Having a stillborn baby – a dad’s perspective

Having a stillborn baby – a dad’s perspective

19th June 2021 6 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Last Updated on 16th October 2021

9th May 2020. The day our son William was stillborn. One year on and the emotions have dissipated sufficiently to finally put “pen to paper”. Raw feelings back in the summer of 2020 have now softened. Feelings different to those of my girlfriend who additionally endured the physical trauma of giving birth to a stillborn baby. Sensitively and cautiously I wanted to attempt to portray the emotions after the event from my perspective as the dad.

I’d of course heard of the word “stillborn” but thankfully hadn’t had any close friends or family that had experienced it, … or not that I knew of. It’s not something people generally wish to post on Facebook or talk about over dinner. There’s still a slight stigma around stillborn babies and the inability of society at large to talk about it. If people aren’t talking about it, people won’t know about it.

So some facts? In the UK 1 in 200 babies are stillborn. A stillborn baby being the death after week 24 of the mother’s pregnancy. Currently a third of cases are unexplained. In our case it was due to multiple issues including a lack of fluid in the womb and severe kidney issues. One of the worst kidney cases the UCL hospital in London had seen. News we were quite numb to at the time, but on reflection helped me process that this time around it simply wasn’t meant to be.

How did we announce our sad news?

A few days after the event we sat together on the sofa and composed a WhatsApp message to share to our various friend groups. We took our time putting it together, explained enough about what had happened (without adding too much detail) … and hit send. A few moments passed and then we saw ‘xxx is typing‘. What can you say apart from offer your heartfelt commiserations? One friend commented “That f****** sucks!” I appreciated his honesty but was just glad they were typing anything at all.

We’d mentioned William’s name in the post together with his weight. It was nice when people added his name in their replies. He was born, he had his own birth certificate and existed, albeit briefly. I’d pictured them sitting on the sofa, hearing their phone blip, expecting to see a funny comment or meme and then seeing our devastating news instead.

Finally the 2 blue ticks confirmed everyone had seen the message. Not once did I question whether anyone in the group had been through something similar. As for now it felt like we were the only people in the world unlucky enough to go through it … and in lockdown, something with that 1 in 200 stat that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Friends' remembrance bush for William
Friends’ remembrance bush for William

Questions I asked about our stillborn baby

  1. Why us?
  2. Had we done anything that could have caused it?
  3. Is it genetic?
  4. Is it heredity?
  5. Will it happen again?

For questions 1 and 2 we will never know. We had done everything you’re meant to do. For 3 and 4, after a few tests, it was a very fortunate “no”. Other couples may not be so lucky and might be offered low odds for history repeating itself for any future attempts. Number 5 you try to put to the very back of your mind.

The surfacing “resentment”

In the days after William’s birth I experienced feelings of anger. I don’t know why. I couldn’t help it. It was just how it was. The word “triggering” has become a popular term in recent years. Certain events on social media “trigger” people to comment with the usual polarized comments in reply. For me some of the unexplained triggers were, but not limited to:

  1. Seeing parents walking along with their 4-5 kids.
  2. Watching elaborate gender reveals on TV channels such as MTV.
  3. Yet another 12 week scan announcement on Facebook. “Don’t count your chickens … ” I’d think.
  4. People who’d experienced a previous stillborn posting their subsequent good news this time around. Hadn’t they been triggered by such announcements after their own stillborn baby?
  5. News stories on the TV about “Having a baby in lockdown?” Well what about having a stillborn baby in lockdown?
  6. Even society in general and its expectation that a baby scan at 12 weeks always leads to a healthy baby 28 weeks later.

What didn’t anger me?

At the time people asking when my girlfriend was due? It was heart-warming to know people cared enough to ask and that people then wanted to talk about what had happened, although understandably with some hesitation. Also months later, distant friends on Facebook remembering a comment from 6 months earlier and assuming we must have had the baby by now. None of that angered me at all. Once again it showed people cared enough to ask.

