I remember when we heard the news, and suddenly, everything changed. From then on, I felt confused and uncomprehending. I knew it was real, but equally could not believe it and in some ways was watching myself go through the conversations and feelings that followed.
Looking back, I realise that in addition to all the other emotions of grief and sadness, I was in shock. I don’t think I really knew where I was or what was going on. I did not feel part of my own life or real life at all. I was uncomprehending, and numbed to being almost unfeeling, as everything suddenly faded into unreality. Somehow I blundered through the day. I felt agitated and pressured, but by no specific thing: I felt acute pressure to get done whatever I was doing and move on to the next thing, away from whatever I was doing at the time. At the same time, some sort of adrenaline or denial pushed me along, almost attacking what I thought needed to be done at any given moment and trying to rush through it., I felt vague, but hurried, and overwhelmingly tired.
Through it all, I was conscious that my wife was feeling it worse than I was. She had to be. There was nothing I could do to change the fundamental, awful fact that our daughter, our so-wanted daughter, had died before we had met her. And there was nothing I could do to change the fundamentals of what had to be done about that. My wife had to carry her for longer, before giving birth to her. Amid the sadness, the grief and the shock, I felt utterly helpless and inadequate, and guilt because there was nothing I could do to help or take these away from her. And of course the person I would normally turn to was suffering worse than me. I simply did not know what to do.
I tried to do what I could. Perhaps typically, I tried to fix things, and sort things, and just get through a list of things to do. Doing so distracted me and let me get through the day. In the beginning, it was all I could do to produce the list, get through it, and know it was time for bed.
Among the things I was able to do was to find some support for me and my wife, including therapists to talk to. With their help, over time, I was able to navigate through some of it.
It took time, and longer than I thought. For a long time, I would feel I was coping better, even well, but look back over a period and realise I was not functioning fully. This went on for some time. But, equally, at the end of each period I realised I was functioning better than I had in previous periods. During it too, there were moments – even extended, and increasing, periods – of coping. They started to knit together and now I can look back and finally think that, probably, I am functioning normally again. I am still sad she is not here. And I still miss my daughter. When I look at her photo, or the other things that remind me of her, I cannot move on from them. I sometimes imagine I am hugging her, and when I do I cannot let go. But I am no longer floundering in the abyss of confusion and pain that I fell in when she died. I can feel happy in my life, and laugh, and although there will always be a sadness and a memory of that pain, I can also experience joy in loving her, and still being her dad, and knowing that I always will be.
You will of course feel grief for your lost child. How this affects you will be intensely personal. You may also feel shock, in addition to the grief, which can also affect you in different ways.
You may also feel the additional difficulty of how to help your partner, at a time when she needs you (and may not be able to tell you, or even know how she needs you), especially at a time when you may not be able to cope with your own feelings and situation yourself.
To help her, and yourself, you do not have to suffer alone. There are many organisations, charities and practitioners who can help and provide practical and emotional support to help you and your partner. Many of them are very aware that fathers need support too, and they will give it. It is ok to ask for it, and to need it. It is there for you.