It has been an absolute privilege to dedicate the blog to Fathers for the entire month of June. This week, I had the chance to sit down with my husband and talk about our babies and his experience with loss and grief. it was such a sweet and special time together, and his insight into a father's grief is beautiful.
A father's grief is truly a wonder to behold, and it was a privilege to sit down with my husband, ask questions, and hear him share vulnerably how our babies changed him, how grief shaped him, and how the years since their deaths have grown him into the man I know today.
Over the years, my husband Will and I have navigated the challenges that come with grieving in the context of a relationship. He and I grieve and process differently, and it took a long time before we learned how to do that well with each other. After all that we have been through and all that we have learned, it was such a powerful and emotional experience listening to him walk back through our story and share his wisdom and heart so openly with me and all of you who are reading this.
Will's insight, wisdom, and heart have always been things I admire about him, and my hope is that his words resonate with you whether you are a grieving father looking for validation and support, a medical professional looking for insight, or a friend or family member looking to learn how to care well for grieving fathers.
As a father, you had dreams for our daughters and son from the moment you learned that you and I were expecting. How have your dreams changed for Bridget, Vivian, and Liam since their passing?
A lot of why the pregnancy with our triplets was so special was because they were our first pregnancy that lasted beyond the first trimester. It was the first time we really felt like we could plan for having babies. There was an added layer of excitement because my younger brothers are triplets, so I could really picture what our lives would be like raising triplets. I also pictured our house being loud and crazy as three kiddos ran around. So, when that didn't become our story, the silence felt overwhelming. My dreams for them now are more like a legacy. A legacy designed to love, support, and connect with other grieving families. I have peace knowing that our babies are with Jesus in heaven. I know where they are, so I don't have to worry about them. I worry about the families who are losing babies because I know their pain, and I want to do something.
It could not have been easy seeing me labor and deliver our babies knowing what was coming. I know it was not easy holding our babies as they passed away. Watching you with them is a favorite memory of mine because you were so intentional, focused, and tender. What was delivery day like for you? What advice would you give to other fathers as they navigate delivery and time with their child?
In a word, a whirlwind. I started the day like any other. I left the hospital with you on bedrest and went to work, expecting to come back to you still pregnant. So, when I got the call from you that you were in labor, I raced back to the hospital. When I got there, it was chaos. There were nurses running around, and the doctor wasn't there yet. I knew what was coming when I walked in and saw you. I think the hardest part of that day for me was the waiting. There was that period of time where I was waiting for you to be prepped, and I honestly have no idea how long it was, but it felt like hours. Not being able to be with you when I knew you were in pain, scared, and devastated was overwhelming, and I felt powerless.
The short amount of time that I did have with Bridget, Vivian, and Liam is hard to explain. I thought would I have no idea what to say or how to handle the situation, but when the nurses handed me the babies as they were each born, the Holy Spirit gave me the clear head to be present and say what I needed to say to our children. Even though I knew that we were losing them, that was the first moment where I really felt like a father. I think why I have such peace now, despite still grieving and missing them, is that they truly lived perfect lives. They spent every minute of their lives with us. They were either in your arms or mine, listening to our voices, until they passed away. The last thing they heard was my voice telling them that we love them.
I think it holds true for dads that it doesn't become as real for us until we are holding our babies. At least, that is how it was for me. So, my advice to other fathers on delivery day is to be present and hold onto those moments that you get. Don't let the brevity of the time with your child make it feel less real. It was easy for me to question the reality of what happened because it was only so real for me for a short period of time. You may not get a lot of time with your child, but make the most of it because you'll cherish those moments forever. Holding my babies is the clearest memory I have of anything in my entire life.
Reflecting on the pregnancy and delivery, is there anything you would change about how information was given and explained to us? What do you want to say to the medical professionals who walked with us through this entire process?
When the information was given in a less emotional or cold manner, it almost made the information seem less dire. In the early weeks of the pregnancy, we were told that triplet pregnancies were high risk. It was so factual that I was just like, "yeah, okay, that makes sense. Three babies equal a more difficult pregnancy." As the pregnancy progressed, and it became clear that the pregnancy was getting more and more complicated, our doctors began to prepare us. When our ob and specialist spoke to us in a factual yet emotionally supportive way, we knew we could trust them to do everything they could to protect you and the babies. At each step of the way, from emergency surgery to home bedrest to hospital bedrest, our doctors made sure to ask how we were handling everything while also not sugarcoating the realities of what we were facing. I was grateful for that approach because it allowed us to prepare. Delivery day definitely came without warning, but I was also in a place where I had been preparing myself mentally for weeks.
Medical professionals, it is more than okay to be emotional in an emotional situation. Seeing our doctors and nurses cry as we cried over our babies was profound. It meant a lot to know that we weren’t alone in grieving the worst moments of our lives. We have stayed connected with the doctors and some of the nurses who supported us so well during our loss. One of the most profound experiences that we had was when our specialist came to see us the morning after delivery. Hearing him speak to us, parent-to-parent, from such a vulnerable and personal place gave us a sense of peace and also the permission and freedom to grieve how we needed to. I will never forget how affected he was by our experience, and it is why we wanted him as our specialist during our pregnancy after loss. We still have a close relationship with him today.
What did grief look like for you as a husband and father when we learned that the pregnancy was not going well? What about following the loss of our Bridget, Vivian, and Liam?
