For Fathers

This page is for fathers of a baby carried with  a fatal diagnosis.

The advice on this page may not apply to all fathers, since everyone's experience is different, but I hope you can gain something positive from reading this page.  It is important that as a father you find what works for you, to help you support your wife/partner, and to take care of your own needs during this difficult time.

The suggestions on this page are based on my experience as a father who lost my newborn son after my wife carried him with a fatal diagnosis.  My name is Bryan and my wife, RaeAnne, is the main author of this website.

To the fathers facing their worst nightmare
I'm very sorry this has happened and that you need this page. I wish you didn't have to go though this. You are not alone and there is help for you. Take it one day at a time. Somehow, you will survive this horrible tragedy. Make the most of your time with your baby, those will be your memories later.

Our story

In order for you to understand where I am coming from, I should share some of my experience with the loss of my son.  The story of Samuel's life, birth, and death can be found on my wife's blog, Nothing Without You.  She has written the story in detail on her blog in her own words.  I will share some of the story in my own words below.  I will try to keep it short, but there are some details I will need to leave in.

In November 2011, my wife and I were probably very much like any other couple who were expecting their first child.  We were excited and happy and looking forward to welcoming our little bundle of joy into the world.  We had no idea that our lives were about to change forever.

We found out when he was about 15 weeks along that he had a condition that the doctors expected to be fatal.  There was a blockage and his bladder could not drain, which would damage his kidneys and also meant that the amniotic fluid would be depleted, which would hinder lung development.  When it was discovered, the doctors did everything they could and some tests were done on the fluid that had built up in his enlarged bladder (after RaeAnne went through a very painful procedure to remove some of the fluid).  The test results were not good.  His kidneys were damaged beyond repair.  There was really nothing they could do for Samuel that would make a difference.

We of course were given the option to terminate at that point.  The doctors did not push that on us, but we did have to remind them several times that it was not an option for us.  We knew we could not choose to end the life of our precious baby boy who we loved very much.  We decided to put his life in God's hands.  Whether he lived or died, and if he were to die, the timing of it, that would be up to God, not us.

It was at this time we also found out that our first child is a boy.  We named him Samuel, after Samuel in the Old Testament, whose mother prayed fervently for God to give her a son, and when He eventually did, she named him Samuel and promised that when he was old enough she would give him back to God, to serve in the Temple with the priests.  We had also prayed that God would give us a son, and now we were giving him back to God in a slightly different way, hoping that he would allow us to keep him, but knowing that no matter what, he was in good hands.  From that point on, we determined to do everything we could to make sure that Samuel knew he was loved.

We gave him the middle name Evan, which means "little fighter" or "little warrior".  And he turned out to be quite the fighter, as he lived much longer than the doctors expected he would.  We knew that in rare cases, miracle babies had survived despite having the condition he had.  We prayed every day that God would allow Samuel to be one of those miracle babies.

The following sections are my advice on several topics related to carrying a baby with a fatal diagnosis. 

During the pregnancy
Take as much time as you can to talk, read, and even sing to your baby. You will treasure these moments forever. Your baby can hear you as early as 16 weeks. I have great memories of reading to my son every night before he was born.

Take care of her. Pregnancy is not easy, and pregnancy with a fatal diagnosis is even harder. Obviously go with her to all the doctor appointments. Get her what she needs, help her to be as comfortable as possible, and be sensitive to how she is feeling. Let her know that she is loved.  Tell her that she is amazing, and brave, and is doing the right thing.

Be sure to take care of your own needs, so that you can also take care of hers. Make sure you're sleeping enough, and eating well and exercising. This a terrible time for a father to get sick, so make sure you're taking care of yourself.

Maternity pictures can remind you of the time you had with your baby. And make plans to take pictures of your baby after they are born. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is an organization that has professional photographers that will take pictures of babies that don't live, and they are free.

Seek professional counseling, or talk with someone you trust, about how you're feeling and what you're facing. You do not need to do this alone! If you'd like to talk with fathers who have gone through this, you can join the private Father's Group on Facebook. 

Find more help on these pages: HERE and HERE

After the loss
Spend as much time with your baby as you want. Don't let anyone pressure you to be done holding your baby before you are ready. This is your time to say hello and goodbye. Take pictures. Lots of pictures. And, if you can, a video. 

Friends and family will want to help you out. Allow them to help as much as you need. You may not feel like doing much at all. Just getting food on the table may seem overwhelming. If people want to know how they can help, often one of the most helpful things may be bringing you meals.

You will probably be in shock at first. There is no way to know how long this will last. You have just had a part of your heart removed, and it will never be replaced. Don't make any major life decisions for at least a year after (if at all possible). Take time to just be with her and supporting and loving each other. This will be the hardest thing you face together as a couple.

There is no timetable for grief. There is no map to get through it. Your baby will live in your hearts forever. Don't let anyone tell you how you should feel.  Expect insensitive comments from people who think you should "just get over it".  Ignore those people. Few people understand what you are going through, and they don't know what to say. The loss of a baby is not something you can get over. There is no going back to the person you were before. You will carry this loss with you forever, and somehow learn to live with it. It's not possible to continue on as if nothing happened, but sometimes it may seem that's what people expect of you.

Talk about your baby openly and often This helps her know you are hurting too and miss your baby just as much as she.

Do special projects in memory of your baby. If you have a hobby - such as woodworking, painting, metal work etc - make something special to display in baby's memory. 

Self care and finding support
As the father, it is important to find a good balance between being strong and "putting on a brave face" in order to support your wife/partner, and taking time to process your own emotions of grief and let them out.  Husbands and fathers should be supportive of our wives and partners, that is our responsibility, but make sure you don't try to be so strong that you don't allow yourself to process and experience the various emotions of grief.

Don't try to bury your grief deep down because you feel that is what you need to do in order to be there for your wife/partner.  If you bottle up your emotions, you are putting yourself at risk of having an emotional breakdown in the future, and then how will you be able to support her if you are a mess yourself?  You are also keeping her from experiencing your pain, and she will want to see and hear that you miss your baby. It's healing when you can both express your feelings together.

Emotions build up over time, and if we don't let them out in constructive ways, they may come out in ways that we don't like or can control.

Men sometimes feel pressure to not show their emotions, and we're sometimes told that if we must show them, do so only in private.  I disagree.  I think it is important that the people around you can see and know how you are feeling.  Then they will know how to best support you.  You are going to want as many people as you can get supporting you during this time.

Remember to connect with other men who understand.

Resources
Grieving Dads Project 
A Blog for Fathers When a Baby Dies
Dazed Dad - A blog about baby loss
Still Standing Magazine
Carly Marie - Project Heal

Stillbirthday.com has a comprehensive list of resources. See HERE.

All That Love Can Do - Father's Group - (Father's only!)


*If you are a father who lost a baby, what has helped/helps you? Please comment below.

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