baby-loss

One father shares his personal journey of miscarriage and stillbirth for Baby Loss Awareness Week

Long read: Bryan Griffin from Scotland tells his story

Sophie Hamilton

Losing a baby is a heart-breaking experience for any family and it's a subject that's not often talked about. Baby loss affects 1 in 4 pregnancies in the UK yet silence around the topic means families can feel isolated as they grieve, and the COVID-19 pandemic has sadly magnified this.

It's Baby Loss Awareness Week from 9-15 October, a time for bereaved parents and their families and friends to come together to commemorate their babies' lives. It's also a chance to raise awareness of how baby loss affects UK families every year.

The charity Tommy's is asking people to help honour these little lost lives by standing together with thousands of people around the world at 7pm on Thursday 15 October. At this time we can all light a candle or share an image of a candle to send a 'Wave of Light' to remember the babies who died too soon.

Tommy’s midwifery manager Kate Marsh said: "Baby loss at any stage in pregnancy is one of the most devastating experiences that any family can go through – and it really can happen to any family, but persistent stigma means it’s rarely discussed despite affecting so many.

"That’s why it’s vital we break the silence so that anyone who loses a baby knows: this may feel incredibly lonely, but you are not alone. Friends and family, doctors and midwives, all of us at support organisations like Tommy’s; we’re here."

Here at HELLO! we wanted to hear a father's account of baby loss, because as a society, we so rarely speak about the effect the tragedy has on men.

"Baby loss can have a deep and lasting impact on both parents," says Tommy’s CEO Jane Brewin. "It’s vital to recognise that partners experience the same loss and their grief is just as important."

"Baby loss can be incredibly lonely, and that isolation is magnified for those who feel they have to hide their heartbreak. Partners often feel huge pressure to be strong and supportive, holding it all together for the mother and wider family. Attitudes to baby loss and grief must change so that anyone who wants to open up or ask for help feels able to do so.”

HELLO! heard the story of Bryan Griffin, a Resource Manager from Ireland who lives in Bo’ness, Scotland with his wife, Mags. The couple experienced a missed miscarriage with their first pregnancy and their second pregnancy sadly resulted in the stillbirth of their son, Milo. They are also parents to one-month-old Brody.

 

couple

Bryan and his wife Mags

 

Here, Bryan shares his personal journey…

"I met my wife Mags in 2010, we were engaged in 2012 and got married a few years after that. The idea of having children was something that we always knew was in our future but we hadn't discussed it in any great detail, until the stage in our lives where pretty much all of our friends started having kids.

It was cemented for us when we went to a friend's wedding in summer 2017. We stayed over at a castle and there were quite a lot of kids around – just the joy that everyone was feeling from it was amazing, so we spoke about it on the drive back. We started trying from there.

It was Halloween evening that Mags realised she was pregnant. I remember distinctly because she came out of the bathroom and the doorbell rang. It was the neighbour's kids trick or treating, so we had to postpone our excitement so we didn't give the game away.

The pregnancy was going pretty smoothly, but everything went south for us unfortunately the week before Christmas. We're both Irish so we were due to travel home on the Friday. On the Monday night, Mags told me she'd had a bit of bleeding, so of course the two of us were racked with concern straight away. We went to triage that night.

It felt like we were there for hours getting seen. At the time, they couldn't categorically say what had happened, but they said to give it a couple of days and keep an eye out for more bleeding, which there didn't seem to be any more of so we thought it was an isolated incident.

 

Experiencing miscarriage

We had our scan a couple of days after that, and that was when we found out there was nothing there. It was what they call a missed miscarriage. We were due to tell my parents the good news on the Friday, so that put paid to that Christmas for us, unfortunately.

Christmas is already a difficult time for my family because my brother passed away on Christmas Day from a brain tumour. We decided we were still going to travel but we didn't want to tell them until we'd got past Christmas.

Unfortunately, the few days that followed, Mags was miscarrying while we were at home, so we had a difficult few days. We told my sister in law, my brother's widow, as Mags was going through a lot. We saw our immediate family and close friends, but wherever we could, we kept it to ourselves what was happening.

When we got back to Scotland, we assumed that was the end of the miscarriage and as horrendous as it was, we could move forward.

We had a standard check-up at the hospital after that to discover that actually, Mags was still miscarrying, so she still needed to go through the whole process of a miscarriage. She was booked in to have a D&C operation (the dilation and curettage procedure to remove tissue from inside your uterus) which was obviously quite traumatic.

On top of that, we were told I couldn't be present for it as she had to go under anaesthetic. I came home because I thought if I pottered around the house it would keep me distracted, but in actual fact, all I did was sit on the couch and stare at the wall until I got the phone call. I was pretty worried the whole way through it.

