Today was the day my son was supposed to be born. Instead, he was stillborn on June 17 – the day after Father’s Day. We found out a little over four days earlier that he’d died. We have ideas about exactly when his heart stopped, but don’t know precisely. Whatever the exact moment he died, his mother1 – my wife – was admitted to the labour and delivery ward at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women on Father’s Day, June 16, 2019. Our son, Henry John Kelly-Snider was born, still, in the very early hours of June 17.
Today is the day he was supposed to be born, alive, and the fact that it’s Thanksgiving is something we only realized a few weeks ago. What a thing that would have been to be thankful for – a beautiful, health baby boy. Instead, I’m writing this the day before you’ll read it, with tears in my eyes.
I have never shared this so publicly before. Most of the people in my life know, although there is an outer circle of colleagues and acquaintances who may never know that “how many kids do you have?” is a very complicated question.
We thought about going away this weekend, to try and distract ourselves from the sorrow we’re going to be feeling. We ended up staying home on Sunday, but allowed our family to think we were out of town (uh, sorry about that, everyone). It seemed easier to just keep things low-key at home, rather than making a big thing out of Thanksgiving this year. Subsequent years will probably be hard, too, but Thanksgiving won’t always fall on the 14th, so maybe we’ll be able to separate the date from the holiday. I’m hoping I can do that for Father’s Day next year, if only for my daughter’s sake.
Right now, though, things are tough. We had a little mini version of Thanksgiving dinner with just the three of us – chicken (with compound herb butter made from stuff my wife and daughter grew in the garden this summer), duck fat baby potatoes and roasted vegetables. It was good, and we had pumpkin pie (because I love it but only eat it around Thanksgiving to make sure it remains a special food), but it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving. There was no turkey or stuffing and no extended family. But maybe that’s OK just this once. It’s hard to know for sure anymore.
This is one of the last “firsts” since Henry’s death. There’s still Christmas, but most of the big milestones have come and gone, so maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Maybe each day will be a little easier than the last. More likely, it’ll be like it’s been since the day we learned he died. Some days are better than others. Sometimes it feels like a million years ago and that everything is OK again, and then the next day it feels like there’s no way things could possibly get worse. Grief is a funny beast and it doesn’t follow a linear path.
That’s part of why I’m writing this and putting it out into the world. It helps with the grief. Putting the emotions into words is healthy and I’m far better at communicating through writing than speech. Some people talk things through; I work through things by writing them down and, often, by sharing them even if I’m not necessarily seeking feedback.
I’m also writing this down to help other grieving fathers. Stillbirth and pregnancy loss is already something that’s not talked about enough (though that seems to be changing; we’ve heard many stories from people in our lives since this happened to us – but they’d probably never have shared them if we hadn’t gone through something similar). When it is talked about, fathers are sometimes overlooked. But this experience touches us, too. The father loses a child too and, with that, a part of himself. I don’t have any words of wisdom, because I’m still in the midst of it, but I want other fathers who’ve lost a child to know they’re not alone.
Finally, these words are to honour the memory of my son. Mere words can hardly do him justice, especially not ones written in the depths of grief, but they’re all I have left to give him. Together with his mother, I gave him a name. And I can give him words and a place in my heart. I don’t get to give him anything else. So I’ll give him what I can and hope it’s enough.
1. The fact that my wife is mostly absent from this story is not an oversight. It’s not my place to tell her story, so I won’t be doing so. This will focus on my own thoughts and experiences, which are understandably quite different from those of the person who carried our son in her body for five months.↩