Life & Style | People

Coping with stillbirth: A father's point of view

He couldn’t wait for his second child to be born, but by the time Dan Draycott’s wife went into labour they already knew the baby had died. Here the UK-based 25-year-old truck driver shares his pain over the loss

  • As told to Eimear O’Hagan
  • Published: 10:30 April 3, 2013
  • Friday

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Dan and Hayley talk to their sons about their “brother in the clouds” and take themto visit Keilan’s tree.
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Cradling my newborn son in my arms, I gently kissed his forehead as my tears fell on to his soft skin. For a moment I pretended he would open his eyes, that we would be taking him home from hospital and this nightmare had never happened.

Sometimes I still do. When people ask how many children I have, I say I have three sons. Logan, who’s four, Bailey, just eight months old, and Keilan, who was born sleeping.

Often this silences people, even those who know me well. That’s because, understandably, the focus is on the mother’s grief after a stillbirth, but there’s usually a dad like me in the background, trying to be strong while dealing with his own sorrow.

It’s been just over three years since Keilan’s stillbirth, but my memory of those awful days remains painfully clear. Waking me in the middle of the night, around 32 weeks into her pregnancy, my wife Hayley, then 21, said she’d felt a ‘gurgling’ inside her and that the baby had stopped moving.

I tried to comfort her, but inside I was panicking. Although she’d had a normal pregnancy up until that point, throughout it she kept saying she didn’t feel the same as she had with Logan. She insisted something felt wrong, but she didn’t know what.

We lay there until dawn broke, not wanting to wake up little Logan and scare him by rushing to the hospital in the middle of the night. We were also desperately trying to reassure ourselves that everything was fine.

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First thing in the morning we went to Bassetlaw Hospital in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, hoping to be told our baby was fine. But when the midwife couldn’t find his heartbeat and we were sent for an ultrasound, I knew our worst fear had come true.

I looked at the monitor’s image of the son we’d already named Keilan. During previous scans he’d wriggled around and waved to us, but this time he lay perfectly still. “I’m so sorry,” the doctor said. “But your baby has died.”

I struggled to breathe, unable to take in what I had just been told. Then the silence in the darkened room was broken by the sound of Hayley’s sobs. Hearing the raw pain in her cries was awful, and all I could do was hold her and cry too, for the son we would never know.

The doctor explained Hayley would have to come back in four days’ time to be induced and give birth to Keilan. The thought of her going through the agony of labour only to deliver a dead baby filled me with horror. As I held Hayley, I wondered how I would find the strength to support her through it when I was in so much pain myself.

Over the next few days we were in a haze, breaking down in tears, unable to sleep. Hayley’s mum Alison and stepdad Simon helped us care for Logan, and we explained to him that his little brother had gone up to the clouds to live.

Keilan’s nursery had been painted blue, his cot was built and the wardrobe was full of little outfits for him, but we put them away, cruel reminders of the baby we would never bring home.

Roller coaster of emotions

All dads feel pretty helpless when their wife is giving birth. When Logan was born there was only so much back rubbing and words of encouragement I could offer; I knew I wasn’t much help. But on the day Hayley was induced with Keilan I felt completely powerless. What could I possibly say or do to make this less horrific for my distraught wife?

The labour was a roller coaster of emotions. One moment we were calm and resigned to what was happening, and the next we were sobbing in each other’s arms, unable to bear it. It was utterly horrendous.

And while I wanted it to be over for Hayley’s sake, part of me didn’t because I knew what the end would bring.

Our beautiful son was born at 5.23pm on March 4, 2010. Instead of the piercing cry of a newborn, there was silence. It was haunting.

We’d talked to the midwife beforehand about what we wanted to do when Keilan was born and Hayley had decided not to see him.

I understood completely; she’d already held him inside her and felt him alive. That’s how she wanted to remember him. However, I wanted to meet my son and spend some time with him before I had to say goodbye.

Once he was washed and dressed in the clothes we had brought for him – a little pair of blue trousers and a top – I took him in my arms and rocked him. I was behind a curtain in the delivery room, so Hayley didn’t have to see.

Holding him, I felt the same overwhelming rush of a father’s love I’d felt at Logan’s birth, only this time it was accompanied by a tidal wave of grief.

He was tiny, born around seven weeks premature and weighing just 2.18 kilograms (4lb 13oz), but perfectly formed. He looked like Logan, and it was hard to believe they would never grow up together as brothers. Not only had we been robbed of our son, Logan had been robbed of his little brother.

Some people take a photo of their stillborn baby, but I knew I didn’t need to. I can see him whenever I close my eyes, and the memory of those precious few moments with him will never leave me.

Driving away from the hospital that evening without him felt wrong. We should have been taking our baby with us to start a routine of nappy changes, sleepless nights and watching him grow into a little boy, not leaving him in a hospital morgue. We drove in silence, both of us lost in our own sorrow.

Over the next couple of days we arranged Keilan’s funeral. It was important for us to have one to acknowledge his life and his death, and that he was a part of our family.

A post-mortem revealed there was a problem with Hayley’s placenta and he hadn’t been getting enough oxygen. His heart and bowel were underdeveloped, and had he lived he would have been a very sick child. It was a small comfort to know he didn’t have to suffer that.

Learning to cope

No one should have to pick out a coffin for their baby, or plan a service with the hospital chaplain, but somehow we found the strength to do it. We chose a tiny white coffin and invited both our families to join us at the service. Keilan was cremated on March 15, and his ashes were buried at a local nature reserve where there’s a children’s graveyard. Instead of headstones, you plant a tree, which is a wonderful idea.

In the weeks and months that followed I threw myself into my work, desperate to distract myself. As a man, you’re meant to be the strong one, and I was drained from hiding my own grief, pulling into road stops on my drive to work to sob my heart out.

Looking back, I should have been at home more to support Hayley, and for a while our sadness put a distance between us. We didn’t talk enough about what had happened because it was just too painful, and I felt totally helpless when I heard her cry herself to sleep.

As our very raw grief subsided a little, we were able to talk about how we felt, and that helped us feel close again.

Around a year after Keilan’s death, we decided to try for another baby. We didn’t want Logan to be an only child, but it was a difficult decision, and we were terrified about going through another pregnancy. I felt angry such a happy decision had become tinged with fear.

Naturally, we were on edge for the whole pregnancy – if the baby stopped moving or Hayley felt a twinge we started to panic. She had a scan every two weeks, but we were never excited like the other parents, just anxious, then relieved when we saw our son was fine.

Hayley was induced on July 19 last year at 37 weeks, because the doctors wanted the baby out as early as was safe. The pregnancy had been normal, but they didn’t want to take any chances of the same thing happening again.

Hearing Bailey, who weighed 3.29 kilograms (7lb 4oz), cry was the most amazing feeling ever. I wept when I held him for the first time, overjoyed we would be bringing this baby home.

Now life revolves around cuddles with my boys, bath time and nappy changes. I talk to Logan and Bailey about their brother in the clouds, and take them to see his tree. Logan talks to him, and tells him he misses him.

It’s important that they grow up knowing they have another brother, and I don’t want Keilan to be forgotten. It’s been hard and, yes, time is a healer. The raw grief does subside eventually, but the pain never leaves you.

Keilan would be a lively, mischievous little boy now, with a cheeky smile, just like his older brother. He may not have ever taken a breath, cuddled up to me for a bedtime story or kicked a football with me in the park, but he is my son and will always be in my heart.”

Dan (25) and Hayley (24) Draycott live with their children in Rotherham in the UK

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