By Raising Children Network
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‘We had a daughter and she died. And we loved her.’ A dad talks about the loss of his daughter, who was stillborn.

Stillbirth: losing a child at birth

If you’ve recently lost a child at birth, you might be still feeling raw, numb, disbelieving – or many other things that are hard to put into words. Even if it’s been a while since your child’s death, it might still feel like yesterday.

Matthew* shares the story of his daughter’s death.

What happened
‘We’d crossed into 41 weeks, and my wife stopped feeling movement so we got a bit concerned. We went into the hospital, got the really bad news and then found out that my wife would have to give birth to the baby anyway. Which is a gut-wrenching thing to have to do, as you know if you’ve stood next to your wife when she’s going through labour pain.

‘You want to be there to support her. When you know you’re going to go through all that and you’re not going to have a good news story at the end, it’s a very long and difficult time.

‘The people at the hospital who helped us out were just amazing.

‘We had our little baby girl, she was about 4.3 kg, a big girl. The umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck at some stage during the pregnancy.

‘It’s a very rare thing to happen. It was good the doctor said so, because it was clear that it was an accident and very unlikely to happen to us again, which was a positive, I suppose, out of that whole bloody disastrous exercise.’

A difficult hello
‘We did spend a fair bit of time with our little daughter.

‘We brought our son in who was about four or five, and he got to hold his sister and we took photos. We had my brothers and sisters come in and family members and one of our nieces who’s always been very close to us.

‘We really felt it was important that everyone got to know this little life. She was alive for a bit over nine months, and while she never drew a breath, she was very loved and very much needed and wanted by our family. So it was great to have my family in there.

‘I went home and was on my own and I just howled. Mate, I was gut-wrenching howling until I couldn’t do it anymore.’

The funeral
‘We really wanted to have a funeral. We wanted to celebrate the nine months that the baby was alive in her mum’s tummy. I spoke at the funeral. I gave a eulogy, whatever kind of eulogy you can give in the situation.

‘I carried the coffin out myself, a little coffin in my arms. Little Ellie, she’s buried in a little country cemetery at the foot of my father who’s buried out there. That was a lovely thing for me to know that little Ellie was with my dad.’

Coping and not coping
‘Like lots of blokes, you don’t want to show weakness in front of people. I remember drinking, but drinking didn’t make any difference to me. It was no help. There was no help there for me.

‘I don’t have any issue with crying because I don’t think crying is a sign of weakness. But I was more worried about not being able to manage.

‘I’m a big believer that you do need to talk it out. I needed to talk to somebody about it, and the guy I used is a Buddhist monk. He’s a psychologist but he was into meditation, and because I’ve got that kind of soul thing happening, he was right for me.’

Life after loss
‘The sweet moments have become sweeter, and other moments in your life are not as dark because things have been worse. So if you’ve experienced a pretty tough time like that, especially as a couple, and you can get through it, you can get through anything.

‘You can get over it and you do really appreciate the good things. You can’t take them for granted so when the good times happen, suck it all up, immerse yourself in it, marinate in it. It’s those simple things that I think really are so special.’

Getting help after stillbirth

If you’ve lost a child at birth, you’ll probably want to be by yourself at some times, but you could also tell your story to a trusted family member or friend. This is a step towards healing. You’re likely to need some professional help too.

To find a local counselling service, you can talk to a social worker at the hospital or your GP, or call:

* Not his real name

  • Last updated or reviewed 09-08-2016
  • Acknowledgements

    This content has been developed in collaboration with Tim O’Leary, antenatal educator and therapist; Dr Richard Fletcher, Convenor, Fatherhood Research Network; and Dr Rebecca Giallo, Senior Research Fellow, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

    The names of men quoted in this article have been changed for privacy reasons.