Three years ago, I joined the shittiest club in the world. I thought this club would make me "better." You know, heal all the wounds I had experienced; whatever that means. I'm getting ahead of myself though - you see, three years ago we lost a child.
We already had two healthy, alive children, and we weren't expecting anything different with this one either. My wife was eight days overdue with our third, and we were prepared. The kids were ready, the room and crib were prepared, the holy-shit-it's-time-hospital bag was packed and ready to go. We were ready.
Until we weren't.
The morning after our perfectly normal and uneventful ultrasound, my wife began to have contractions. It was a bit of a shock…up until this time, we had only experienced the subtle art of the induction to gently coax our first two children out of my wife's comfortable womb. I got the text from my wife and swooped into the house like some sort of super-hero. I whisked the kids away and started to mentally prepare myself for child number three.
The midwives showed up at our house to see how my wife was doing. They laid my wife down on the couch and took out their ultrasound machines. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, the machine came to life as it frantically searched for the baby's heartbeat.
Only, they couldn't find one.
The hospital was called as we rushed to the hospital where, minutes later, our son was born.
Straight into the hands of God.
My ears searched desperately for the sound of our son's cry as he would clear the fluid in his lungs and announce his arrival, but the only sound I could hear was my heart breaking.
Shortly after we lost our son Ezra, I ran into an old friend who had heard the news. "I'm really sorry for your loss, Jason," he said, "Welcome to the world's shittiest club."
The only response I could muster was, "At least there is a club."
October is our club's month - Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. It's a club that no one wants to join, but honestly, I'm happy it exists. There's something about the support of others that is so critical when you've experienced your heart breaking. That's one of the reasons I share my story every opportunity I get: So that others will know that they are not alone in their grief and loss.
When we lost Ezra, I became the Public Relations guy in our household. When family, friends, neighbours, or even complete strangers would come to the door, I was the one to fill them in on the details of how we were doing. When there were Facebook messages, texts, phone calls, it was me who answered. My wife and I made the conscious decision to do this. She had just had our third child and not only was she healing from the physical trauma of having a stillbirth, but also the emotional. I can only imagine what it is like to do what she did (and so many other women do). So we both did what we had to do, she went into recovery mode because she had too, and I went into PR mode because I had too.
For me, that meant putting aside my grief for the time being so that I could help my family, address the questions that people asked, and give information to those who needed it without having a full-on breakdown each time there was an interaction.
A question I would often get was, "How's your wife and kids doing?" People were thinking of us, wanted to help, and try and offer something that might make our lives earlier. It was great to see our community rally around us to provide further care for my wife and living children. A question I didn't get too often though was, "How are you doing with all of this?" After all, I had put on my bravery mask, made it look like everything was okay with me, and tried to comfort and protect my family as much as possible. And since I had put my grief on the back-burner, it wasn't very obvious that I was hurting.
Men and women grieve differently. Our experiences surrounding pregnancy are entirely different.
Regardless of your gender, being a parent of a heaven baby can be isolating and lonely. It's a subject that we don't talk about very often because it makes people feel uncomfortable. Heck, it can even make me feel uncomfortable. There's a stigma out there, especially for men, that we have to be tough and strong. So we tell ourselves lies like tears are a sign of weakness. That if we were more of a man, we could have stopped this. That we're strong enough to carry our whole families hurt and pain on our shoulders. That we don't need to deal with any of the things that are happening inside of us.
We tell ourselves that if we are stoic enough, that this too will pass. All those emotions, hurts, pains, fears - we have to shove them down until they don't bother us anymore. So we put on our bravery mask and hope that no one asks us how we are doing. And even if they do, we already have a canned response, "I'm doing alright."
But it's all a lie.
You want to know what takes strength and courage? Asking your wife how her heart is doing and giving your response to the same question. It's crying with the kids because you're just as broken. It's accepting the meal from someone who wants to help you because you'll forget to cook a meal at some point. It's embracing the hugs that you'll get because they are all-kinds-of-healing. It's telling your good guy friend how you're doing. It's getting a counsellor or therapist because you don't know who else to talk to, but you know you need to get it all out.
That shit is strong. That shit is courageous.
But you want to hear an even bigger secret? You can't do it alone. It's why there's a club. I'll be honest; I wish we all weren't a part of this club.
But here we are.
You are worthy as you are. You are loved as you are.
Jason Dykstra is a dad of four (three living), husband to one, and helper to many. Jason is a conflict management and leadership development specialist and has been chronicling his family journey over at They Call Me Dad. You can find him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube to chat more.