Advice for Dads
I am often times asked, “what more can be done for dad’s?” This is a hard question to answer, but I thought I would share some insights about what helped me get through the most difficult trial of my life. I will start by saying there isn’t a perfect answer to this question, and frankly this advice is more focused directly to the dad’s rather than those loved ones who so desperately want to do something to help, but I hope that it can be even a little help to those faced with the life changing experience of losing a baby.
My number one concern going though this trial was for my wife. The most important thing for me was to make sure she was taken care of, that she was as comfortable as possible and had everything she could possibly need. Yes, this trial was hard for both of us, but so much harder for her. She is the one who carried our daughter for 8 months; they had a special bond that I can never understand. The love, care, and support she received from so many, including family, friends, hospital staff, and Angel Watch is, in my opinion, the most important thing that can be done for dads.
That being said, here are a few recommendations I would make to fathers who are going through similar trials:
1. Angel Watch - If you have not already been put in contact with Angel Watch, and you live in Utah, please reach out to them! More info can be found here.
2. Stay positive – Trust me, I know how stupid this sounds. You are about to go through the hardest thing in your life and I am telling you to stay positive! But the harsh truth is there is nothing you can do to change the outcome, so rather than making a terrible thing worse, do your best to enjoy what time you are given with your baby. You are going to relive this trial in your head over and over again for the rest of your life, so do yourself a favor and make those memories as happy as you can!! I am a strong believer that attitude is a choice; so make up your mind right now to stay as positive as you can. I’m not naive enough to believe that it is possible to have a positive attitude 100% of the time, and that’s ok. It is important to let yourself feel the sorrow, hurt, pain, and the misery that goes along with this. These feelings show how much you love and care for your baby and these will possibly have a bigger and more profound impact at times than trying to fake happiness; just don’t let it overtake you. Look for the good and positive. Smile and laugh whenever you can!
3. Pay attention to blessings and tender mercies – We are a very religious family and believe that we have a Heavenly Father who is fully aware of everything we go through. He and His Son know intimately what you are going through and are watching over you and, believe it or not, showering you with blessings and tender mercies. Take a minute everyday to recognize these blessings and tender mercies. I promise you will be amazed at how things just “work out”! And take time every day to write down those things you notice. I love going back and reading these and to this day it still amazes me how blessed we were and how perfectly everything went on the day our daughter came into and left this world.
4. Share with loved ones – Family is so important to me so one of the things I most looked forward to was sharing my baby girl with them. We were very fortunate in that we were able to have almost our entire immediate family with us at the hospital all day to enjoy our baby girl with us! I was such a proud poppa and loved so much letting everybody come and ogle my beautiful daughter! For those who weren’t able to be at the hospital we were able to skype with them so they got the opportunity to see and experience her! The memories that were made that day will never be forgotten and we love to talk about those memories with family often!
5. Pictures, pictures, pictures – Take TONS of pictures!!! If possible, arrange for a photographer to come take pictures. We were able to have a videographer come as well and he put together a beautiful video of the first 2 hours of our daughter’s life! Even if you can’t get a professional photographer there, have people take pictures with their phones. Between all of phones that were there that day we have over 5,000 pictures!!! That might seem overwhelming and absurd, but I promise, it never gets old looking through them!
6. Enjoy your baby even after they pass – Death can be scary in and of itself; now throw in that its your baby, and it can be practically unbearable. One of my biggest fears going into this was the unknown of what it would be like after my daughter passed away. I had so many fears and worries; what would it be like to hold my baby’s lifeless body? What if I can’t handle seeing her dead body? Would her body start to decay right away? Let me assure you that NONE of these concerns were at all an issue! My wife had a C-section so we stayed in the hospital for 3 days after she passed and we took every opportunity we had to continue to love on our baby girl, and I promise, it wasn’t weird at all!! Our daughter passed away at about 8:00 PM the same day she was born. We had family still at the hospital until about 10:30 that night, and then she was ALL MINE!!! I snuggled that beautiful little girl until about 2 in the morning until my wife talked me into getting some sleep. It was very hard to let the nurses take her to the cooler; I was very anxious at the thought of having them bring her cold body back to me the next day. I woke up at about 6 the next morning and tried to make myself wait till 8 to have them bring me to her…I think I made it to about 6:30! I was still a little anxious, but as soon as they rolled her in, I immediately snatched her right up! Her body of course was very cold, but it truly didn’t even matter!! She was still perfect! We spent the next 2 and a half days snuggling and kissing her nonstop! We changed her outfit countless times, changed her diaper and actually kept the diaper she spent her time alive in (its not as weird as it sounds, I promise!), took hundreds of pictures of her, and kept sharing her with family and friends who came to visit! Again, this was one of my absolute FAVORITE things!! I LOVED showing off my baby, even though she had already passed on. Without fail, every single person who came to visit us was visibly nervous. Nobody knows how to react or what to say in that situation. So, what do you do? Give them your baby to hold!! Within minutes, if not seconds, every single person relaxed, and rather than being nervous and anxious, fell in love with and held our baby with so much care and concern. Every single person who came to visit left our room at peace and could feel of her love and spirit!
