A Father’s Perspective

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[Site Creator’s Note: this story was borrowed in its entirety from this online location (Addie’s Gift Foundation), where Dr. Gatto owns and operates his own online bereavement support, including support for fathers, where you are invited to visit for additional support]

Told by: Dr. Robert J. Gatto, Jr.

On April 8, 2008 my wife, kids and I lost a full term baby girl named “Adalyn Kathryn”.  I have
lost loved ones before.  Some were lost tragically and some were not.  With the older ones I always said, “well, he lived a good life” or “boy, we’ll miss her…but at least she isn’t suffering any more.”
With the younger ones I often said, “how tragic” or “that’s too bad”. 

As is customary with human nature, I often thought I hope my own children, relatives or friends take care of
themselves and make good decisions.


Losing a child is a completely unique experience, which is so abstract that most can’t comprehend the gravity of it.  To those without children, it may be even harder to grasp.  It is easy to think that a baby who never blinks their eyes would be easier to grieve, or even forget, than one which reciprocates with human movement or emotion.  I say that is simply not the case.


You prepare for months for the coming arrival.  You spend a few nights swearing over the Chinese-made crib assembly.  You fold the towels and onesies.  You pick up newborn diapers every time you go for groceries thinking that you are being fiscally shrewd.  Then the news comes and the bottom falls out from the comfy-cozy nest you have constructed.


Feelings of stupidity abound.  Why in the heck did I buy those diapers?  I wonder who could use them? 


My wife was sent home to regroup after the news of the baby’s death. I came home from work and we made some quick arrangements.  Then we were off to the hospital for the induction.  We never thought about the decisions to come.  Would we hold the baby?  Should we use the name we picked out or save it?  What about baptism?  Then you start to make yourself feel guilty.  What kind of selfish jerk am I actually considering the use of the name for another baby?


There was an air of denial in the birthing chamber.  At times we had discussions about things unrelated to the issue at hand.  My wife prayed that the tests were wrong.  I suppose that must be a defense mechanism of some kind.  Selye’s stress adaptation response was in full effect.  Fight or flight carried us through the birth.  When the baby came there was a surge of emotion both because of tiredness and the sadness associated with seeing a dead baby.


I cried and did not want to let go of Addie.  I continued to tell her I loved her as if some invisible part of her soul was lingering around the room to hear me.  She was warm and soft at first because moments before she was snuggled in my wife’s womb.  It was almost as if she would wake up.  Her chin and jaw were supple and when you moved her it looked like she was suckling.
She looked like my other kids when they were born. 


Within the hour she was changing.  Still beautiful, but the rosy glow of her flesh had disappeared.  We had her
baptized by our priest who made a special trip from the next town prior to his 9:00 AM mass.


Men and women grieve differently.  My wife kept asking “Why did this happen?”  I was sad and then I got
mad.  I cursed God, asking what our family did to deserve such a crap storm.
I would rant and rave and then feel guilty.  What did I do?  I had better apologize and ask for forgiveness or I might spend eternity in damnation!  This went on for several weeks.  After a while, I realized that my beef with
God was some kind of transference of anger, which really had no other target. 

Turning to God became helpful.  At first, however, asking God for help felt like giving into the enemy!
Like he had stolen something from me.


Now we visit the cemetery every few days.  We water the flowers there.  Our four and two year old children actually
run around and play.  My wife cries in public, I do so in private.  Speaking of the events to literally thousands of patients over the last few months has helped me come to terms with my feelings.


As a father, the loss of a baby can bring on feelings of efficacy.  You are supposed to protect your children, but in this case I was stripped of that God given duty.  You are truly humbled by the way that life can turn on a dime.


I believe that I will always mourn our loss.  I will wonder what Addie would have been like.  At times I can still get a little angry but I still have faith.  I have to remember not to take it out on my family, as I do sometimes when I have been thinking.  I realize how precious each life actually is and hope that such a thing never has to happen to anyone I know again.


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