I still remember the exact moment so clearly. I had already seen him at the first scan, moving so freely inside my partner’s stomach. But this time, the screen showed his body, not moving. The member of staff couldn’t find his heartbeat, either.
I already knew my baby son had died. I didn’t want them to say it, but I knew. The member of staff went to go get a doctor, who took another look. After a few moments she looked at my wife.
“I’m sorry but your baby has died”.
Really, the next few hours, and next few days were a blur. When a baby passes away later in a pregnancy, there body still had to be delivered. Going into the hospital to do just that with my wife, I felt a mixture of complete fear, but I also told myself that now wasn’t the time for me to show that. My wife and whole family were in bits and lots of people had told me I needed to be the ‘strong one’. I didn’t know what else to do, so all I focused on was being a good husband, a good son and a good son in law.
We spent two awful days in the hospital. The staff were unbelievable, but I didn’t sleep and barley left the room my wife was confined to, for around 30 hours. My wife had been largely ‘out of it’ whilst the delivery took place due to the cocktail of drugs she was on for pain and to help with the process, yet I had sat and see everything. We were both completely crushed and floored by the whole chain of events.
In the days that followed my wife was the focus of attention and understandably so. Physically it was a huge ordeal for her and neo-natal depression can become a huge issue for many mothers who loose children to still birth. But still, inside I was in complete bits. The pain was unreal. Yet all anyone really said to me was ‘be strong’. I tried my best.
Work pressured me almost immediately to return, within days. They told me the routine would do me good. Now, I had to be ‘strong’, and I felt, not being at work, I was being weak. I didn’t want to leave my wife, who would still break down regularly, but I thought it was what I would have to do. I returned, but made constant mistakes. I kept drifting off, staring into space
I kept writing, I kept chasing stories as well, out of my day-today work. I’ve always written and been good at it. I love doing it. Maybe that could help, I hoped. So I wrote stories which editors would tell me were unreadable. I’d read them back and the sentences didn’t make sense. I was misspelling basic words. It was taking me hours to write something it’d normally take me half an hour.
I felt completely hopeless. Aside from my wife, I felt nobody cared about what I was dealing with. That was irrational, and I knew it was, but I began to just feel angry. People didn’t want to listen to me or deal with me. I began to imagine what people were thinking of me. That the father’s pain is fleeting and easily overcome. If it bothers you after a certain time then you aren’t a ‘strong’ person.
Thankfully, I had salivation and an outlet. I had always loved boxing. I’d taken up the sport very late, as the age of 23. It was too late really to become great at it, but I had plugged away at it and become proficient. I had sparred some professional boxers and some very good, title wining amateurs. They got the better of me, but I held my own.
After we lost the baby, I found it hard to return to the gym. I went back almost the week after and was exhausted within the first 10 minutes. It felt like another thing that had been affected.
But my coaches coaxed me through it. They stood by me. The boxers in the gym asked me how I was. They asked how my wife was. They asked what they could do to help me. The owner of the gym told me I could use the gym whenever I pleased free of charge. They trained me one on one, talking to me and helping me regain confidence.
But it came to sparring again and I just couldn’t do it. Hurting people, even in a sport, just wasn’t something I felt capable of doing anymore. I could take my anger and rage out on bags and pads, they could become whatever or whoever I envisioned. But, I couldn’t hurt people I had grown to respect even more.
Instead, I was asked if I wanted to become a coach, mainly with the large number of junior amateur boxers we have. I’d always wanted to try coaching. But with kids? So soon after losing my son? I wasn’t sure.
But I decided I owed the gym, which had been my home from home since the loss. So I did the course, which was tough. Unsurprisingly, England boxing want to make sure people teaching kids a dangerous sport know what they are doing.
I passed, but at first I wasn’t great, my confidence was still shot. I stumbled over words and didn’t know how to deal with all these kids, eager to learn a new skill and a new sport.
But my confidence slowly grew and returned. The kids began to respond to me and myself and me and the three other coaches gelled wonderfully. My proudest moment was seeing two kids, one girl, one boy, go from coming in as complete novices to being able to box. It was amazing feeling that I had showed them the basics and welcomed them when they first came in, and now they were disciplined, focussed and self assured. They asked me to do extra work with them, and I’d try cheering them up after they made an error or felt they weren’t sparring well.
To try turn a negative into a positive, I also ran the abbey dash 10k, for SANDs, a great charity, and rose well over a thousand pounds. But I probably wouldn’t have felt confident enough to do so if it wasn’t for those kids, and the respect and time they gave to me. But I felt some sense of closure when I passed the finish line. In my sons memory, at least an often over looked charity had received some money and some attention.
Things are still tough. It often takes people around 12 months to finally come to terms with such a traumatic and unexpected loss. But I’m, getting there, thanks to boxing and putting something back into the community. Sometimes OI wonderer if Oscar, what we named our son, would have enjoyed boxing when he got old enough. I don’t know, but the kids I work with now make me burst with enough pride.
I just wish I could back and tell myself that nobody has the right to tell you how to think, feel or behave. Nobody is under any obligation to be ‘strong’. Eventually you’ll feel something like your old self. How and when you get there, is up to you, and only you.
Words by James Oddy.