A father's story of stillbirth: 'I was just heartbroken - My whole world collapsed'
Anthony Casey will never forget the deafening silence in the delivery room after his baby daughter was stillborn.
Even though he and his wife Roisin had been given the fateful news at a scan that their baby's heartbeat could not be detected, Anthony found himself hoping against hope in the delivery room as his wife laboured.
But instead of the welcome cries of a newborn, there was only heart-stopping silence as Ellen came into the world in the 39th week of Roisin's pregnancy. They didn't know they were having a girl - they had two little boys at home, Aran, now 8, and Darragh (6).
"I was just heartbroken. My whole world collapsed. Roisin just blamed herself - we just kept asking, 'Why did this happen to us?'" says Anthony.
The couple also had to break the news to their two boys that their little sister had died.
"We were all expecting a baby any day. Everything was ready - the cot was out. We were all ready to go. The boys couldn't wait. One wanted a boy, the other wanted a girl. The excitement was great," says Anthony.
Instead, they had to tell them the tragic news that Ellen had died.
"We talked about it in depth with them. We knew we couldn't just arrive home and say nothing. We decided to tell them their sister had died, that the doctors couldn't save her and they understood that," he says.
A year and a half ago the Caseys welcomed a new baby into their lives and Anthony says baby Sarah has helped them greatly. In the midst of the nightmare that was enveloping his family, Anthony reached out to Féileacáin, the stillbirth and neonatal death association of Ireland. He remembers the help they got at the time when they brought Ellen home and a volunteer from the organisation came to their home in Finglas to help them.
After Ellen's funeral, Anthony and Roisin started to go to Féileacáin's monthly support meetings, which were held in the Aisling Hotel in Dublin on the last Thursday of the month. He says he was so choked up for the first half of the initial meeting that he couldn't speak. Towards the end, he spoke up and found it brilliant. It was then he decided to try to get involved with the organisation and the work they do.
After Ellen died, Anthony got her handprints and footprints in clay, and says if his house were to burn down tomorrow, these prints are the only item he'd save.
He had the idea of offering to do the same for other couples who would like to preserve their baby's hand and footprints in clay. Féileacáin thought it was a great idea and decided to run with it.
In the last year, Anthony has visited hospitals in various parts of the country after being contacted by 20 families who wanted this treasured print of their precious baby turned into a clay keepsake. Anthony responds when he gets a call from Feileacáin, goes to the hospital, meets the family and their baby, and takes the prints.
"At times, it's difficult. It's not easy. It's not natural to pick up a baby that has passed away. You'd have to be made of stone for it not to affect you. But it's healing for me. I find it very rewarding and I find it very humbling that people would let you into their lives at the worst ever time of their lives," he says.
"I remember picking up one little baby and doing his handprints. He was gorgeous. His mum said 'Do you mind me asking you a question? You're just so at ease with the baby and everybody who comes in here is on eggshells. Why is that?' I told her I've been there myself," says Anthony.
He says his family still finds things hard.
"Ellen would be three on Easter Sunday. Our eldest son has his Communion coming up. We'd be buying Ellen a dress for that. It hits you when you see other three year olds out there. You look at what you are never going to have. We are never going to have her Communion with her in her white dress".
Anthony says helping other people through their grief helps him cope with his loss.
"It can consume you. It can take over absolutely everything. You have to say to yourself, 'I can stay in this place for the next 10 years or I can do something to help people through it.' You also have to talk about it and get as much help as possible through your family or friends. Don't shut down, don't close a door. Keep your communication lines open with people," he says.
"People will sometimes say stupid things to you, but they'll say that because they don't know. Take deep breaths. I realised that people were sorry - nobody could not be sorry - they just don't have the language. If they just came up to you and shook hands and said they were sorry - that would mean so much," says Anthony.
INM is putting together a dedicated section on Independent.ie where women and men of all ages can share their stories of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. The section will serve as a testament to the women and men who share their stories, a memorial for the babies lost and as a resource for other people who have gone through or are going through the experience. Your stories can be anonymous or on the record and nothing will be published in any format without prior consultation with you. If you would like to be part of this and tell your story, email Yvonne Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org