Submitted by Eric
My partner, Jill, and I struggled with infertility for several years before we finally received a positive pregnancy result. This day was the happiest day of my life. However, it would be short-lived. During the fetal anatomy ultrasound at 19 weeks into the pregnancy, we learned that our daughter, Hadley Maeve, had several severe brain malformations. We learned over the next four weeks, her prognosis was “grim”, and if she were even to make it full term – which they believed to be highly unlikely – she would have a shortened lifespan; would likely not be able to see or hear; would not recognize us; would be unable to sit, stand or walk; would never live independently; would undergo many medical procedures in order to keep her alive, none of which would help to improve her condition; would have uncontrollable seizures which could not be ameliorated by medication; would not be able to breathe or eat on her own; and would be in pain and suffering during the entirety of her short life.
So, my partner and I made the decision that no parent should ever have to make and chose to spare her any pain by inducing labor early at 23 weeks gestation.
One of the things I kept thinking of when I knew that Hadley wasn’t meant to stay in this world, was that I would never get to feel her hold my hand or finger. I was so jealous that my partner was able to carry her, and have that contact with her, but that I would have nothing. On February 19, 2021, at 2:08 p.m., our beautiful Hadley Maeve was born alive, if only for a few precious moments. In those moments with us, as she lay on Jill’s chest, she recognized Jill’s touch, and squeezed my finger. My heart melted, and I think about that amazing gift she gave to me every day. Hadley passed shortly thereafter, and we spent the next 48 hours with her, holding her, caressing her, dressing her, swaddling her, reading to her, singing to her, taking pictures with her, and cherishing every moment we could, knowing that we only had a short time to create a lifetime of memories with her.
I tell people that when a parent loses a child, their entire world turns upside down. I’ve described it to others as feeling as though a piece of your soul has been pulled from your gut. Parents are not supposed to survive their children. In my naivete, I believed that to be a truism, but many of us who have peeked beyond this veil of ignorance know this not to be so. As a society, we are not taught to grieve, to express the level of sorrow that accompanies loss. This is in part due to how Western culture deals with death, dying, and grief. The Western approach – incorrectly – has been to “fix” those who are grieving, believing it to be a deviation from the norm; something that is abnormal; something that needs to be fixed. In actuality, grief just is, it just needs to be, and it is a part of all of our lives, whether we chose to admit it or not. The truth is that grief and loss make indelible marks on each of our lives, shaping us into who we are at this very moment.
After our loss, we reached out to Carol McMurrich over at Empty Arms Bereavement Support. This organization has been integral in our grief journey. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several closed dad’s groups through Empty Arms, and nearly two years out from our loss, have now shifted into the role of being a facilitator of that group. I am honored to fulfill that role and continue to learn from fellow loss dads every time we meet to discuss dads’ unique grief experiences.
Apart from Empty Arms, my time in nature and my work with the elements, and energy medicine have been fundamental in my grief journey. I enjoy working with other practitioners to develop and host workshops for fellow loss parents. Through ritual and community, we work to restore balance in our lives and to visit our healing process.
If you’re interested, I would be honored to speak with you and to share my experiences and journey with you and your audience through the podcast. Whatever I can do to help and support fellow sad dads everywhere…I’m in!
Thank you so much for creating this space to honor the unique experience that loss dads go through.
Many blessings to you.
Eric Atstupenas (Hadley Maeve’s Dad)