Lost my partner and gained a daughter

Posted 4 October 2017

Steve lives in Birmingham with his (almost) five year old daughter Sam. His partner passed away shortly before their daughter was born by caesarean section. Since then he has raised Sam alone. Steve runs a friendship group for single dads in the Birmingham area – find out more.

One day she didn’t come home

I’m 43 and live in Birmingham with my five year old daughter Sam; I’m a full time dad. Before Sam was born I lived in Stoke and worked as an Assistant Manager at Morrison’s. It was there that I met Sarah who is my daughter Sam’s mum. We’d been together for two or three years, I had just moved in to Sarah’s and we were expecting our first child. One Monday morning she went into work and didn’t come home as usual time that evening. The next I heard was from the hospital, who told me that she had suffered a fit caused by the pre-eclampsia she had been suffering from during pregnancy.

I went into the hospital and was told by doctors that Sarah was in a coma, but that she would be brought out of it the next day. They also told me our daughter had been delivered by an emergency C-section.

Unfortunately Sarah didn’t come out of the coma the next day and she passed away. Her brother was a big support in those initial days.

They wouldn’t let me register my daughter’s birth

As our daughter Sam had been delivered six weeks premature, I spent a lot of time going back and forth to hospital to see her. I faced a lot of challenges in the first few years of single parenthood. Firstly, as Sarah and I weren’t married I was unable to register our daughter’s birth – it took over a month to persuade the relevant people I could do it alone.

Then I was threatened by the council that Sam would be taken into care. I had to go through the court process to claim parental responsibility. Then just before Sam was diagnosed with brittle bones disease, I was accused of abuse, something I had to disprove.

It can be a lonely job

The first few years were difficult and it can be a hard and lonely job single parenting as a dad. Luckily work were great and really understanding. I took off the full nine months normally allowed for maternity leave.

I finally managed to meet some other parents through playgroup. It was initially really hard and it took a long time for me to be accepted by other parents as a single dad. It’s all a bit alien for a man. It’s important for my daughter that I make bonds with other parents as that in turn helps her to make friends. I’ve done this by volunteering on school trips. It was easier to befriend parents when their children had already met me.

Children’s centres have also been really useful, and the family officer really helped me in the early days. Unfortunately health visitors haven’t been as helpful.

Grief Encounter have been a great online support and Dads Network on Facebook is also great for asking questions (there’s a range of dads on there including married men and single dads). I heard about Gingerbread straight away and they have also been helpful for dipping in and out of advice.

It was a question of sink or swim

I don’t get much support from family although my parents do live closer now that I am in Birmingham. It’s just me. In those first few months at times I think I went into survival auto-pilot. It was a simple question of sink or swim.

It’s approaching five years since Sarah passed away. Life is much calmer now, Sam is in reception and now that I’ve befriended other parents she gets invited to playdates and parties.

I would still say that single parenting is the hardest job in the world especially if you’re shy and retiring as I am. It can feel very isolating. But it is also the loveliest job out there and incredibly rewarding.

Stigma still makes single parenting tough. It’s also hard to get out and socialise when you’re raising a child alone. As a single dad I’m also facing new challenges, being able to do my daughter’s hair being one of them!

It’s ok to ask for help

If I think about what advice I would give to other parents who have lost their partners, the first thing I would say is that everyone grieves differently, and that’s ok. And then I would say make sure you ask for help, it’s not a weakness. Help is there to be taken – if people offer to help, take it! Cruse are another a great support for recently bereaved people.

Finally I would say speak to other parents when you need advice or another opinion. You’ll be surprised to realise they have a lot of the same problems as you. Often this kind of advice is far more valuable that what ‘professionals’ may tell you.

If you’re recently bereaved and need support, read our guide to bereavement.