The hospital called to say she was ready, so I rushed back to get her. I was there waiting at the doors when she came out. As you can understand, she was pretty distraught. When she saw me she broke down. So did I. It was a pretty tough time.

Mags had to spend a couple of days in recovery but my work were kind enough to give me time off to help her recover from the operation. After those days went by, we decided that, right, that's happened, it's behind us now so time to move forward.

 

Falling pregnant with Milo

It was now early to mid-January. We were quite keen to start trying for a baby again straight away as we'd had that taste of pregnancy and parenthood.

Bryan-and-Mags

Bryan and Mags

We fell pregnant with Milo in summer 2018. We were concerned that we'd get to 12 weeks and the same thing would happen again, but we were hopeful. Once we passed the 12-week mark, we settled into the idea that, yes, this was our baby.

Part of the thing we look back on now that sits uncomfortably is that the pregnancy went so well all the way through. Once we knew there was a heartbeat there, everything was brilliant. Mags coped fantastically with pregnancy; she was quite active and we continued doing the things we'd always done.

We got to full term and Milo was now overdue. At our midwife appointment, we asked if we could get a sweep to get things going - but she wasn't comfortable doing that as the baby wasn't engaged. He was head down but not engaged enough. I could tell Mags was frustrated as she wanted our baby in her arms, but we took the midwife's views on board.

The midwife said she'd follow up with us the next week, and at that appointment, she had a sweep. At home, Mags started to feel some pain and discomfort, so we thought this is it, labour's starting. I was convinced at some point during the night I'd get woken up with an elbow and told to get the car and get to the hospital.

Unfortunately, that elbow never came. We woke up quite early. Mags was quite upset; she didn't think anything was wrong, just very disappointed her labour had calmed down. In an effort to help her get out of the funk she was feeling, we went out for the day but it became quite quickly apparent that Mags wasn't feeling the baby kick, she wasn't feeling movement.

At the time, I remember thinking, it's fine, he's obviously just being a bit lazy today or something. Mags got more and more concerned so we phoned triage and they told us to come straight in. That 20-minute journey in the car felt like several hours.

When we got there we were asked to wait in the waiting room, which was absolute torture. I was trying to keep Mags distracted but the worry had set in. She was trying to use every ounce of her being to focus on movements, but the kicks weren't coming, unfortunately.

 

Milo's passing

We got called in by a midwife; she was quite a young midwife, she was very warm and understanding. She tried to get a heartbeat but couldn't. Unfortunately, she was the one who had to tell us. We look back and think it's a shame that someone so junior had to do that but that's part of the job.

The midwife went to get someone more senior to try and locate a heartbeat for us. Things got more manic for Mags and all I could do was try to disbelieve that this was happening. Despite the fact that the midwife was trained, I was convinced I knew better than her, that everything was fine.

We got the second opinion, but it was definitely the case, there was no heartbeat. They phoned a consultant to come and do a scan to clarify that. He had to drive from his house which took about 30 minutes. When he arrived, we could see Milo's outline on the screen but there was no heartbeat, unfortunately. We know Milo was a healthy birth weight and that his placenta may have deteriorated in the final week of his life.

The instant feeling was devastation, unsurprisingly. If you're speaking to a dad in this situation there's this sort of protective state kicks in pretty much immediately. I don't think I processed the news immediately because I knew what was happening, but my instant concern was Mags.

She started to panic because she didn't know what to do. She got up to leave the room but I don't know where she was planning to go. In a gentle way, I was trying to calm her down. In my head I was thinking, how am I going to make her ok again? I didn't really care if I was ever going to be ok.

 

Supporting each other

We saw countless medical professionals in the hours that followed. I hadn't thought of the fact that Milo would still need to be born – as ridiculous as that sounds at the time – all I could think of was Mags and what she was going to go through the next few days.

We were informed that generally what happens is they give her some medication which induces labour, but that we would return home until things started. The team were fantastic with handling us, but we both said, "No, we can't do that." We couldn’t face leaving the hospital. We were very lucky to be at Forth Valley Royal hospital as they have a bereavement suite – a room that you can go to when you're preparing to give birth so we were transferred there.

Before we moved rooms we had to pass on the news to our families. We both struggled with that – how do you even tell your family this? Instead of contacting our parents directly, we both spoke to our sisters and gave them the news. Obviously, they were both completely devastated but they went to our parents to be with them in person.

We found out on the Saturday evening that Milo had passed and were put up in the bereavement suite that night. The next day most of our family flew over from Ireland to be with us. They stayed at our house.