7. Make personal memories – So to this point all my advice isn’t necessarily specific for dads, so here are my recommendations specifically for all the fathers: make personal 1 on 1 memories with your baby! My wife was showered with jewelry to help memorialize our daughter, but let’s face it, most guys aren’t going to wear much jewelry. I was given several tie tacks, which I love and wear often, but for me it’s the 1 on 1 memories I cherish most. We had a daughter, so I will speak to the things that I did with her, but for me, these were all the things I had always wanted to do with a daughter that I wasn’t going to have a chance to do otherwise in this life:
Name and a Blessing – We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as such the most important thing for me to do was to give my daughter a name and a Priesthood Blessing. This was an extraordinarily sacred experience and certainly one that will never be forgotten.
Paint her finger nails – This was at the top of my priority list! My daughter was born a week before Christmas so we brought red and green nail polish with us to the hospital and I painted her fingernails and toenails!
Dance with her – Go somewhere private, pick a special song, hold your little girl close, and dance with her. I will admit, I balled my eyes out when I did this, but its one of my favorite memories and has made that song extra special for me!
Daddy daughter date – Late one night after all our visitors had left and my wife was exhausted, I took my baby girl on a daddy-daughter date! We just wandered the halls of the hospital; we first went and looked at the Christmas tree that was set up in our wing, then we wandered and looked at all the artwork. Then we wandered back toward our room and it just so happened that the room next to us was empty, so I took her in the empty room, closed the door, and snuggle her for a good hour and just talked to her!! Ya, it sounds weird, but I loved it and was so amazed at how easy it was to just pour my heart out to her.
Do her hair (if you can!) – Due to my daughters condition she had very little hair, but it would have been very fun for me to have “done” her hair (at least as much as you can “do” a baby’s hair!). Instead, both me and my wife took a turn and cut off a very small lock of hair that we now have displayed in her shadow box.
Read to her – I think this one is probably pretty obvious, but should still be noted! I had 2 books that I very much wanted to read to her; one of which my wife had personalized through a website so it was extra special!
Sing to her – I am not much of a singer…I sing in the shower and in the car, but given that it was Christmas time it felt fitting to sing Christmas carols to her!
Foot and hand prints – This was one of my favorite things to do!! We requested some of the ink pads that the nurses use to do foot and hand prints and they brought us a bunch!! I had my mom go to the craft store and buy some cute cardstock, then I had so much fun making my daughters hand and foot prints! My favorite was to do several footprints across the paper as if she had walked across it. I have one of these framed and hanging in my office at work!
For boys – Obviously I don’t have any real experience with this, but here are some things I think I would have done if we had a son.
Hunted – I am a big time bird hunter and can’t wait for the day I can take my boys hunting with me! I like to think that if my angel baby had been a boy I would have brought a toy gun and we would have sat in the window of our room and shot all the ducks and geese that flew by!
Fly fishing – Another one of my biggest hobbies is fly fishing. This one may have been a little trickier, but at the very least, we would have watched a couple of good fishing videos together!
Sports – I am also big into sports, specifically hockey, football, and golf!! I would have loved to bring in little toy hockey sticks, footballs, and golf clubs and played sports with my boy!
Basically what it boils down to is while you have time with your baby now, do those things that you have always looked forward to doing with them, even if it is goofy to do it in a hospital room, they are fun memories that you will cherish forever!
8. Make sure your wife is taken care of – Like I said earlier, my main concern was making sure my wife was well taken care of. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they seem silly or too difficult to verbalize. And don’t be afraid to tell the Dr’s, nurses, and other hospital staff what you want. If you want to cut your baby’s umbilical cord, tell them; don’t let yourself regret something for the rest of your life because you were worried about asking. This is your baby and you have the right to make sure everything goes as well as it can
9. The Little Things (advice specifically for family and friends) – Really what it all boils down to is offering support wherever and however you know how. Do whatever you can to show the dad that you love him and are there for him no matter what. Even the little things make a HUGE difference! I like junk food way too much…especially Mt Dew, so the day my baby was born my sister showed up to the hospital with a goodie bag chock full of all of my favorite treats, and of course, a bottle of Mt Dew. They next day, my brother showed up with a 12 pack of Dew and a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (my favorite candy). These are just 2 examples of seemingly little things that had a significant impact on me, but I could go on and on about the “small” things all of our family did for us not only while we were in the hospital, but for weeks and months leading up to and following our baby girls birth and passing, and even still do today that had a profound impact on me. Even if it is just a would-be casual comment or question about my daughter, or a compliment on how cute she is, or wishing me a happy Father’s Day, these things are great because it shows me that you care. Offer whatever you can to show your love and support, no matter how insignificant you think it may be. Also take some time to write down your thoughts and memories. We asked our family members to jot down some special things they remembered about the day and it always fun to go back and read these; especially since it is coming from another perspective and many of these memories may be things that we didn't notice in the moment.
I hope that some of these thoughts and idea’s can help you dad’s who are going through similar trials; or for those of you reading this because a loved one is suffering, hopefully these idea’s can help you provide support and comfort to them, because really, that’s what it boils down to. Be there for your loved one, offer support however you know how, because that is what really matters in the end.