by Chris Duffy, who shares his personal story of infant loss from a father’s perspective. In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on October 15, we are sharing various stories and perspectives on pregnancy and infant loss throughout the month of October.
Content warning: this post discusses stillbirth.
Our last day as a family of three
On November 2, 2014 at 4:47 p.m., something happened that would change my life forever. My sweet red-haired daughter, Reese Christine Duffy, was born. But this birth story didn’t have a happy ending.
On this special Sunday, my wife, our oldest son and I were spending our last day as a family of three. My wife had a C-section scheduled for the following morning, and we were so excited to meet the newest member of our family. On this unseasonably warm day in Minnesota, we had no reason to be concerned. Life was perfect.
That afternoon, my wife came to me and reported that she hadn’t felt Reese move since earlier that morning. Based on our many ultrasound appointments that showed no signs of concern, we didn’t think it was a big deal. We decided to do our due diligence and call the hospital. The nurse agreed – “this is probably nothing” – but said we should come in just to be safe.
We woke up our son from his nap and headed to the hospital. Even though we didn’t believe that something was wrong, that car ride was eerily quiet. We just wanted to hear the baby’s heartbeat so we could move on with our day. Little did we know that a short time later, a doctor would be looking at us with tears in her eyes saying, “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”
“It was unexpected and heartbreaking”
As my wife and I often tell Reese’s three siblings, Reese’s heart stopped beating just before she came out of mama’s belly. It was unexpected and heartbreaking. She was a healthy, full-term baby who weighed 8 pounds and had perfectly-colored skin. She looked like she was alive but sleeping. But she wasn’t sleeping; she was dead.
Reese was born with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her neck twice, cutting off her life line.
Prior to this moment, I had never heard the word stillbirth, and now the word would define me forever. In the hours that followed, we were forced to answer painful questions we never thought we’d have to answer:
- Would you like to have Reese baptized before we take her away?
- What would you like the funeral service to look like?
- Would you like to cremate or bury your daughter?
- Would you like to do an autopsy?
I was overwhelmed by the moment. While my wife lay in the hospital bed holding Reese while lovingly gazing at her, I had trouble looking at Reese. It made me too sad knowing that we weren’t allowed to bring our beautiful baby home with us. The deep, unexpected grief also made me physically ill. I experienced vomiting and a loss of appetite over the next 24 hours. I desperately wanted to talk to someone who had experienced the loss of a child and could tell me that we will get through this. Because at the time, under the hazy cloud of anguish, I wasn’t sure we would.
Dads, don’t bury your grief
Through the process of losing Reese, I learned that everyone grieves differently, and that’s okay. Whatever your emotional reaction is to a traumatic event – it’s okay to feel that way. I want to encourage any man who has lost a child to embrace his emotions. Don’t compare yourself to others. Own your unique response to the event and know that whatever you feel (anger, sadness, shock) is okay. Society conditions men – myself included – to stay strong in times of grief.
We innately focus on taking care of our wives and oftentimes, prioritize their emotions over our own. That is all wonderful, but we can’t forget about ourselves in the process. For more information on infant loss from a father’s perspective, I encourage you to read the book Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back by Kelly Farley. Kelly is a father who has experienced the loss of two children. His book is a collection of stories from “loss fathers,” a club nobody wants to be a part of.
As we approach Reese’s 5th birthday, I still think about her every day. But it’s not always a painful thought. I can look at her picture and smile. I can talk with my wife about what Reese’s personality would be like and how she would interact with our three living children. But there are other days when I think about how unfair it is that Reese not here – and that’s okay too.
About the author
Chris Duffy lives in Minnesota with his wife Amanda and three children. He and Amanda and are active members of the Star Legacy Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to stillbirth prevention. A former broadcast journalist, Chris hosts the monthly Stillbirth Matters podcast presented by the Star Legacy Foundation. Chris is the Vice President of Public Relations at Goff Public, a full-service communications agency in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He enjoys running, golfing, playing the guitar and cheering on his favorite Chicago sports teams.