I’ve met lots of other incredible dads, desperate to talk, it’s just harder to find the right space to do that

Ross Hill, 35, suffered PTSD after losing his son Leo at 30 weeks. Ross lives in Peterborough with wife Stevie, 34, and son Edwin, 3.

I’ve learned it’s hard for people to know what to say when you’ve lost a child but that fear of saying the wrong thing is misplaced. It’s harder when people don’t say anything at all, because I love talking about my son.

Our worst nightmare coming true

Everything had gone perfectly, scans at 10, 12 and 20 weeks were fine. We’d had reduced movement at 24 weeks but, by the time we got to hospital baby was kicking away. So, when movement was reduced at 30 weeks once again, we went to hospital expecting the same. The horror of what was about to unfold that day had never even crossed our minds.

As the midwife, Louise, put monitors on Stevie she reassured us but I could see the fear in her eyes. When she went to get someone to scan us I vividly remember Stevie saying it felt her worst nightmare was coming true.

In previous scans there was a lot of movement on the screen, colours dancing around. This screen was different, this time it was completely still. Then we heard the words that will never leave us, ‘I’m so sorry, there’s no heartbeat’.

Trauma deletes scenes from our memories and taunts us with the remnants. So much from that point feels blank, it was just utter shock. I remember saying to Stevie, ‘We’re going to get through this’ when, in reality, I didn’t even know how we would get through the next five minutes.

Meeting Leo

Then a doctor said we needed to discuss delivering our baby, which was a shock. They explained a natural delivery was best, it didn’t feel we had a lot of choice.

They gave us the option of blood tests which ended up giving us an explanation as to why we lost Leo and we’re grateful for that. Some people never get an answer which must be so hard.

Stevie had drugs to induce labour and we went home. I don’t remember the journey, just incredibly difficult calls to our parents to say they needed to come over. Both our Dads didn’t ask why, just said they were on their way. They knew something was seriously wrong.

The same midwife, Louise, had swapped her shifts so she could deliver Leo which meant a lot. He was born just after midnight on 13 May and he was the most  beautiful little boy, so cute, with a tiny button nose. 

Louise took him away as we prepared ourselves to meet our son, then brought him back wrapped in a huge, colourful blanket my mum had made.

We’d been terrified, not sure how we’d feel, but as she placed him in our arms there was just love and pride. The sadness came later.

Ross holds his stillborn son Leo, who is wrapped in a colourful homemade blanket

We spent a little over 12 hours with him, did hand and foot prints and took photos. Then we were introduced to bereavement midwife Lesley, a fantastic woman. We’d decided on a post mortem as we desperately needed answers.

The hardest thing was leaving him. They’d said we could stay as long as we wanted but we knew it wouldn’t be long enough. We’d ask them to take him, rather than us leaving him in the room, we both had our own journeys to begin.

What came next

I remember being handed lots of leaflets, the first said ‘Planning your baby’s funeral’ and it hit me like a bullet.

The words ‘baby’ and ‘funeral’ shouldn’t be in the same sentence. I remember picking out a coffin, choosing flowers and it all felt so cruel.

Within days Lesley came over, sat us down and told us Leo had suffered fetal maternal haemorrhage, a failure of the cord between the placenta and Leo. Incredibly rare, it had happened spontaneously and it was so hard knowing something so random had taken our son but, at least, there was relief in knowing it didn’t have a recurrence rate.

The impact on our mental health

Just over two weeks later we had a small funeral. We both carried Leo in to a song we’d picked and that’s still a huge trigger for me. I can’t listen to it, if it comes on the radio I have to get away. That day was when my mental health took a dive. I still have flashbacks.

We had couples counselling through Petals charity but, a year after our loss, I went back on my own for help with my PTSD. It’s still there, even watching a funeral on TV send me into a rising panic.

The idea of never having a child scared us more than anything so we tried again quite quickly and fell pregnant quickly too. Our community midwife, Carly Dawson who cared for us with Leo, was incredible again. So much so that we named our son Edwin Dawson, after her. 

The difficulty of pregnancy after loss

Although the pregnancy was straightforward we were so anxious, almost waiting for something to go wrong. We had consultant-led care, scans every two weeks and support from Kicks Count, Sands and Petals, but it was incredibly difficult until Edwin was actually here.

We had a planned induction and he was born on 18 May. It seemed almost too good to be true. He looked like Leo which, while sometimes hard, was very much a nice thing.

Edwin knows he has a brother who lives in the sky. We buried Leo’s ashes in a huge planter we fill with flowers, Edwin knows it is Leo’s garden and helps water it in the summer.

He is an hilarious, smart little kid, so outgoing and confident. He makes us smile every day. He will truly never understand how he saved us.

Navigating grief as a dad

We’ve been plunged into this world of loss and what women go through is mind-blowing, but I’m also a huge champion of dads. I don’t buy into the idea of men not knowing how to talk, how to grieve. 

I’ve met lots of incredible dads, desperate to talk, it’s just harder for them to find the right space to do that.

I remember our Petals counsellor saying it was common for mums to struggle straight away where dads feel the need to hold the fort, to take on the practical burdens and be there for mums. She said it was often as mums started to turn a corner, dads started to struggle and that’s definitely the experience we had.

We’ve fundraised for several loss charities, partly I do it because it means I get to talk about Leo and, as I’ve said, I love talking about Leo. I made a little emblem of a lion, ‘Leo’, which I’ve put on my bike. I cycle a lot, I’ve done it to fundraise, and every time I’m on the bike is my time with him.

Sources of support

We’ve had a lot of support, Petals were important for counselling, Sands do much in the immediate aftermath and Kicks Count were so helpful through our second pregnancy. 

We also used a lot of Tommy’s resources, the website and the pregnancy hub and my mum used specific support for grandparents in loss. What I love about Tommy’s is the research, the science, the idea of working to ‘save babies’ lives’ which becomes so much more meaningful when you’ve had to say goodbye to your own.