On October 3, 2013 one couple’s life changed forever.
Charlie, the son Hannah and Lee Chatterley had been eagerly awaiting the birth of, was stillborn due to cord compression.
The pair were absolutely devastated and didn’t know how they were meant to go on with their normal lives after experiencing such a tragedy.
Support flooded in after Charlie passed away, but soon Lee, 28, began to notice something about the messages of sympathy – namely, that it was all aimed at his wife, and no one seemed to notice that he was also struggling with the loss.
After Hannah, 26, was discharged from hospital, staff from the ward sent a letter to their home in Manchester saying how sorry they were for her loss.
The letter was only addressed to Hannah and it contained no mention of Charlie’s father whatsoever.
"Hannah deserved all that support, but it kind of hurt me, to be honest," Lee recalls
And for the year that followed his son’s death, this hurt only continued to spiral into something darker.
"Hannah wanted me to tell her how I was feeling, but I didn’t want to add to her grief, so I didn’t open up for about 12 months after the loss," says Lee.
"I thought I needed to stay strong for her so I bottled it all up and ended up becoming very unwell. I’m going to be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life."
He says Hannah eventually began to find solace after Charlie passed by talking to other women online who had been through the same thing.
His wife was a member of countless support groups on social media but there didn’t seem to be an equivalent for grieving dads.
"I had a look at the groups my wife was on and thought they might be useful to me as well, but they were all so female-orientated, with many of the posts reading ‘Good morning mummies’ and stuff like that. So in 2014 I decided to set up my own Facebook group for males."
The group, called Charlie’s Child Loss, is intended to be a "safe space" for men to talk about how the loss of a child impacted them.
Once up and running, Lee had 20 requests the first night, and it’s only continued to grow since then, with over 500 men in the group now and many of them coming from around the world, with dads getting involved from Canada, the USA and Mexico.
"It just shows how much this is needed," says Lee. "I’m no professional, but I think having someone to talk to who’s gone through it first hand can be better sometimes."
Lee says the group has helped him "immensely" and today he’s "so much better" – and he’s not the only one to benefit from it.
Jamie Payne, a 37-year-old from London lost his daughter Bethany in November last year and joined the group early in 2019.
He says it’s "helped him a lot".
"I joined the group in January after someone recommended it to me. All the groups I’ve seen were mainly for women, so when I found this group I was happy.
"The group has helped me a lot since Bethany died, when I feel like I can’t talk to my wife, I know I’ve got someone to chat to from the group. I know there is someone to talk to day or night and I regularly chat to someone from the USA."
Jamie has been so actively involved in the group, that Lee has now made him an admin.
He added: "Being an admin, I feel like I’m helping. The pain is never going to go away, this is a group no one wants to be in, but Lee has created something special and to know that you’re not alone is a great comfort."
Following the success of the group, Lee, who now has two young daughters with Hannah, is applying to turn Charlie’s Child Loss into a registered charity.
He’s starting to hold monthly meet ups in Manchester for men to get together and talk about whatever they want, over tea, coffee or a beer.
He hopes to be able to expand the meetings out across the UK, so more people can attend.
The group also recently held its first fundraiser, raising over £2,000 to go towards the meetings and to help create memory boxes for hospitals, so parents who lose a baby can have something tangible to hold on to.
Lee added: "If it weren’t for Hannah, I wouldn’t have done this as she pushed me to open up and help these dads.
"Now we’re here to help all males who have lost a child and we want them to know that they’re not alone, it’s fine to be sad and it’s even more ok to cry. You don’t have to hold it in."
Charlie’s Child Loss will be holding their first meeting on Sunday, March 24 at 6pm.
The meeting will take place at The Pavilion, Green Lane, Garden Suburbs, OL8 3AY and anyone is welcome to attend.
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