Devastated first-time dad recounts losing his newborn son after birth complications
When a baby is stillborn or lost in pregnancy, in the flurry of activity that naturally revolves around mother and child, another broken heart in the room can sometimes be overlooked.
Fathers play such an important supportive role during pregnancy and childbirth, but while the loss may not happen to them physically, they feel it all too sharply and often do not express their grief so easily.
“As a father, you are expected to continue to play that supporting role — this happened to Mom, I have to take care of Mom — rather than this happened to both of us,” said Benn Lockyer, whose son James died in childbirth in 2017 .
“It’s so important for fathers to speak up, to ask for help, because we need it too.”
Benn and his wife Sarah were elated as she reached full term in her ‘perfectly healthy’ pregnancy and prepared to welcome their baby home.
Benn (pictured) and his wife Sarah were delighted as they came to full term during their ‘perfectly healthy’ pregnancy and were ready to welcome their baby home
“We had a lot of friends and family buying gifts and knitting things and making things,” he tells AAP from their home in Gisborne, Victoria (pictured is Benn holding James’ hand)
“We had a lot of friends and family buying gifts and knitting things and making things,” he tells AAP from their home in Gisborne, Victoria.
“His room was all set – we were really ready for him to come home. But that just never happened.’
Doctors suspected that a blood clot had formed on the umbilical cord during childbirth and cut off his oxygen supply, causing an injury that would eventually cost him his life.
“He was with us for three days,” says Benn.
When the couple spoke to their friends about their loss, they had very different experiences.
“Sarah just sat down with a friend and they talked about it openly for hours,” says Benn.
“Guys just don’t want to talk about things. If we were just sitting in a room with a few beers (it was like) it never happened.
“When those conversations happened a few times, they were extremely helpful, but they’re rare and I had to push the topic really hard before the conversation really got going.
When the couple spoke to their friends about their loss, they had very different experiences
“There’s definitely a difference.”
When friends reached out, they often said things that, although well-intentioned, seemed to make things worse.
“Things like ‘he’s in a better place’ or ‘at least you can try again’ — and it’s like we don’t just want to try again, we want James,” says Benn.
Fellow relatives, Hugh Thorneycroft, says he lost touch with his entire group of friends after the men – none of whom were fathers – kept saying the wrong things.
A standard mid-pregnancy scan from his wife Danni in late 2019 revealed that their baby Hamish – who was diagnosed with early severe growth restriction – had lost a heartbeat.
“Everyone was very upset, but no one knew what to say – they said nothing or completely wrong,” says Hugh, who lives in the small town of Metcalfe near Castlemaine in Victoria.
“It’s been a trigger ever since — if someone starts a sentence with ‘at least’, you know it’s not helping at all.
“Or they start a sentence with ‘well, you know’ and then say something that’s inappropriate or shouldn’t have been said.”
Benn and Sarah Lockyer have had two children since James was born (pictured shows Ella and Jack)
One of those statements was so bad that Hugh made his friend leave the house and hasn’t seen him since.
“You find out who your real friends are — but unfortunately for me, it wasn’t one of them,” he says.
Both dads say the best thing anyone can do is just acknowledge how awful the situation is without trying to fix anything.
“You don’t want to lose friends over this sort of thing, but in the end you have to be around people who are going to support you,” Benn says.
Both men turned to Red Nose’s 24/7 counseling and support services to help them through their grief.
Last year, the charity developed a specialist initiative called Red Nose Fathers of Loss – a tool designed specifically for grieving fathers.
“It just makes it a little easier to deal with if you can talk about it openly,” says Benn, who is also a member of a number of Facebook groups for grieving fathers.
“I’ve made some connections that have been very helpful.
“Even a conversation with a stranger can have a huge impact on your day and how you feel.”
Red Nose Day is on Friday, August 12 and aims to raise $800,000 this year for more research into a goal of zero babies dying unexpectedly in Australia and education and initiatives such as Red Nose Fathers of Loss.