Not having a child to take home from the hospital and care for can be extremely isolating. The identity of being called a Father is important and even more so is how we are treated as the Father. Walk with us as we talk about the struggle of being called Father to a baby that is no longer living.
Our Identity For some of us dads, we may be struggling currently to accept being called one. That may sound offensive; that we're in denial that our baby even existed and is now dead, or worse, that we are not willing to accept the responsibilities of being abereaved Father. This deep-seated identity crisis is beyond such thinking. We are grieving the loss of a child that we will never get to parent, to goof around with, to play games, to tell them stories of our own childhood, to share life with. We lost the hopes, dreams, and expectations we built for them in our hearts and minds.
A Different Relationship Naturally, dads have a different connection with their children. Their identity as a father is in my mind first and foremost about their fatherly duties. Raising a child, providing for a child, and, obviously as the child gets older that relationship grows and goes deeper. The strong physical and emotional connection that a mom has with her baby is instantaneous. My wife (Toni) described her connection with our firstborn (Olivia Hope) as, “…Her Life-Source.” She went on to tell me that when the umbilical cord was cut, she knew that Olivia’s life was no longer being sustained by her, the “Life-Source” had been separated. That made Toni feel helpless to keep our sweet baby girl alive. Boy did that put it into perspective for me.
Where does that leave us, “Dads!?” How can my relationship to Olivia as Father match that of Toni’s? I cannot match it. In fact, I should not try to do so. Instead what I need to do is know that Toni and I created Olivia together, we are equal partners in this life. We are both here to support each other. Neither one of us should defer to the other to take the lead on how “we” will navigate through this journey of devastating loss filled with pain, sorrow, and immensegrief. We both lost Olivia the same day she was born on our 5th wedding anniversary in 2013. From that day forward we have cried on each other’s shoulders and had conversations about what we are thinking and feeling and made important decisions together. Neither one of us has ever felt like we had to be strong for the other one, we both know that that only prolongs the healing. I am Olivia’s Father and Toni and is Olivia’s Mom, we are both her parents and nothing can take that away from us, ever.
Struggling to Be Called Dad I struggled at first being called Dad, especially outside of conversations with Toni and our immediate family. We did not get to take home a living healthy baby girl. I had no child to protect, watch over, to discover all the new things that come with having your first baby. I didn’t belong in the “Dad's Club.” I felt like the odd-man-out. It all sounds so selfish now, but part of what I was feeling was due to our society and the pressures that are inherent with not talking about Pregnancy and Infant Loss freely and openly. It’s all about how we can’t relate to other fathers and them to us, right? How can we relate to those fathers that have living children? I think that our experience with our baby, however short or long, is dramatically different than the father of a living child. They have story after story of their living child, how they are growing and developing. I have one story about my baby daughter, and it is brief and tragic in comparison. How Dads Should Be Treated
As dads ofPregnancy and Infant Loss, we're forced to reevaluate our identity from the traditional sense. Some men do not struggle with this and others do on different levels. I learned that I am a father and worthy to be called one no matter what. All men need to be treated this way whether their child is living or not. No one can diminish the title for another, you are and will always be known as dad.
What you choose to share and how you share about your baby is up to you and is the right way. Know that awkward question statements assumptions are going to be made by others and it might be tough to figure out how you wish to navigate in and through those situations. That's something that you're going to have to learn as you go. Fathers belong in the pregnancy journey; they are essential to the story. We believe fathers need to be recognized and celebrated as a dad, this may be difficult for some to accept and may change over time. This is all part of the journey.
- You are loved Geoff