Fathers and Perinatal Loss Pt. 12: Karl

Tracy Schaperow, Psy.D.

Tracy Schaperow

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

This article is part of a larger work.

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Participant Two: Karl

Background Information

Demographic Information. Karl, a thirty-four-year old, Irish-Swedish-American, Episcopalian male, participated in the present investigation. He has been married to his wife, Vicki, for five years and manages a computer programming business. Karl’s and Vicki’s daughter, Dana, died when she was four months old from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), one and a half years ago. They currently have one living daughter, Melissa, who was born eleven months after Dana died.

Recruitment Process. Karl was recruited from a SIDS support group after the group leader gave his name to this investigator as a potential participant. When the researcher contacted Karl to explain the study, he immediately expressed interest in participating. After ensuring that he met the requirements for the study, this investigator scheduled him for the first meeting.

Description of the Loss. Karl lost his daughter, Dana, to SIDS one and a half years ago. At the time, Vicki was on a business trip, he was at home, and Dana was at daycare. The daycare worker called Karl in panic, stating, “Dana’s not breathing! Come over! Come over quick.” When he arrived at the daycare, the paramedics were doing CPR on Dana, and Karl “could see it in their eyes that their wasn’t much that they were going to be able to do.” After a few minutes, the paramedics told him that Dana had passed away. The crisis response team coordinated a crisis team in Oregon for Vicki so that they were available when Karl told her the news. Karl then phoned Vicki and told her that Dana had died, and to open her hotel door so that the crisis team could help her.

The Interview.

The interview occurred in two sessions, each one week apart. The first meeting lasted about one and half-hours, while the second meeting lasted one-hour. Throughout the interview, Karl was cooperative and answered questions readily. At times he was tearful, especially when he talked about how he had to tell Vicki about Dana’s death.

The following paragraphs summarize Karl’s interview, describing his desire for children, his feelings about his wife’s pregnancy, his initial reactions to the loss, his responses for the first year after her death, and his reactions one-year and beyond the loss. Later, sections that summarize his PGS scores and his projective test results will be presented.

Desire for Children. Karl always wanted to be a father. As a child, he fantasized about becoming a father and “playing soccer and ball with my kids in the back yard.” He felt that his own father “had a great life” as a parent because he “took summers off and played with all the kids.” Karl’s feelings about having several children were evident when he stated, “I came from a big family and was always in the mindset of having a big family.”

Karl’s Experiences During the Pregnancy. Karl expressed a variety of conflicting thoughts and feelings about Vicki’s pregnancy with Dana. When he first learned that she was pregnant, he was shocked because this happened sooner than he expected. Karl also felt excited when he found out she was pregnant because he had always wanted children. Although his primary feeling about the pregnancy was one of excitement, he had “a couple moments of anxiety.” The following narrative illustrates Karl’s anxiety:

And so, you get a couple of, “Do we have enough money to cover all this? How is this going to change our lives?” I definitely had a little anxiety about this whole issue.

Karl described himself as being “very involved” with Vicki’s pregnancy. He went to most of her ultrasound appointments, which he described as “amazing.” For Karl, seeing the ultrasounds made him feel “a little more a part of it, too.”

When Vicki started to “show,” her pregnancy became real for Karl. The following narrative reflects how his thoughts and feelings about the pregnancy changed at this time:

I think just the reality of it [set in]. Just because it’s physically there. It’s not just a concept, it’s a visual concept now. So it kinda reinforced it. You know this is really happening; this is gonna be reality. I think that’s the biggest level. It’s a major thing. It’s like someone put a basketball right under her.

Karl made a variety of behavioral preparations for Dana during the pregnancy. For instance, he bought a crib, painted a bureau, purchased insurance, made financial preparations, and purchased some baby clothes. One of Karl’s most predominant preparations for Dana was childproofing his home, which is illustrated in the following narrative:

I think I childproofed the house when she was like three to four months pregnant [he laughs]. My friends were like, “Oh you’re already childproofing the house. You know, and she isn’t going to have the kid for six months. You know she’s not going into drawers and stuff for a year.

Unlike the other participants’ infants in this study, Karl’s baby was born both healthy and alive. With excitement, he described her birth by stating, “Dana was born three days after my birthday, so that was a really, really cool time. And the Padres were in the World Series, so that was kind of memorable, too. It was great. I was excited about it!”

