Grief, A fathers’ perspective

Authors Note, In this post, I talk about losing our second child prematurely through Stillbirth, while it doesn’t contain the “mechanical” aspects of the loss, it does touch on very sensitive subjects. I have links put links at the bottom of this page, and you can also approach me at any time.

Caitlin Rose Smith

The last time I felt so desperate to breathe was when I was 8 years old, myself and a few mates were swimming in a neighbours’ swimming pool on a hot sultry summers day, and an older teenage boy was there, and we were teasing him about being a bodybuilder (we used to call him Hercules). He suddenly lunged across the pool snatching me by my shoulders and in one move thrust me under the water. The first few seconds I thought he would let me up, however, seconds seem to drag, and suddenly I started to panic, I needed to breathe, I needed air, then a surreal feeling, what if I drown? I was overwhelmed by the need for air. The chlorine stung my eyes and burnt my nostrils and I started to punch at him, but his fingers dug deeper into my flesh. I could see some of my friends come and start hitting him with their fists and screaming at him. In due course, he relaxed his grip on my shoulders and grabbed my hair and hauled me to the surface. I cursed him as I crawled out of the pool, spitting out water, feeling belittled and beaten.

Fast-forward to the year 2,000. I find myself with the same feeling, drowning this time not in the water, but still out of my depth. I am looking for relief from the drowning feeling that is dragging me down, suffocating me. Compression on my vitals, makes me feel like I will explode.

But there is no one, there are no mates screaming at my foe, I am alone, out of my depth, and drowning in grief. I walk around the house, it is 2.30 AM, the moonless sky enveloping my mind and spirit And in a hospital room 80 Kilometres away, my wife is lying in a stuffy ward, coming to grips with her/mine/our own personal tragedy. In the room down the hall, our 3-year-old daughter is sleeping peacefully, she has now grown accustomed to her Mommy being in hospital.

How do you come to terms with the death of a child? How do you reconcile the feeling of hopelessness when the role of a father is to protect your offspring?

The deep feeling of failure, the biological imprint of our ancestors is to nurture and protect, what if you can’t do either?

And in an instance, I am transported back to the swimming pool, forces greater than all the strength I can muster pull me under, I struggle and silently scream, but just like being underwater, my cries are soundless and unheeded.

I want to breathe, I don’t want to panic, I need to be in control, I want my baby girl to have life in her bones.

My mind goes back to her perfect body, her wee fingers, ears, and eyes, all still, so complete, yet incomplete, a shell where the breath of life has left.

Grief is a powerful force, one that rears up from any direction, and at lightspeed plunges its laser-sharp sword deep inside my soul.

The 18 hours in the delivery suite became an endurance that would rival anything I had suffered; the room became a bitter and tragic place.

The sense that our little girl would never see the green earth, never have the wonder of seeing a bird fly, or see the swell of an ocean, gave me grief for her loss.

And then holding her, thinking I needed to be strong for Nicky, thinking my own grief is not why I am here. Prior to the final act, I was a mess & I was losing control, and it was spiralling Nicky into a panic.

The presiding Dr took me out to the corridor, “What are you doing man?” he scolded me placing two strong hands clasping my shoulders, “You must pull yourself together, you must be strong, you must be…” And in an instant, He was Hercules, pushing me under, except this time he was demanding that I hold my breath, for as long as it took.

I ended up being good at holding my breath, I found I could do it any time the pain came to visit, I could distract my brain, isolate the grief, and compartmentalize it into a small box hidden in the depths of my psyche.

My grief was multi-faceted, my own sense of loss was overshadowed by my wife’s, her body in the cruel grips of hyperemesis gravidarum she had carried Caitlin and then having to deliver her now still heart. Knowing that the life force had left the small body we had planned and hoped for, made the struggle transcend the normal pain of childbirth, knowing that the delivery was undeniable, but necessary, knowing that the mechanics of life had to be fulfilled.

My grief extended to our oldest daughter who would now forever be an only child, no sister to grow with, to share the burden of life, to fight with, and to ultimately grow old with.

Stashing away the pain in my souls’ darkest vault, I only twisted the combination lock open occasionally and that was usually by accident when I was rummaging through my memories for something else.

Feeling unable to balance the pain, I found a way to push the grief deeper, into the darkest recesses, but then tortured myself that I was the life of our daughter, without betraying her memory, without wanting to waste the lifeforce she had so briefly occupied.

Life is brutal, as it is beautiful, Life is terrible, as it is terrific. The dark and light of life are what compels the human heart to survive.

I know now that no matter how small I compress my grief, no matter how long I can hold my breath, no matter how hard I try to not cry, eventually, every cloud must burst, every lung must be satisfied for air, or it will expire and collapse upon itself.

Now 22 years later, I can breathe, but still the grief is close, this is ok, this is good.

In a recent time of deep meditation, I felt Caitlin’s presence, she was part of a beautiful silver mesh that encompassed the world. I must accept that life can span 0 to 120+ years. And that everything we go through is to take us deeper into understanding ourselves, which leads to understanding the world around us.

I can only share my story and urge you to not shy away from grief or pain, but rather let it be, and have no judgement nor expectation of it.

I dedicate this to my wife and two daughters, one I have now, and one that has gone ahead.

“When two heartbeats become one”


(My wife had carried our daughter bravely but suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum and it became obvious that a full-term pregnancy was not viable, Nicky had become so ill and lost over 6 KGs during the first 20 weeks and in that time our baby girl passed away.)

Also heartfelt thanks to the family and friends and medical professionals that surrounded us, during and from this time. Without you, we would not have made it.

A big shout out to SANDs in NZ that came without judgment or discrimination

For more understanding

For other true stories


  1. Arohanui Carl and Nicky and your precious daughters, you share a beautiful window of courage, pain and strength, such a privilege to know you, Aroha and blessings

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