Gareth's Story | Baby Loss Portrait Project
When I thought about writing something for the Baby Loss Portrait Project, I had a couple of initial thoughts; the obvious ‘Am I any good at writing?’ (I am an engineer so will try and resist the urge to use tables and bullet points!) but the second was what on earth I had to say. After thinking it through, I guess I have two things I want to say. The first is that we need to teach men and boys that it is ok to feel sad, so they are more able to process grief – this is something I struggle with. The second is that we need to talk about stillbirth and child loss, and not just the negatives but also the amazing things loss can drive us to do.
So, this chapter in my story starts way back in June 2014, when my wife (Cate) and I first decided to try to start a family. I was so naive! For me, like most people I think, sex ed when I was a kid was entirely focused on how not to get pregnant and implied that the moment you had sex without protection pregnancy was inevitable. This was not our experience. Nearly a year later, Cate got that first positive test.
I was ecstatic; running around in small circles round the house. In 9 months I was going to be a dad! Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and Cate had a miscarriage around the 8 week mark. She quickly became pregnant again, however this first loss had made us weary and Cate especially found it difficult to bond and trust that the pregnancy might end with a baby.
I have always been quite a fact and logic driven person (hence the engineer) so while Cate was struggling, I felt I had to be the voice of calm and reason. At the time I was doing this to be the ‘strong’ one, something I reverted back to later, but in retrospect I am not so sure this was a good thing.
Anyway, fast forward and Cate was at the 30 week stage, she had finally started to believe that she was going to have a healthy baby and we were starting to think about generally readying ourselves. I had been away for the weekend at a Christmas party and all felt right with the world. I got back on the Sunday afternoon, cooked a roast chicken and we were about to eat when Cate told me that she hadn’t felt the baby kick in a few hours and she was worried.
In the song Everybody’s Free, Baz Luhrmann says: “Don’t worry about the future, or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum, the real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday”…well for me it was 8pm on some idle Sunday.
Those words... “I am sorry, there is no heartbeat”…even writing them 3 years later is hard. I was sort of numb, I couldn’t process it, I think part of me didn’t think it was real...or perhaps just didn’t want to accept it. But the hardest part was seeing my wife’s world fall apart and not being able to fix it. I am a fixer, it’s how I deal with things and not being able to fix the worst thing that has ever happened to the person who is most dear to me in the whole world is not something I was equipped to deal with.
The next couple of days are a bit of a blur until we went back to the hospital to deliver our son. I was fully prepared for it to be the hardest thing I had ever been through, but actually the delivery itself was an unexpectedly calm experience; something which was in no small part thanks to the incredible midwives looking after us.
This calm came crashing down at the point he was born. It is at this point in the story that my skills with the English language fail me; I just cannot describe the wave of emotion that engulfs you upon seeing your perfect, tiny son lying lifelessly in front of you, I just sort of crumpled and sobbed uncontrollably.
We named him Erasmo or Raz for short. I had started calling him that while Cate was pregnant as a joke, just a silly name we found in a one of those baby name books, but after he was born we couldn’t really think of anything else we wanted to call him. Now he will forever be my little Raz-a-mataz (which has to be said with jazz hands).
The hours and days following his birth are actually filled with a lot of positive memories; we were allowed to visit him in hospital as often as we liked, we took him home just before his funeral and spent time as a family, he met his grandparents and even met the cats. Burying him was tough, but we found a beautiful little spot with great views and he is buried under a holly tree. Given the circumstances I am not sure I would change anything about the short time he was with us.
Now I would like to get on to the point of my story:
In the weeks and months following Raz’s death I slowly started to get back to life, but I hadn’t really processed the grief. I was trying to be ‘strong’ for Cate – whatever that means – but because I was, again, trying to be calm and rational, I left her feeling isolated and like she was going through this on her own. When the grief did come out it did so as anger; not the sort of ‘anger at the world or the injustice of life’ type anger, but more exploding at Cate when she suggested I take a different route when I was driving somewhere – you know, really helpful things like that!
I was lucky enough to get counselling to help and had a good support network of friends and family. The point I want to make however is that I don’t think I am alone being a man with poor emotional skills – we need to be more open as men and talk about these sorts of things. We need to teach boys that it’s ok to cry, to talk about how you are feeling and that being a ‘hard man’ or problem solving your way out of emotions isn’t actually very helpful when the real problems in life blindside you on that idle Sunday.
The other point I wish to make is that we need to talk about baby loss to help people avoid the bad things that can happen, but also mention the positives that can come from these experiences. We are now lucky enough to have our rainbow baby and I truly believe we are better parents because of Raz. Losing loved ones can also drive us to do amazing things; Cate just completed a challenge to walk 2000 miles in a year, to help raise money for the Manchester Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre and awareness of stillbirth (check her out @tw0thousandmiles). In doing so she has built up a network of people who have gone through loss and has found great comfort in supporting and being supported by others who have been through a similar experience.
And that's my story; I hope it can help in a small way with whatever anyone else anyone is going through.