Grief as a dad and parenting after loss

Rob is an engineer and lives in Northampton with his wife Kate and their daughter Elsie. In this blog, he reflects on coping with the death of son Theo and how this loss has changed him.

Shortly after getting married, we found out we were expecting a baby. After a textbook low-risk pregnancy, we were on the home straight and on the countdown to meet our baby. August 2015 should have been the best time of our lives, but sadly it ended up being the worst.

Pregnancy and pre-eclampsia

One fateful afternoon, Kate had a headache she couldn't shift, and felt the baby’s movement change. Something didn’t seem right, so we went to hospital that evening. After a few checks of Kate's blood pressure and urine sample, the room suddenly filled with people; we later found out she was minutes away from having a fit or even a stroke.

The doctor said: “the baby needs to be delivered right now.” Straight away the atmosphere changed in the room. One minute I was getting scrubs on ready to go with Kate, and the next they said she would be put to sleep for an emergency C section. Doctors and midwives whisked Kate off to operate and I was left in the room on my own, trying to get my head around what had just happened.

It was a very scary and lonely time for me, as it all happened so fast that I didn't really know what was going on. I remember thinking ‘this can’t be real’.

After some time, doctors came out the room, with our baby on the ventilator. I was told it was a boy and asked if he had a name; I said we would like to call him Theo Arthur. I remember feeling very scared for him and for Kate.

Meeting and saying goodbye to our baby

Theo lived for 44 beautiful hours. We got the opportunity to change him, bathe him and see his ridiculously long toes. We spent some time with immediate family, meeting and saying goodbye to our baby. He died in Kate's arms with just the two of us in the room – a moment I will never forget.

Theo’s death has changed me greatly. After he died, I decided to take him to the NICU myself, which is one of my biggest regrets; I wish the midwives came to collect him when we were ready.

Walking away from him, leaving my son on his own, still haunts me to this day.

To date, we have raised over £67,000 in Theo’s memory for charities such as Tommy's and Action on Pre-eclampsia, where I am about to become a Trustee. This is a huge honour and a way to make sure Theo has a lasting impact on the world.

Grief as a dad

Father's Day is always a weird time for me. I remember with the first few I hated the build-up and wanted to just skip the day. Since Elsie has come along, it means a lot more, but it’s always tinged with sadness. It’s a reminder that our family will never feel complete because Theo isn’t here.

It always takes me back to those few days in the hospital, having to juggle looking after Kate and seeing Theo with ringing all our friends and family to tell them they will never get to meet Theo. Each phone call was very tough for me to do.

People always asked how Kate was, and rightly so, but only a handful of people ever asked me.

I have been very vocal about not forgetting the father or partner, because we both have had our future dreams taken away from us. We grieve too.

Parenting after loss

The death of a baby takes the naivety away from any future pregnancies. 3 and a half years later, I still look at Elsie and can’t quite believe she's here. It’s hard when she hits the milestones as it always reminds me that Theo will never get to experience them; all he knew were the hospital wards.

It feels silly because I love my daughter, but as a man I find it hard that I may never have a son that’s living. I'll never get to take him to his first Arsenal game or for his first pint in a pub.

I truly believe that Theo's gift to me was to recentre my focus in life. I am a better dad to Elsie because of him.

As Elsie is getting older and asking about her brother, we’re starting to work out what to say to her. It’s incredibly sad that she's going to learn about death so early in her life, and she will never know her brother. Even 5 years down the line, it’s quite hard to get my head around – to understand what happened, and to accept that I will never get to hold or cuddle him ever again.

Advice for grieving fathers

If I can offer any advice to men in similar situations, it’s: do what you think is good for you and don't be swayed by others, as no one truly knows how it is for you. If you can talk to a mate about how you feel, do that. Don't bottle things up.

I've met some great dads online and become good friends; it’s great to speak to men that know exactly how you feel. Follow #dadsgrievetoo on Instagram and reach out to fellow dads. (You can reach out to me, too.)

Another very good support network is Sands United, which was started by a good friend in memory of his beautiful daughter Niamh, and now has teams all over the country for dads that have sadly felt the pain of their children dying.

Whatever you do, just know that there are other dads out there feeling exactly like you do - and talking always helps us feel less alone.