Wednesday 28 October 2015

To be an Inspirational father ?

When a stillbirth occurs in hospital, a butterfly is fixed to the door so that all staff know what has occurred before they come into the room. Consequently, butterflies have become synonymous with stillbirth.

Skip forward a year and out of the blue I received an email saying I’d been nominated in the Butterfly Awards.

“The What Now?”

I almost deleted the email thinking it must be spam but decided to give it a read.

The Butterfly Awards celebrate survivors and champions of babyloss, that seek to break the silence surrounding stillbirth. They were started by Mel Scott and Jade Deverill: both of whom have had tragedies of their own.

It seemed I’d been nominated for awards in the categories of Inspirational Father and Best Author/Blogger.
There were other categories which you can see here - Nomination Categories. And you can see the other nominees here - Nominees

I accepted the nomination and Siobhan and I decided to go the black tie event in Worcester where the awards would take place.

The awards would be decided initially by public votes, then by judges, and I had to prepare a profile page about myself. How do you write something that explains why you are an inspirational father? I couldn’t. Instead I simply outlined what had happened to us.

On the night Siobhan and I turned up and were stunned by the amount of people there. Not because we didn’t expect it to be busy but because we were suddenly hit by how many people in that room had lost babies, who knew something of our grief.

It reminded me of some of the comic book and scifi conventions I've been to. You have a commonality with the people there, you can get straight into the nitty gritty of talking about the stuff you love, without expecting a derisive look or having to explain to people that 'yes there are comics for adults' and 'no scifi isn’t just about laser guns' etc. Although the Butterfly Awards has a different focus, we had the same commonality.  You could talk about grief without worrying about the other person's feelings for once. You could cry without having to hold back because everyone had tears not far from the surface. In a very weird way…you could relax.

We sat down and there was a speech in which we learned the good news that stillbirths in the UK had gone down from 17 a day to between 15 and 16 a day. There was a singer, dancers, good food, chat and laughter but I kept eyeing the box of tissues on the table. Every table had one and despite the fact that a good time was being had, everyone knew the awards themselves would be as harrowing as they would be inspiring.

When the awards began, I reminded myself that it didn’t mater if I won or not because everyone here was a winner, was deserving. But I couldn’t stop hoping for a win. Regardless of the subject matter, that human competitiveness, that desire to win, to have affirmation in the eyes of my peers, was a strong one.

The ladies to my left won an award for Best Bereavement Service and having talked to them it seems like The Royal Derby Hospital is doing something very right.

The awards for Best Blogger came and went and I didn’t win…but that was fine.

Emma Stowell, the lovely lady to my right the award for Bereavement Worker and most deservedly so.

Then it was time for the Inspirational Father Award. Kate Tinker, founder of Harry and Co, the charitable foundation that sponsored the category, opened the envelope.

“And the winner is…David Monteith”

I was aware of the applause, but for amoment I couldn’t move, couldn't breath. I had wanted so much to win but at the sound of my name all I could think was, “ but what have I won?”

That night I met so many amazing people: bloggers, parents, fundraisers and campaigners. People, whose stories took my desire to win, scrunched it up and threw it out into the cold.

You see, the danger is that when you suffer such a loss, your grief can be all consuming and blinding. But that night I truly realised that my story was just one of many, so many. I was so glad not to be alone and yet so sad that I wasn’t.

I met a woman with 7 losses; I met a man that delivered his own stillborn child; I met women who had held their babies as they breathed their last and I cannot conceive of that loss.

In short, I was humbled.

I walked to the podium and said my piece which you can see below

It’s taken a couple of weeks to process everything that happened that night.

I didn’t deserve this award any more or less than any other father there. Days afterwards I sat around the house trying to work out why it had been given to me. What was I meant to do with it? Why me?

After the awards I had an encounter that will stay with me. A man walked up to me with tears in his eyes. He couldn’t speak. All he did was hug me. He was a squaddie. He’d done tours in Afghanistan and held men as they died.
“I couldn’t do what you have done” he told me.

I cried with him.

All those who have lost children have taken a hit, make no mistake, there is trauma that comes with this and those that expect us to grieve in their own prescribed, neat ways will either have to support us or get out of the damn way. They have as little understanding of this as I do of the battlefield.

To speak, to grieve, to do whatever is necessary, is to get through. Too many before us never had the chance – it just wasn't done, and the result is a older generation of bitter, emotionally stunted people. Well not me.

So if that’s the purpose of winning an award; to speak, to be heard, to make ourselves understood, then so be it.
       For all the names on the remembrance candle that we blew out to end the awards.

                                        For all the Inspirational Mothers and Fathers

The Lanterns we lit for Grace
For all the parents who carried candles and lanterns as part of the International Wave of Light.

For the lanterns by the water, lit for parents who couldn't be at the Wave of Light

For our Angels and Butterfly babies

For our sanity and the sanity of those parents who will follow us

For Grace

So be it

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