I avoided my grief during the pregnancy and following their deaths. As a husband, I think the lie that I told myself was that my avoiding grief was helping us push through every day. In reality, all it did was make you feel like you were the only one grieving. It wasn't until six months after their deaths that I really understood the impact my avoidance had on you. When you asked me to retell the story of delivery and our time with them because the chaos and pain left you with a blurred memory of the day, I finally allowed myself to be vulnerable and let you in. I think that was a really big turning point in our relationship. That moment we shared together allowed us to continue to share and walk through grief together instead of me processing in isolation and avoidance.
You and I grieved very differently. What was the hardest aspect of that difference? What advice would you give to men as they navigate their own grief while also grieving in the context of a relationship?
I avoided, and you wanted to talk about it. We were at odds in how we processed for so long that we felt disconnected. We were so profoundly changed by their lives that we barely recognized ourselves let alone each other. Through my avoidance, I didn't allow you to learn who I had become, and I tried to close the door to learning who you were. So, the hardest part was feeling like we lost each other, too. I think it was particularly hard for us because we had been together for 10 years by that point, and we had literally grown up together. Before our loss, I would say that we knew each other better than we knew ourselves. In that first year of grief, I didn't feel like I knew either of us, and it compounded the grief because I lost my only children, my soulmate, and myself.
My advice to fathers is to share. Don't hide your grief. It has impact. Speaking vulnerably about your loss, your experience, and your children with your significant other is being strong. Don't allow yourself to believe the lie that being strong means putting up walls. Feeling that level of connection with my wife allowed us to find each other again and move forward together.
How have you been changed by our losses and grief? What have you learned from your experience, and do you have any regrets?
This was our first pregnancy that didn't end in a miscarriage. Holding our babies for the first time is the moment that I became a father. As any father would tell you, there is no going back from that moment. You are changed forever. I think the biggest change that I have seen in myself is the level of emotional understanding I now have. I have always been more rational than emotional, but I think all fathers feel a softening of their heart when they hold their child for the first time.
When you lose a child shortly after their birth, you have this love that doesn't die with them. You can let it harden you or you can let it change you. It changed me. I'm less selfish. I'm more driven to care and provide for my family well. I love my daughter more deeply than I ever thought possible. I think the saying, "you don't know what you have until you have lost it," is so true, especially for loss parents. Now that we found each other again, and we have a living child, I have a different perspective that helps me cherish everything and not take anything for granted.
As for regrets, I wouldn't change anything about our story because it made us who we are today. Changing our story and the missteps along the way would mean changing who we are now. I think learning from your mistakes is how you grow and become better as a person. I'm a better Christian, husband, and father having been through the loss of our children, so I don't have any regrets.
What advice would you give to friends and family about supporting dads?
I honestly don't know what I would have said to people who asked what I needed. My focus was entirely on you and the babies that I lost sight of my own needs for a long time. I love that our community checked in with me about you and your grief. It felt like another way I could support you, but I wonder how much better at supporting you I would have been if people's questions had caused me to stop and consider what I needed in terms of self-care, processing, and just comprehending all that we have been through. Because I'm an internal processor, it did not come naturally to me to reach out and ask for support or to talk with other guys following the loss of our daughters and son. I barely knew how to do that well with you. I realize that I needed and wanted to talk about Bridget, Vivian, and Liam the way I now get to talk about our living daughter. Friends and family, make a point to check in with dads. We need that kind of relationship and support, too.
So, my advice is to just be there. Be around and available. I think the hardest part for us was feeling alone. The best support I got from my community was when people wanted to be around us, even if it had nothing to do with our loss. I appreciated knowing that people still wanted to be a part of our lives. In the first six months, I felt like I had lost everything, so having community come around us helped us feel less alone.
People talk about their grief less after the first year has passed. What has grief been like for you in the years since the one-year anniversary?
In the first year of grief, I made a lot of mistakes. In the years since then, I have gotten better at processing and sharing my feelings. We have reflected a lot on that time of our lives, and I think I have learned a lot and grown as a husband and father. The grief itself isn't any easier than it was in that first year, but we have grown. We process together. We walk through it together, so in that way, it is easier to bare it. I still grieve, and I still miss them more than I can explain. But now, I talk about it with you, and now we get to include our daughter in honoring them every year at holidays and on their birthday.
Pregnancy after loss can be a really difficult experience for grieving parents. What was the experience like for you as a husband and father?
Triggering. We had had a miscarriage after the babies, and we had basically given up on the dream of having children. So, when we found out that you were pregnant with Charlotte, there were a lot of mixed emotions. We were excited but scared. We were frustrated but hopeful. Every day was a struggle. We struggled to find the balance between allowing ourselves to be hopeful and preparing ourselves for the worst. It was a rollercoaster of emotions because we were, in the same moment, planning for a future with this child while grieving the life we should have had with Bridget, Vivian, and Liam. One of the hardest decisions we had to make was deciding if and when we should convert their room to hers. Every moment of joy was mixed with grief. She only needed one crib, but we had three.
I think as a father, my biggest concern was whether or not I would be able to be present with her in light of our experience. When she came 8 weeks early, I was terrified that we would lose her, too. Hearing her cry was a first for me as a father, and I will never forget that sound. Her first cry caused our first tears of joy. It was the first tangible hope of raising a child. It is really hard to ride the line between grieving the children you lost and loving the child you get to raise, but there is room for both. It's an "and," not an "or."