By Mike Wheeler, a sad dad
Finally! The perspective of a straight, cis, white male!
Just kidding. This is not a men’s rights post, don’t worry. But it does feel strange for me to be sharing the point of view of a somewhat under-represented group of people: loss dads!
I’m lucky to be married to Leah, who you may know as the person who currently runs the Ottawa Butterfly Run social media accounts and who has also contributed to this blog. Last year, after many years of very exciting medical stuff, Leah became pregnant with our daughter Eliza. On August 15th, Eliza was stillborn at 29 weeks. As far as we know, her death was due to a cord accident.
In the days and weeks after Eliza was born, we received a tremendous amount of support both from The Ottawa Hospital and Roger Neilson House where we began to see our amazing social worker and attend group grief counselling. We were already incredibly lucky to have a strong support network from friends and family, but the we found that nobody really knows how to handle folks who have just lost a baby. We didn’t know how to handle ourselves. We’ll be forever grateful to the professionals at Roger Neilson House who have showed us tremendous guidance and support through our grief.
While we were still in the hospital, we learned about The Butterfly Run. I love to run, and Leah comes from a big running family (she is more of a walker herself) and it seemed like something toward which we could direct a little of our energy and do something productive while we were totally lost in our grief.
The event was great, and we were able to raise a little money to give back to the folks who were able to hold us up when we were at our lowest. Leah immediately decided she wanted to get involved in the next year’s run and volunteered to help out.
And I wrote this blog post!
Being a dad is hard, but so is writing about being a dad.
I keep writing, deleting, and re-writing this paragraph. I’ve been struggling to talk about my experience as a dad because I keep feeling like anything I say about it is going to come across as being in opposition to the experience of being a mom. Or even worse, I’m worried about minimizing the experience of others. When I start writing about how dads get sad too, my inner-critic chimes in and says “are you saying that you’re more sad than moms or just that you deserve more attention than you’re getting?” And obviously, this is not the attitude with which I want to portray sad dads.
I voiced these concerns to a wiser and much much much older dad, and he helped me realize that this is actually the perspective that I should be sharing.
So at the risk of sounding like a big whiny complainer, let’s fire up the BBQ, put on our favourite novelty apron, and get ready for my fatherly insecurities!
Sad dads and bummed mums.
Leah and I make an excellent team. She knows the depths of my grief and I know hers and that works out great. In the early days after coming home without Eliza, we found that we would tag-team feeling destroyed. It was incredibly fortunate that one of was usually okay enough to support the other.
I mention all of this because I have always felt like we’re deep in this together and we’re sharing one grief journey and the experience of becoming Eliza’s parents. Our paths aren’t always the same and our highs and lows can differ, but we’re a single parenting unit. But we don’t always get treated that way.
While in the hospital, Leah was offered appointments and consultations with the psychiatric unit to make sure her brain was in good working order. I didn’t receive the same offer. When we left the hospital, Leah began her 16 weeks of maternity leave. I got five bereavement days from my employer for the death of my child. (Don’t worry, I got my doctor to write me off on stress leave so that I could take care of Leah while she recovered from her c-section.)
I love to talk about our experience and to tell people about Eliza, and the first question out of everyone’s mouth when the hear about what happened is “how is your wife?” It’s an important question, and one that I am also very concerned about, but pretty frequently, the follow-up question, “how are you doing” never arrives.
Moms and dads: the same but different?
I think that this all comes from two places:
I hope that didn’t all come across as too whiny or dramatic. As much as Leah and I are an elite parenting team, there’s no point in pretending that we’ve had the exact same experience. The first example that comes to mind is that I got to talk to Eliza and feel her moving around, but she wasn’t - you know - inside of my body. How this should impact people’s concern for our well-being, I’m honestly not sure.
I don’t have a fix for any of this, but I am going to be out here talking about this stuff, so maybe that will be a small nudge in the right direction.
Along with his partner, Leah, Mike hosts a podcast called Baby Quest that is about exactly this kind of stuff. He can also be found on Twitter @TheMikeWheeler, even though it’s not good for his mental health to be on there.