Fathers and Perinatal Loss Pt. 10: Dennis

Tracy Schaperow, Psy.D.

Tracy Schaperow

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

This article is part of a larger work.

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The Interview

The interview occurred in two sessions, one week apart. The first meeting lasted one and one-half hours while the second meeting lasted one hour. Dennis was articulate and answered questions enthusiastically throughout both interviews. When he described the loss, he was tearful and provided great detail. He repeatedly stated that he missed Susan “a whole lot.”

The following several paragraphs summarize Dennis’s interview, describing his desire for children, feelings about his wife’s pregnancy, his initial responses to Susan’s death, his responses for the first year after her death, and his responses three years after her death. Later, sections that summarize his PGS scores and his projective test results will be presented.

Desire for Children. One of Dennis’s most apparent themes was his strong desire to have children. As early as age ten, he wanted “six or more” children. Illustrating Dennis’s desire is a memory that he described from when he was twelve. He stated, “I remember looking at the baby bottle going down the aisles shopping. And I said to my mom, ‘You know, I can’t wait until I have a baby.’ So I always wanted kids.” In addition to thinking about having children, Dennis also imagined what he would be like as a father. He fantasized about being a “cool dad” as well as being like his own father (he did not describe his own father).

Dennis’s Experiences During the Pregnancy. Dennis experienced a variety of strong feelings about his wife’s pregnancy. He was glad that she was pregnant, stating repeatedly, “I think it’s cool and love when she is pregnant.” He enjoyed hugging her when she was pregnant because “I hold her and she just feels sturdier . . . like there’s something to hold on to.” Another emotion that Dennis described was anxiety. He was scared that his wife might become sick or die from medical complications. In addition, he described a sense of responsibility for his wife’s welfare during her pregnancy, stating, “When she get’s morning sickness I feel like it’s my fault because it’s my baby.” Dennis felt that if his wife was injured or died during the pregnancy, he would feel guilty because it was his “fault” that she was pregnant.

An important experience for Dennis during the pregnancy was being able to bond with his baby while she was still alive. He was excited to be able to see her move (in utero) before she died. The following statements further illustrate this bonding experience:

The times I felt Susan – my wife would put a cereal bowl on her, cereal bowl on her in the evening when she had cereal. I remember putting the bowl on her tummy and she’s kicking. The bowl would move. And that was the only time I got to see her . . .do something. You know, like move. You know . . .move.

Initial Responses to Susan’s Death. When Dennis first learned that Susan had died, he used denial to postpone facing her death. To illustrate, he described his thoughts when he first found out: “They were wrong. They had to be wrong. Even though it was a doctor looking at our baby right there, I was in denial up until I held her in my arms.”

Another one of Dennis’s early thoughts upon learning that Susan had died was that he had to be “strong” for his wife because he was afraid that his wife was going to “break down at any minute.” Once Dennis began facing the reality of Susan’s death, he became anxious about her upcoming delivery. Although his wife had given birth to three babies before Susan, he felt scared about what the delivery of a dead baby would be like. Dennis also expressed anxiety over not knowing what Susan would look like when she was born.

Immediately after his daughter, Susan, was delivered, Dennis felt numb. This reaction is best illustrated with his words:

All I could do was . . .there was a chair by the window like that one, and I took the chair and turned it around and I just, my wife said that I wept. I didn’t cry or bawl, I wept. When I was holding her I felt like I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t a scream. It didn’t come out. I don’t know what. I can’t describe the feeling. But it was something in me that needed to come out. And I couldn’t let it all out at once. I can’t describe it. It was a feeling that I hope I never experience again. I couldn’t let it out. It was like I wanted to scream, but that wasn’t it. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. And so, I just cried.

Another predominant emotion for Dennis was helplessness. When he was holding Susan and she “didn’t look good,” he wanted to “do anything to make her feel better.” However, he knew that “there was not anything I could do to help her.”

Dennis also expressed anger. He felt angry with the doctor who delivered Susan because he referred to her as “the fetus,” rather than as a baby. Dennis’s anger is reflected by him stating, “The doctor said, ‘Oh the fetus, there’s the fetus.’ And she wasn’t. She was my baby. She was my daughter. And that was just lame of him to say.”

After Susan’s birth, it was very important to Dennis that he spent as much time as he could with her. It is likely that spending time with Susan enabled Dennis to bond and create clear memories with her, facilitating the mourning process. Although he spent six hours with Susan, holding and cleaning her, Dennis felt that he did not have enough time with her. Dennis said, “I wanted to stay as long as I could with her.” Dennis noted that the hardest part of that day with Susan was when it was time for him to leave the hospital because he did not want to leave Susan alone. When describing how hard it was for him to leave Susan alone, Dennis explained, “I wouldn’t just lay her in the bassinet and just leave. Because she would be alone and I wouldn’t leave my other children alone.”

After leaving her at the hospital, Dennis continued to want to spend time with Susan. One way that he felt that he would be able to “be with her” was to build her a casket. Dennis felt that by building Susan’s casket, he “would always be with her.” Dennis’s strong feelings about building his daughter’s casket is best illustrated by the following statements:

I can’t ever hold her. I mean, I can’t hold her anymore, and I wanted to do something for her. I wanted to build her a casket because it was like the last, it is hard to explain, it was like the last thing I could do for her. I can’t ever hold her in my arms again. I held her for six hours and that was way too short. But I can never hold her in my arms. But if I build, I build her a casket and that was holding her, and that is what she’s in right now. And so a part of me is in there with her. You know, all the time.

Dennis’s strong desire to build Susan’s casket also reflected his need to protect and “to do something for her.”

Interestingly, Dennis described the casket with pride and great detail, as if it was his “baby.” With tears, he provided the following description:

We put it together in the garage, my garage. And we put a little cross on the top of it. And some other friends, some friends of my wife’s, took it home and lacquered it, to seal it. And they took it from there and had it upholstered. And had it upholstered in pink satin and white lace, and on all the seams, on all of the corners, there was white lace going across. And pink satin between it, and it was really beautiful, really beautiful. We’ve got pictures of it and it was really beautiful. Really beautiful.

Dennis’s desire to spend time with Susan continued through her funeral. He was very active, requesting to carry her from the car to the gravesite because “She’s my baby and I didn’t want someone else taking her without me.”

Dennis expressed sadness over burying Susan as it felt “unnatural” to bury his own child. He had always expected that his children would be burying him, rather than that he would be burying his own child. Dennis described his experience by stating, “You don’t expect to bury your kids. I expect my kids to bury me and I expect to bury my parents. And it’s so unnatural for you to bury you own kids.”

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