The regional branch of SANDS, the stillborn and neonatal death charity, is reaching out to grieving fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles across the region throughout this month.
Kenny Carruthers, of Johnstonebridge, is the first and only male befriender at SANDS Dumfries, where his wife Alison is the chairwoman. They are both helping organise a series of events over the next few weeks designed specifically for men affected by a baby loss. The programme kicked off with a cycle run last night and will also include a golf night on June 13, a forest walk on June 20 and a family picnic and walk on June 30. Kenny hopes they will provide a safe space for men to express their feelings, if they wish, or just simply to be with others who have been in the same situation.
Unfortunately he knows all too well the heartache of losing a baby. Sharing his story, he said: “In 2013 we were preparing to become parents for the first time. The whole pregnancy Ali took in her stride and was healthy throughout. On the morning of December 5 Ali’s waters broke at home and that’s when I knew our lives would change forever, but not the way I expected.
“We would rush on to Cresswell and prepare for baby, labour began to progress well and the maternity ward was unusually quiet. She was in labour for several hours but things stopped progressing, all of a sudden Ali was taken out of the bath onto a bed where she was wired up. The room was full of doctors and midwives. Baby’s heart was still strong but there were concerns over Ali’s health so the doctors recommended that we go for a Caesarian section to deliver the baby.”
He accompanied his wife to theatre and remembers: “I was in the changing rooms to get into scrubs and I had time to think again about how life was going be as a family of three.
“I was called through and the surgeon went through all the observations. The baby’s heartbeat was still strong as the procedure began. I was sitting next to Ali comforting her and waiting for that first cry. Time seem to take an age.
“I remember seeing a auxiliary nurse in the corner of my eye shaking uncontrollably and not even in that moment did it cross my mind. It wasn’t until a doctor came to us and explained to us that our baby had died.”
Shortly afterwards he got to hold his daughter for the first time. Describing his emotions, Kenny said: “I was distraught, shocked, but also relieved that Ali was safe. That evening we named our little girl Bethany. A week later we left the hospital with just a memory box and no baby.”
He found being at home “very difficult”, saying: “I tried my best to support Ali but I found it difficult to know what to say and how to move forward while grieving for the loss of Bethany.” Not long after he heard about SANDS and suggested the couple make contact. He found their support invaluable and said: “I was given the opportunity to express my feelings which was very hard and something I don’t tend to do. I was able to talk to other bereaved fathers in a similar situation and share stories.”
Since then the couple have continued to be involved with the group, with Alison initially training as a befriender three years ago and Kenny following suit. “The group didn’t have a male befriender beforehand and I know a lot of guys find it hard to talk about their feelings. So hopefully with a fellow father in the room, it will encourage men to talk,” he said. “I think men tend to have the attitude of suck it up and carry on. They get back to work ASAP to take their mind off it and they often bottle up feelings and emotions and be the rock. I did this and I found that it doesn’t help.”
Discussing society’s treatment of men following a stillbirth, he added: “A lot of people would come up to me and ask “how is Ali”. That didn’t really bother me but the fact of the matter is we both lost a child.
“Not all men are as strong as others, there is a lot more known now about mental health and how situations can easily get on top of people.”
He firmly believes affected fathers need exactly the same support as the mothers, saying: “It shouldn’t be any different but I think men find it hard to come along to support groups because of all the reasons I mentioned before. We can offer support over the phone, face to face or even just an email. It can be an opportunity to express themselves and hear from other guys about their experiences.” And his message to other dads in the same situation? “Don’t just bottle up thoughts and feelings, it only catches you up at a later date and, at a time you least expect, something will be a trigger. Sometimes men can get hung up looking after our partners and forget to look after ourselves.
“It is a situation that needs to be worked through together.”
Kenny hopes this month’s awareness events will reach more bereaved fathers in the area and encourage them to contact Sands and in the future he would also like to see specialist sibling support developed as well.
Sands: 07864 709228