Initial Responses to Dana’s Death. When Karl first learned that Dana had died, he felt numb and was in denial. On the day of the loss; however, he started to gradually accept the “new reality” that she had died. Karl’s numbness, denial, and eventual acceptance are further illustrated in the following narrative:

I mean it was really, really surreal. You know, the situation. I just couldn’t believe she was gone. And it was a very, very difficult moment, you know. I don’t know if one specific thought came to mind, but just the disbelief that at that point, you know, it’s not real and I’m dreaming and things were going to change. And I think over time it began to set in. You know. . . a dream, which is real, and this is your new reality. And so I had to come to terms with that. The reality does set in.

Once the reality of the loss began to set in, Karl was primarily concerned about how he would have to tell his wife over the telephone, as she was out of the state. Also, Karl wondered how she would react being so far from home. He described his feelings in the following narrative:

And obviously I had an awful time thinking of my wife who was out of town. So that was . . . that was a major issue. That was a really traumatic portion of it for me. You know. I had to tell her over the phone and getting her back into town and, you know, starting to grieve together at that point [he started to cry].

For Karl, telling his wife was the most difficult part of the loss. Karl felt helpless over not being able to comfort Vicki when he told her the news. Throughout the interview he emphasized how difficult it was for him not to be able to take her pain away, even after she came home. The following narrative reflects his feelings of helplessness:

And then to see my wife. . . you know you just have to deal with that, and you know, you can’t take that away. You know, you just . . . you just gotta let them get through it and comfort them through it. You can’t take their pain away.

Karl also felt helpless over being “in the situation and really not being able to do anything and really not having any clear answers.” He described these feelings as “deeply affecting” him.

In addition to feeling helpless, Karl felt angry. He explained that he had “some flashes of anger,” but that he “wasn’t as angry as some people.” Karl’s anger was primarily directed toward the child abuse team who, because of Dana’s death, were required by law to interview him immediately after the incident. Karl explains this interview in the following narrative:

He [the detective] was very aggressive in asking, you know, questions, almost in a confrontational-type manner. And obviously, I had just been presented with the loss of my child and having to deal with that in that manner made me very angry.

. . at that time I was very angry.


Karl also felt angry toward his acquaintances, who made what he felt were invalidating statements, such as, “You’re young. You can have other kids.”

The First Year After the Loss. During the first year after Dana’s death, Karl felt guilty, empty, and sad. He felt guilty that he was not able to do anything to help Dana the day she stopped breathing and died. Karl’s guilt was expressed in the form of “disappointment” in himself, and is reflected in his stating, “You know, I was taking care of the baby. The disappointment, you know, the feeling of letdown that this occurred on my watch.” Karl also described feeling empty, stating, “It’s like you’ve lost a piece of yourself and your family.”

During this first year after her loss, he felt extremely sad. When asked what made him the most sad, he stated, “I didn’t do anything wrong. You know, there’s no rhyme or reason why. . . why this could happen to her.”

Rather than openly expressing his feelings about the loss, Karl “kept things inside” because he felt a need to be “the strong one” for his wife. He illustrated this need when he stated, “I needed to keep my emotions in check. I needed to be this stoic and strong rock.”

Karl hid his feelings about the loss from his wife and grieved alone, primarily in his car. He explained this process in the following narrative:

I grieved mostly in my car, and mostly alone. That is pretty much where, where I did it. I would go, and go on a drive or a walk. Mostly it seemed to be in the car, when I felt most of my grief. Sometimes I would yell on the top of my lungs driving. . . if I felt frustrated.

Similar to Dennis, Karl found that he “grieved to music” while he was in his car. In the following narrative, he described how he related the loss to music.

A lot of what I relate, to music . . . there are certain songs that I hear that are kinda “Dana songs” and I am also hearing them in my car, mostly when I am driving I listen to them. So that’s how I channeled my grief feelings.

Karl eventually went through a period of depression. He suddenly felt “indifferent” about his new business, whereas prior to Dana’s death, he had been “gung ho” about it. Thus, he began attending a SIDS support group and grief counseling sessions along with Vicki to help them cope with the loss. He believes that these sessions, along with the group, helped them express their feelings about the loss to each other.

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