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SANDS volunteer parent supporter Pete Vidins with daughter Zoe, 9.

From hospital to the funeral home

NO PARENT wants to imagine leaving the hospital without their baby in the baby seat. But that's just what first-time parents Pete Vidins, 35, and his wife Sarah had to endure.

"We drove straight from the hospital to the funeral home with an empty baby seat," the Brisbane father tells Weekend.

At 18 weeks gestation, doctors discovered their son, Daniel, had a cyst on his lung. They were given three options - let nature take its course, interrupt the pregnancy or intervene medically.

They chose the latter and Sarah underwent in-utero surgery at the Mater Mothers' Hospital.

"The first procedure involved putting a needle through my wife's stomach and into our son's chest...they drained out a film canister full of pus," Pete says. "It successfully collapsed the cyst to allow the lung to grow. But we went back a week later and it had filled up again." As a result a valve was inserted into Daniel's lung to continuously drain the cyst while Sarah carried him.

Daniel was born at 35 weeks. A resuscitation team was on standby.

"They had to resuscitate him straight away. As soon as he was born he was taken away. He was whisked off to infant ICU. We couldn't touch him. That was very hard. The next day we could touch his hand and his hair.

"We found out quite quickly that he wasn't in a good position.

He just didn't have enough lung. There were other complications as well. The next day we let him go."

Pete describes a numbness, a silence, following Daniel's death. "We had a nursery set up for him. I couldn't go in there for a long, long time.

"At first I was very upset. We were healthy, we didn't smoke or drink. It was unfair. We both grieved in very different ways.

"I was strong for a while, like most men you want to be strong for your partner. But then, I couldn't look at pictures of him or any of his things for months.

"I changed my job. My wife was quite unwell after it. Things people innocently said were quite hurtful. Then there was stony silence."

The couple named their son Daniel after the biblical figure. "We thought it was a courageous name," Pete says.

"I think about him every day. I'll hear his name and I often wonder what he will be like. He'd be 11 years old, going into sixth grade."

 

SANDS parent supporter Pete Vidins with son Eli, 7.
SANDS parent supporter Pete Vidins with son Eli, 7. CONTRIBUTED

Pete and Sarah have since had two children. They found strength from attending SANDS support groups with other grieving parents. Pete is now a volunteer SANDS parent supporter.

"Dads still have a story too. Most will go quite a long time being strong and stoic and supporting their partners when they realise they have this grief pie they've got to chew through. It can be daunting as men and women grieve differently," Pete says.

He says its so important for dads to practice self-care.

"It's only natural for dads to want to be strong but it can spiral into mental health issues and relationship breakdowns. Mental health strategies are so important in these situations."

Today (October 15) is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

If you are affected by the loss of a baby, SANDS Australia offers support through local support groups, 24-hour phone line on 1300 072 367, and sands.org.au.