A year on – better understanding those initial feelings

  1. Seeing parents walking along with their 4-5 kids
    That couple could have had a stillborn baby at some point too, or suffered multiple miscarriages? You can never tell what people have been through just by looking at them.

  2. Watching elaborate gender reveals on TV shows such as MTV
    It’s just a way of looking forward to a wonderful event. It’s absolutely fine that different cultures do things in different ways, although small planes flying overheard releasing either a pink or blue smoke trail still seems a bit bonkers to me!

  3. 12 week scan announcements on Facebook.
    Even though we didn’t announce it at 12 weeks, why shouldn’t others. For 199 in 200 couples everything will work out just fine and it’s a wonderful announcement to make to friends and family.

  4. People who’d experienced a previous stillborn posting their good news this time around?
    If others want to express their complete joy at a subsequent, successful pregnancy then why shouldn’t they. It must be a complete and happy release to do so.

  5. News stories on the TV about “Having a baby in lockdown?” What about having a stillborn baby in lockdown?
    At the time we had wanted to call in and say just that, but people only have their own situation to deal with, with their own trials and tribulations. Having a baby in lockdown with no initial support network must have been tough for any new parents.

  6. Even society in general and its expectation that a baby scan at 12 weeks always leads to a healthy baby 28 weeks later.
    To be honest this one still grates me a little and I imagine isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

Finding out others had experienced it was comforting

A few weeks later I found out that friends of friends had been through similar too. News that never needs to reach any wider circles at the time. I’ve subsequently found out that certain celebrities had been affected as well; Amanda Holden, Chrissy Teigen, Ben Fogle. Perversely that helped knowing that people with fame and fortune weren’t adverse to facing the pain of stillbirth as well.

Chrissy Teigen even posted an Instagram post just hours after her sad news. Another unexplainable trigger for me. A heartfelt post with terrible news but a couple who already had 2 healthy children; we couldn’t even have one. But now, looking back, it was just their brave way of dealing with their terrible news. For them they had wanted 3 children, but now they still had just the two.

Organisations that are there to help – Sands & 4Louis

The latter provided us with a 4Louis support box while we were still at the hospital which contained precious keepsakes. This helped so much at the time and became a wonderful place to store some of William’s items, including some professionally taken photos and his birth certificate. William was born after 24 weeks (31 weeks and 4 days) so it was law to register his birth. We don’t have the box on show. It’s stored away in a cupboard, but it’s readily available if we ever want to access it. You can make a donation to 4Louis on their website.

The parting words of the staff at Lister Hospital in Stevenage were “We hope to see you in the future in happier times“. That was so so touching and we can’t give them enough praise for how they treated us during our time there. A few days later we had William’s funeral. Eight members of close family attending during lockdown. Another part of the process I wouldn’t want to wish on anybody either.

Between 9-15th Oct 2021 there is also ‘Baby Loss Awareness Week‘. You can either check out their annual campaign on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BLA_Campaign or follow the hashtags #WaveofLight and #BLAW2021. It’s been set up to promote remembrance, raise awareness & drive change. Even if you find yourself at the other end of the year please read some of the Tweets and hopefully they’ll provide lots of support and encouragement for you.

4Louis stillborn baby memory box
4Louis Memory box. Source: 4Louis

I happen to be one of the UK ambassadors for charity ‘Every Mother Counts‘, a charity raising awareness to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, everywhere. At the time of joining EMC back in 2013 I hadn’t any personal experience of pregnancy issues. Now I do which makes my bond with their organisation even stronger. You can donate to Every Mother Counts on their website.

So for now this is my story as I see it one year on. I hope this article helps anyone newly going through the same experience. Everybody will deal with things in their own way, with their own thoughts and emotions. There is no rulebook to how you cope with it but it’s comforting knowing there are many organisations out there offering their support.

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