In the past I always had a good relationship with my Dad. He’s the type of parent that you felt could solve any problem. No matter what went wrong, I always knew that once I got my Dad involved it would be sorted out! The situation would either be problem solved, or there would be another way of looking at it that made it ok.
Losing Isobel has been the first situation that my parents can’t resolve for me, either by fixing it or by changing my perspective. My Mum has responded to this with love and emotional support. My Dad however has struggled. ‘Struggled’ is me being charitable. On an emotional level my Dad has been useless – actually worse than useless, as he has actively hurt me on a number of occasions. Before I start that rant, I must say that my Dad quietly paid for Isobel’s funeral and our cemetery plot without being asked to. He helped me sort out my tax return when I couldn’t face it. He came and put a nail in the wall so we could hang a portrait we got for our wedding. If I needed something ‘done’, he would be the man to do it. If this practical support was accompanied by silence on the subject of Isobel, I think I could accept it without much upset. Unfortunately he has seen fit to express his views about the situation, all of which have been extremely hurtful to me.
It started with him saying that Isobel “just wasn’t meant to be”. I can understand someone saying that about something that never happened, an unsuccessful job interview, putting a bid on a house that fell through or something like that. How he could think that about my perfectly grown, perfectly formed 7lb2 baby that when she died was four weeks older than my nephew (who my Dad adores) was when he was born, was beyond me. When he went on to talk about ‘fate’ I just explained that I didn’t believe in any of that and certainly there was no destiny or fate positive enough to make the experience of losing my first born daughter acceptable.
Isobel became the elephant in the room. An unspoken change in our dynamic. When I phoned home and Dad answered, he would immediately pass the phone to Mum as if he were terrified to talk to me or ask how I was doing. Once I rang home upset and as usual he hastily got out of talking to me. Later he sent me a text with a joke about owls. I appreciated the sentiment but wondered at the emotional ability missing that he wasn’t able to text me saying “Sorry you were upset earlier, how are you doing now?” Other times he texts me about the progress of Arsenal, the football team that Simon, not me, supports. This is the sum total of most of our contact.
When I found out I was pregnant again, I didn’t tell my parents for a time. When I told my Mum, we agreed not to tell my Dad for another couple of weeks. My Mum then told him I think when I was around 12 weeks. That was 7 weeks ago and not once has he mentioned my current pregnancy or asked me how I am feeling or coping. When I was at home over Christmas he offered me wine, when I said I wasn’t drinking he said “getting pissed” would probably do me good. It seemed like he couldn’t tolerate the thought of me being pregnant again and so was just pretending it wasn’t the case.
All of this is nothing compared to what he came out with yesterday. It all started with the magazine below. This is the article about stillbirth that Simon and I were interviewed for in November but the magazine just came out this week.
I brought it to show my parents, as its not available to buy in their area. My Dad declined to look at the magazine and then progressed on to a monologue about how we shouldn’t still be talking about Isobel and dwelling on it, concluding that this was unhealthy. In his opinion, we should have drawn a line under her death and moved on by now (bear in mind it has been just over six months since Isobel died). His opinion was that the days when stillborn babies were immediately removed from parents and never spoken of again were much better. He made some horrible comments about the fact that we spent four days with Isobel before she was buried and said that he thought this was damaging for us and was probably the reason we weren’t over it yet. He talked about her and how she looked as if she was a monster, saying her face still gives him nightmares and he wishes he wasn’t forced to see her body. He couldn’t believe the magazine printed her picture, saying it would terrify people. He said she wasn’t a real person as she never lived and therefore should not be grieved.
Where do I start with all of that?! I tried to explain that in the days people didn’t hold their babies or talk about stillbirth they were still devastated and heartbroken, just silently, and that they probably developed greater psychological difficulties as a result of the repression. I explained that I never have nightmares about Isobel’s face as its not an image I try to avoid or push away, unlike him, which is why it’s one that comes up for him unwanted. I said that it benefits Simon and I to talk about Isobel and to speak about stillbirth as it helps us to feel that her short life could still impact the world in a positive way. It felt like a pointless discussion though, where my views were not being listened to.
The icing on the cake was my Dad saying that if I want this baby to survive I need to eat meat, and how unhealthy it is to be a vegetarian. Clearly the implication of this is that Isobel died because I didn’t eat meat during her pregnancy. Of course I know this is complete nonsense. I eat perfectly well and my iron levels are always high. Isobel had no growth problems and all her organs were perfectly developed. She was a healthy baby, killed by a crappy placenta that stopped working. It still was so hurtful that he would blame me in that way for my baby’s death. By my Mum’s reaction it was clearly a view he had expressed to her previously.
I held it together until I left my parents’ house and then still while I drove home. Once I got home though I was really upset. I am working so hard everyday to try and cope in healthy ways, to express my emotions, to process my feelings, to confront challenging situations – it’s exhausting. To have that criticised by one of the people who should be cheering me on, so proud that I am still functioning, was really devestating. I can tolerate the idea that Dad is grieving too and lacks the emotional literacy to communicate that, so has convinced himself that pretending she never existed is best for him and would be best for us. I just don’t know if I can forget the things he said. I feel like I’ve lost my Dad as well as losing Isobel.