Every year between the 9-15 October is Baby Loss Awareness Week. Organised by a number of pregnancy and baby loss charities the aim is to recognise the brief lives of babies lost in pregnancy, or during or shortly after birth.
I'm a father, not always the best one, but I am a father. I have lost a son.
Baby loss awareness week is a very special week for me. It's a time for me to remember my amazing little boy who passed away before he had the chance to live.
I'd like to tell you his story and the remarkable journey he took me on.
My partner was 35 weeks pregnant. Naturally I was full of the joys of becoming a father again. Time quickly filled up decorating the spare room, attending NCT classes and reading all the material I could, telling me how much this latest addition would impact my life. I literally had no idea how big a mark our little boy would make in such a short space of time.
Unexpectedly that moment had come. With no warning we rushed into hospital after some severe blood loss. Unsure what to expect, we raced to the hospital.
It was at that moment a very dedicated midwife told my partner and I the devastating news that she would have to go through labour and deliver our son early, as his heart had stopped.
Nothing had prepared us for that moment. All the child classes, books purchased in Waterstones, and rather browser-intensive 'baby' search history, never eluded to this as a possibility.
My partner was amazing. Refusing drugs and most relief, she pushed through the hurt and worked so hard to deliver our little boy. I've never been more proud. Ever. And I never will be again.
A few hours later 'little man' was born (stillborn). The midwife asked if I'd like to cut the cord which I duly did. I held him as all new fathers do and after a little clean up the nurses let mum have a go.
The connection was instantaneous. We named him John-Ian. He was my son. I was his father. But he was gone.
Yet the journey he took me on had only just begun. I learnt a lot about myself over the next year. Here are some points that really helped me connect with my son and understand the gift he was giving me.
1. The hospital was a very enlightened hospital who gave us a room for 48 hours, allowing us to spend time with our son. It quickly became a weekend of firsts as we knew we'd never get this time with him again. I remember reading his first bedtime story, giving him a bath and even watching an episode of Star Trek together. It's what I needed to do. My partner managed to take him outside (thanks to the help of an amazing nurse) so they could sit on the grass together. We were fortunate to have this time. After meeting other parents who have been though a similar situation I've heard some real horror stories. I count myself very lucky to have had this time with my son. Those 'firsts' will be with me forever.
2. Hearing his name spoken by friends and family was very important. I'm sure you can imagine that people have no idea what to say to you when you lose a child. It's hard on the parents but also family and friends experience a shock. A wonderful couple that I met through SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity) lost twins whilst on holiday abroad. I remember giving the opening address at an annual remembrance service and dedicating it to their daughters. I spoke their names and both mother and father cried. It wasn't until after the ceremony they told me it was the first time their daughter's name was spoken aloud in public.
3. The support networks around, like SANDS, were invaluable to me. I made some life-long friends and have seen new children welcomed into the world.
4. Random acts of kindness went a long way to help us with the grief. Our funeral home wouldn't accept a penny for John-Ian's final bed. The hotel where his wake was held continually served doubles all night but only charged for singles. People found it hard to say the words, but made up for it in ways that really helped us have the time to grieve.
5. Time heals all wounds. I believe this. I'll never forget him but remembering John-Ian in the right way has helped me move on. John Ian formed a big part of who I am but he also gave me so much in such a short period of time.
To this day there is still speculation and unanswered questions about the 'how and why' John-Ian passed away. The doctors and the autopsy raised the possibility of a placental abruption which is the separation of the placenta from the wall of the womb during pregnancy. It hurts sometimes not to know all the answers.
When it came time to finally say goodbye and lay him to rest I remember giving him a very quick cuddle and passing him to his mother so she had a little longer with him. I'll never regret that, but I do wish I held on for just a minute longer. Just one more minute.
On the 15th October (International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day) the annual Wave of Light takes place. People from around the world will light a candle or candles, at 7pm creating a Wave of Light in memory of babies who have died too soon.
I'll be lighting one in memory of my Little Man.