partner. 

I felt I had so much to offer as a daddy but that it just wasn’t meant to be. I always wanted at least two kids but I solemnly prayed to God: ‘Just give us one.’

The first one did miscarry at 20 weeks and we were told by the doctors that the second one would as well. They offered to give my partner a pill to ‘speed up the process’. Fortunately, she resisted and my daughter was born at 27 weeks, weighing less than a bag of sugar.

A week before the birth, we had met with a specialist who told us about all the problems that a premature baby might have. I was so scared. I thought: ’What if I don’t love my child because it’s blind or deaf or has some other disability?’

But as soon as my daughter was born, it was love at first sight. I vowed to myself to protect her, to love her no matter what. To cherish the blessing of this young life. She spent two months in an incubator but the funny thing is that from the first time I set eyes on her, I was 100 per cent sure that she would make it. I felt it.

That was eight years ago and my little girl is fighting fit. I thought having a child would fix my relationship with my partner but sadly, it didn’t and we split up when my daughter was three. All the pain and the heartbreak of being childless for so long and all the devastating blows took their toll. But also, children don’t fix relationships.

The great thing is that I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter. I love her so much and I like her as a person. I’m co-parenting. One thing I never thought I’d say about my kid is that I have a lot of respect for her. She’s got a lot of character and she’s great company. We’re so offhand with each other and I kinda like it that way, it’s funny.

My closest friend has six kids but I wouldn’t change a thing. I prayed for one and I got one. Thank you, God. The monumental struggles on the path to parenthood have made me appreciate what I have. My daughter has helped me to be a better, more responsible person.

So, despite everything, I do feel so lucky and regularly spare a thought for those who haven’t been as lucky.

But the three we lost are part of who I am. I carry around that pain…and always will.

BABY LOSS AWARENESS WEEK

Baby Loss Awareness Week is held annually from 9 to 15 October. It’s a special opportunity to mark the lives of babies lost in pregnancy or at or soon after birth. Find out more at miscarriageassociation.org.uk

Other charities that can help:

Arc-uk.org (Ante-natal Results and Choices) – a non-judgemental charity that supports families who have terminated or lost their baby after pre-natal testing. They understand that ante-natal testing can lead to difficult decisions that it can be hard to discuss with friends or family. They offer advice, support and a private network of people in similar situations.

Tommy’s – funding research into stillbirth, premature and miscarriage, providing information for parents-to-be and support for parents who have lost a child.

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