On July 7th 2018 our little boy Otto was born sleeping. From that moment, our lives were changed forever. I remember thinking he would never get the chance to see the world, or meet his big brothers, Lucas and Victor. But we were lucky enough to cuddle him and spend some precious time with him. We are so incredibly grateful for those brief moments and we will never forget him.
The days that came afterwards were the hardest we had ever experienced. In the midst of grieving, there were complicated, painful decisions to be made, some of which we hadn’t even considered as stillbirths are so rarely spoken about.
Although it was a shared experience, my wife’s experience and mine were different. We had both lost our little boy but she had also had to fight for her life physically. I always felt that I had to be strong for my wife and family, but I also felt that I had not been through nearly as much as my wife and that we needed to focus on her wellbeing. I did constantly feel that I needed to put a brave face on for both her and to keep things together as much as I could for my children, so their normality continued.
However fast society is changing, there is still a preconceived idea that if men show emotion they can be deemed weak. I think that’s a huge factor why men choose not to share their feelings. Even if they are not asking for help or talking about it, they may want to.
I found it hard returning to work. Everyone wanted to avoid the subject which I understand, but actually, for me, for someone just to acknowledge Otto and say “I am sorry to hear what happened” was a really important step to help me feel more comfortable discussing it. I think there is an idea that both you and others just want it to be “all over”. But one of the most important things people can do with dads is recognise there will always be grief, it will never be over. I wanted people to acknowledge Otto as our son and that he was no different to his older brothers.
What’s more, though you may not feel like you are grieving, you are and it can manifest itself in different ways. Shortly after coming to terms with what had happened, I had bouts of sudden nausea which couldn’t be diagnosed. Looking back I am sure this was related to Otto and was a way my body was dealing with it.
However, the information available from Sands was amazing in providing us with the detail and considerations we needed to make difficult choices, as well as providing ongoing support which has continued to help us through this difficult journey. One of the toughest challenges when talking about our loss is that unless you’ve been through it you will never really understand or know how it feels. The support material from Sands helped me with that. I was able to help people around me understand more about how my wife and I were feeling and how to speak to us.
Another aspect for me was speaking to my children about Otto. Lucas was 6 at the time and Victor 3. They had both been looking forward to having a new baby brother and they were excited to welcome him into the world. We dealt with the two boys separately as their levels of understanding about death were very different. We wanted them to acknowledge their brother and feel as close to him as we had. Initially there was very little reaction and they just accepted what had happened. This progressively changed over the coming weeks and was noticeable with our eldest who had dreams about it – you could tell there was a real sadness for him too. When my wife returned from hospital we decided to plant a tree in our garden for Otto, so he would always be with us. I think that was a really important step for the boys in understanding the process and giving them something to always remember him by.
When I heard that 15 babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth every day in the UK I was shocked at the number. Losing our little boy was the worst thing I could ever have imagined and it saddens me to think of the number of people that have to go through this every day.
That’s why this year I have decided to take on Sands’ #challenge15 by biking off-road for 15 miles every day, for 15 consecutive days with 15 different people. That’s 225 miles for my little boy Otto and to help raise as much money as I can for Sands, to help them continue to support parents and families affected by the loss of a baby.
In the early stages you feel as though you are never going to come to terms with what has happened, but beginning to talk about it with others is the start of that journey. My wife and my boys are the ones that have helped me through this far and we will continue to support each other as the journey continues. We all share in the memory of Otto and he will always be a part of our family.
It’s an incredibly difficult situation for anyone to lose a baby and ultimately as fathers or expectant fathers we feel our role is to be strong and protect our family. But I would urge every dad affected by a loss to talk to the people around them and for everyone around a dad who has gone through it, try to acknowledge what has happened – even if they don’t open up. I think it’s important to remember that even though they have lost a child, they are still a dad.