We created a bubble in the suite. The outside world didn't have to become part of anything. It was the two of us trying to get through it. We didn't sleep a wink that first night, worrying about what was coming. Being in that room meant we could talk everything out – that was so important in getting through it.

 

Meeting Milo

Mags was always quite keen to have a natural birth, so we were glad to still be able to go through with that. Many women in this situation want to have a C-section and you can completely understand why that would be the case.

Mags was induced, but at the same time, it seemed she'd gone into labour naturally herself as she'd woken with cramps. Our families were there with us in the suite, then as she progressed, she delivered Milo in a separate room.

Milo was born at 7.44 in the evening on 18 March. We got to meet him and bring him into the world in a natural way, which was something I think Mags felt she was able to get back, that it was still something she could do for him. But it's also a pretty traumatic experience.

We didn't know what to expect or how we would feel, but as soon as Milo was born, Mags got the immediate rush of love that a mother gets, wanting to look after him, wanting to take care of him. He looked like any other baby, just a sleeping baby.

We were both able to have a hold of him. I was worried that I was going to hurt him, which might sound strange, but he was very little. I was worried about his neck and head, in the way you would with any new-born baby. Of course, he couldn't feel anything but I was paranoid about hurting him.

The team looked after us so well. They didn't put any pressure on us to leave the hospital, so we were able to stay for a few days afterwards, which meant that we could spend more time with Milo.

They were lucky enough to have something called a 'cuddle cot' which is a cot with a chilled mattress so it means you can keep your baby with you for longer. The midwives helped us give him a bath and dress him, then put him in the cuddle cot. We stayed with him in the bereavement suite for a couple of days until we felt it was the right time to leave. You're never ready to leave your child though.

 

Coming to terms with loss

I think with the trauma of what happened, it can be difficult to think back. Even with dates and times, I struggle. It's almost like a PTSD, like your brain is trying to block it out.

For both Mags and I, the days after Milo was born are the saddest but in some ways the happiest days of our lives because we got to bring him into the world. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything else we could do for him at that point.

We got to take some photographs with him and had prints made up of his hands and feet, so we were able to take plenty of keepsakes which we have around the house. That was a big help for us to heal.

milo-feet

A beautiful photograph of Bryan holding Milo's feet © Remember My Baby

One of the hardest things that we've had to do was leaving the hospital. Once we decided to come home, that was difficult. We didn't know if it was best for us to leave Milo in the room or for the midwives to come and take him. Our decision was for the midwives to take the cot with him in it – that way we could take extra time to prepare ourselves for walking out.

We were escorted out of the hospital at the service exit so we didn't have to go through the labour ward - but unfortunately, the first thing you see when you walk out the door of a maternity hospital is parents putting their new-born babies in cars. There was a dad very cautiously and carefully putting the car seat in the back of his car with his wife. That was quite a setback.

 

Returning home

At home, it was quite a full house with both sets of parents and some siblings still with us. Having them there that night was probably good for us because we kept busy talking to them. Once they had to go home it was a very empty house but we also needed space.

The weeks following that were an absolute blur. Even getting out of bed in the morning – the most we could manage was to get ourselves to the couch in the sitting room and turn on the TV and just watch mindless gameshows for days on end. We couldn't bring ourselves to do anything initially. We had to digest what had happened.

Once those initial days had gone by it was time to start talking about arranging a funeral, which is something we never thought we'd have to do in our lifetimes. We arranged it jointly and decided on a cremation, just the two of us. It was the right decision for us.

We kept Milo's ashes. We gave a pot of his ashes to each set of grandparents, and Mags put our tube of his ashes into a Build a Bear. Now, if I'm ever quite upset I can just pick up the bear and give him a hug. 

 

Coping with grief

It sounds cliché but Mags is my best friend and I had the benefit of her being my major support when I was going through the grief of my brother's death. Now, grieving Milo, the thing I was being cautious about was that she was also grieving. I couldn't just rely on her this time around. I got more support from other people than I did before because it couldn't all rest on her.

We tried to talk about everything as much as we could. Looking back on it now, Mags did more of the talking and I tried to remain strong, to not need her support, which is definitely the wrong thing to do. All that happens is you alienate yourself.

At one point, Mags thought I wasn't really feeling the grief and that she was feeling it too much, which wasn't the case – there's no such thing as grieving your baby too much. I was trying to stay strong all the time and show it wasn't affecting me. We spoke about how I needed to open up more, which I think I did.

We had a sort of naming ceremony for Milo and invited people to join us in remembering him. We made a cake, I read a poem and Mags made a speech about him. Milo's middle name is Thomas and that's after my brother.

