Dads grapple with grief

Volunteer support can have an amazing impact, writes Ross Larkin.

Volunteer support can have an amazing impact, writes Ross Larkin.

Fathers of stillborn babies are speaking out about a lack of male peer and volunteer support in a female dominated area, in an effort to make changes following International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

While the struggle of losing a baby is being addressed through support groups and awareness campaigns, the focus has traditionally been on the grieving mother while husbands support their wives through the ordeal.

However, volunteer Scott McCurdy of Sands Australia, an organisation dedicated to supporting parents grieving the loss of a baby, feels bereft fathers must receive their own level of consideration, and is calling for more male volunteers to get involved.

"I really think it would make it easier if there were more men involved and more men to be aware that babies can die after the 12-week gestation period," says McCurdy, whose baby girl was stillborn.

McCurdy says part of the struggle for fathers, and one of several reasons for needing more male support is that men cannot physically bond with their unborn baby like their wives.

"We can't physically feel it as blokes ... It's a lot harder for women and they do need more work and help afterwards, but we [men] can't bond with that baby properly until it's in our arms."

Lance Lieschke, a Sands volunteer and father to stillborn son, Toby, says stereotypical gender roles play a part in men not volunteering for support groups.

"Men don't like to talk about things, they bottle it up inside them . . . they don't want to be seen to be seeking help, they want to be seen to be strong for the mother and wife," he says.

Following the death of his son, Lieschke says support groups were available and helpful, but lacking male peers to which he could directly relate.

"It was daunting listening to everyone's stories. My wife got a lot more out of it than I did," Lieschke says. "She was able to verbalise our situation better than myself."

International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day was on October 15, and is an annual event to help parents who have experienced such a loss to move through their grief more quickly.

"It's a way to let parents grieve," he says. "You're always grieving - you may not show it outwardly, but inwardly you've always got that sense of loss there."

There were various events around the country, including candle-lighting ceremonies, to honour children lost through stillbirth or infant death.

However, McCurdy, who has become a role model for men in need of guidance through his volunteer work with Sands, says more awareness of the different struggle for men as compared with women is important, and he is encouraging more male volunteers to jump on board.

"From a father's perspective it is more about helping other fathers," he says. "I believe it [volunteering for Sands] has made me a stronger person and I feel very confident and proud to talk about my girl.

"I think the fact I can talk about it so honestly and openly has helped other fathers to deal with it."

McCurdy, who works for a leading Australian sales and marketing company, says the number of other fathers of stillborn babies he has encountered in his sector alone is staggering.

"I've got a field force of around 700 people, and out of those ... this has happened to 120 of them. Yet none of these people have ever mentioned it to anyone else."

Fathers who have experienced the loss of a baby, who would like to find out more about volunteering for Sands Australia can visit sands.org.au/get-involved or call 1300 072 637.

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