David Monteith shares what it is like for a father of a stillborn child and illuminates the experience of men, stillbirth and baby loss.
You lived what anybody gets…you got a lifetime. No more. No less. You got a Lifetime — Death from the Sandman by Neil Gaiman
My daughter Grace lived a full life. A full womb life. A life in which she heard the voices of my wife and me, in which she heard us sing. She saw shades of light and she dreamt unborn baby dreams. She moved, full of life and showed us her developing personality.
The moment things changed
On the 1st of May, excitement set in as contractions began; on the 2nd of May my life became a series of moments
Trying to put on my 4-year-old’s coat while watching the midwife struggling to find a heart beat.
Driving to the hospital, hoping against hope. The longest journey of my life.
Watching the stillest of scans and knowing the results before they spoke.
Trying to eat lunch knowing I would need my strength but struggling with the sick feeling deep inside.
Returning to the hospital for my wife to be induced.
Women, men and stillbirth: our different experiences
And this is where the real difference between my wife and me hit me. Whilst my world had fallen apart, whilst I was trying to find the strength to endure what was to come. I was not the one with a dead baby in my body. I was not the one who would have to endure the pain of childbirth knowing that only the continuation of tragedy awaited. Even now a year and a half down the line, I cannot conceive of that mental anguish.
I dressed her then and put her in a cot. My wife was having complications with her placenta and needed me so I had to do what no father, no parent wants to do. I had to walk away from my daughter.
The next few hours were a mixture of heroism and despair. In turns we joked with the midwives, we cried and sobbed with each other and we stared at each other in numb disbelief.
When my beautiful and perfect daughter Grace was born I held her, still radiating her mother’s warmth, and thought for a moment that it was a cruel joke. I smiled at her and sang to her. I asked her, I begged her to breathe for me, to open her eyes and look at me.
Her weight in my arms teased me with all her unrealised potentialities and I was struck by the awful, almost physical pain that comes with the dawning knowledge that all my fathering instincts, the desire to protect, to nurture had nowhere to go.
When I had to turn away from my daughter
I dressed her then and put her in a cot. My wife was having complications with her placenta and needed me so I had to do what no father, no parent wants to do. I had to walk away from my daughter. Leave her in a corner. I wanted to look after her, protect her but it made no difference, so I walked away. Even today I struggle visiting her grave because I, at some point, will have to turn and walk away a visceral reminder of my frustrated fatherhood.
My brave, strong, warrior woman of a wife endured and achieved so much and I felt inadequate. I wanted to hurt and ache like she had. I decided very quickly that I wanted to dig my daughter’s grave. And I did just that. I carved her resting place from the ground myself, grateful for my brother who worked with me every step of the way — feeling the ache and pain with me.
Then came an event that every father dreams of but in a fashion that is every father’s nightmare. I got to walk my daughter down the aisle.
I carried her in a white wicker basket, wondering where I found the strength from. During the service my wife and I sang Amazing Grace through the lumps in our throat.
The lessons I have learned from baby loss
In the last year and a half I have learnt one very important lesson. Know yourself.
In knowing yourself you can find an emotional language to express yourself.
I am unashamed of the tears I cry. If holding tears back is manly, then screw that. I couldn’t give a damn about what a man is supposed to be. I don’t help my wife or myself by not being in touch with my emotions, and seeking counseling for both of us has helped us process this ongoing sadness. In embracing them, it helps me deal with the unexpected lashing out, with the anger that I didn’t realise was just below the surface. It helps me to be there for my 4-year-old Alannah as she continues in her horrible quest to understand the impact of having a sister that never came home, of what death means. Helps me to be there for my wife whose grief is a step more immediate than mine. Helps us as we attempt to find joy in a world which seems very different; as we adjust to the “new normal”.
How our baby’s death touched our family
Grace’s legacy has touched many and indeed our 4-month-old Kira wouldn’t exist if she hadn’t.
She was real; she had a full womb life, for which we are thankful. But I’ll never know the colour of her eyes; she’ll never hug me; never know my warmth.
My daughter lived a lifetime, and that’s how long I’m going to miss her, a lifetime.
How you can help — resources for men and stillbirth
Buy and wear a Baby Loss Awareness pin from participating charities via the Baby Loss website.
For further information or for details on how you can support these charities, please visit www.babyloss-awareness.org.
David Monteith lives in London with his wife Siobhan and 2 daughters Alannah and Kira. He is an actor, director and tutor. He is the co-founder of the Geek Syndicate, a website, podcast and BBC documentaries.
David received the Inspirational Father award at The 2015 Butterfly Awards.
He documents his thoughts on various matters but primarily on men and stillbirth and surviving a stillborn baby, attempting to communicate the raw emotion that comes with this loss at his blog David Monteith.
Follow him on Twitter.
The original version of this article appeared on 12 October 2015.