 

Creating Milo's Meadow

Once the initial shock had worn off around May 2019, we decided that we wanted to do something to honour Milo. Mags had the idea of turning an overgrown area of our garden into a place we could go to reflect.

garden-before

The garden before the transformation

We poured ourselves into that, pulling up roots, planting flowers, pulling down the greenhouse. Our nieces and nephews gave us little things like painted stones and ornaments to decorate a tree in the garden. Then we had this beautiful area we've called Milo's Meadow. It kept us busy and got out some of that physical frustration as well.

milos-meadow

Milo's Meadow

We also went into Waterstones in Edinburgh and bought a dozen different books and put a little note into each of them about Milo, to put by the tills. We said to the staff, the next parent that come here buying books can you give them one for their child?

We wanted them to have a book from Milo. Now some of the parents whose children have the books follow us on Instagram and we've had some lovely heart-warming messages from them.

 

Falling pregnant with Brody

Just after Christmas 2019, we fell pregnant again. We now have a four-week-old baby boy called Brody Fox Griffin.

We were thrilled to be expecting again, but as you can imagine, the pregnancy was absolute torture. We were concerned all the time. It was the opposite of Milo's pregnancy, which went perfectly up until a couple of days before he was born.

This time around it was anxiety all the time. We tried to keep positive as much as we could but the slightest little thing would set us off. Even discussing it with people didn't feel right.

We had the 12-week scan in March, which was just coming up to Milo's first birthday and it helped us to get past that day. We felt we had some good news again. We had planned for our families to stay with us and share the news on Milo's birthday, but then Ireland went into lockdown with COVID-19 so we did the announcement on Facetime.

Unfortunately, our hospital doesn't do gender reveals, so we went for a private scan, where we discovered we were having a little boy.

Expecting a boy meant we could keep Milo's things which had been left intact in his bedroom, and it made Brody part of Milo's story too. The fact he could wear some of Milo's clothes and play with his toys was a big thing for us.

Mags had wanted to have a natural birth. In the weeks leading up to the birth we'd go in for a heartbeat trace every week to check on Brody, but the more active he got, the more difficult it was to put a trace on him.

 

Welcoming Brody

Brody was then presenting breech, so the hospital booked Mags in for a C-section. We just wanted him to be out and be happy and healthy, so didn’t mind that there was a change of plan. We got to the hospital at 8 am and he was born at 9.50 am, so it all went by in the flash of the eye.

Just before Brody was born, I couldn't stop thinking of Milo. To some extent, Brody is here because of Milo. If Milo had been born alive, we don't know if we would have tried for a second child as quickly. It's the butterfly effect.

brody

Bryan and Mags' son Brody

When we heard Brody's first cry, we burst into tears because that was something we never had with Milo. They held him up over the screen and he looked a lot like Milo. He was his own baby but had similar features, a little nose and big cupid's bow on his lips. We couldn't talk, we were in floods of tears.

I got to do skin to skin with him first as Mags was wired up to different things. Getting to hold him and feel his warmth, wriggling around and getting annoyed at me was so nice. Once she was taken off the machine she did skin to skin with him too. The levels of emotions we were feeling were incredible. The first two days I couldn't take my eyes off him.

Because of COVID, I could only visit Mags during normal visiting hours so I had to come home at night time and go home at 8pm. That was a horrendous feeling but I was just thinking about Mags because she was on her own with him.

Now we're home and Brody is a little dream. We've been so, so blessed with him. We're really looking forward to taking him out to Milo's Meadow when the weather is nice.

 

Living with grief

I'd say I'm better at talking about my grief now, particularly with Mags because we've grown to know that my trait is to bottle things up. If I'm quite upset I get very quiet. We've both since gone for therapy, which has helped me stop bottling things up. I've realised that the two most important things to do are to talk and to listen.

I do think men are getting better at discussing how they are feeling. There's so much more being done now for men around mental health which is great to see. I do think there's still a certain amount of taboo. Sometimes men struggle to talk to other men about how they're feeling.

I've been on a few support groups and it's good to be able to speak to other dads because this isn't a club that anyone ever wanted to be in. But knowing this club exists when you are part of it, the support that you get is unrivalled. I wish that there was more, but I think all these things take time."

 

If you have been affected by this story, visit Tommy's for more information, support and guidance. 

Tommy’s is a national charity that funds pioneering medical research to discover the causes of baby loss and helps families at every stage of their pregnancy journeys, supporting them with expert information and care. 

Remember My Baby is a UK registered charity whose volunteer photographers provide remembrance photography to parents losing their baby before, during or shortly after birth. The service is free of charge. For more information please visit remembermybaby.org.uk.

RMB has met over 4000 families in the last 6 years and provided over one hundred thousand images to help grieving parents. 

MORE INFORMATION: Kate Middleton pays moving visit to Tommy's to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week

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