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Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Father’s experiences of losing a baby at 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy

Fathers we spoke to were very affected by the loss of their baby.

Caring for their partner

During pregnancy, if their wife or partner was in hospital for a period of time before the birth, fathers were trying to support them, while also managing their worry about their partner’s health and the pregnancy. Fathers often felt they had to fight to have their wife or partner’s symptoms taken seriously when she became ill or worried about their baby.
 

Emily and Mike were in and out of hospital with bleeding for 7 weeks. Although they felt something was wrong, they didn’t feel they were taken seriously.

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Emily: And I think we were quite aware at that point that we sort of felt something was wrong, but it felt like we weren't being taken seriously, perhaps. Quite often when I would turn up at A&E, they'd sort of say - you know - I'd say "I'm bleeding." And they'd sort of be like "Yeah, yeah." And then send me off to do a urine sample, which would obviously just be bright red. And then I'd bring that back, and they'd be like "Oh, you are." You know? It was almost like – 

Mike: That was very frustrating, was every time, and we went to the hospital a good three or four times, and –

Emily: Three, I was admitted three times.

Mike: And every time we went there, we had to go through the same rigmarole of going to A&E, waiting for two, three hours –

Emily: I'd have to sit in the waiting room.

Mike: Going to get into a bed in A&E, wait around more.

Emily: I'd be hooked up to a drip, wouldn't I.

Mike: Yeah.

Emily: And I often had to stay in overnight, just for sort of observation. But it just felt like nobody really knew what was going on. And, you know, I do understand that until a certain age, or - you know - or stage of your pregnancy, they can't really do very much. But it did feel like we weren't really getting any answers, and we just keep being sort of sent home. 

Mike: And you just got the feeling sometimes that people think that maybe you're just being a bit of like a –

Emily: A bit dramatic.

Mike: Yeah. About it. Or, I’m not sure quite what the - hypochondriac, is it?

Emily: Yeah. Yeah.

Mike: Yeah. Just - It was just like you were making a big deal out of something - like 'you're pregnant, people bleed when they're pregnant', but. I, like - trying to - And like I kept trying to tell doctors, like "This isn't just a little bleed, this is a substantial bleed -"

Emily: I'd soak the bed, and things.

Mike: When, when - When we had to call the ambulance out as well, they asked me to - Well, to me, it was one of the worst things, like because we weren't sure if it was just a large clot, if Emily had miscarried. And they said that you have to get that out of the toilet. So that was pretty, pretty upsetting for myself. And then trying to tell that to another random doctor, I know that's how A&E work, so I've nothing against that, but having to explain that to them, that this isn't just like a little bleed, again. There's, there's not something right. 
Many fathers spoke about how hard they had found it to see their partner in pain or unwell. Sometimes there had been difficult decisions to make when their partner and their baby’s life were at risk, and fathers worried for both mother, baby and their other children. Lindsay described how, when faced with a difficult decision to end her pregnancy because of worries about her health, her husband wanted her to focus on how their older son, he “needs his Mum. You know, regardless of what your instincts are, he needs you to come home.” Despite their grief at losing their baby, often fathers talked about their relief that their partner was safe. Mike recalled how tough it was seeing “your wife in pain, and you're worried, and you've seen her being rushed off in an ambulance, and you're trying to follow behind her”.
 

Matt struggled with weighing up the best for his unborn baby when Lisa’s life was at risk.

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So, Lisa went in the ambulance and I drove over, and then - and when we got there, the consultant was really reassuring. Because I think just seemed very confident in what she could do. And you kind of hear 'well, these are the risks and those are the risks, and something else is the risks'. And I think that was the thing that we were really struggling with weighing up, was we want to do the best for this unborn baby, and we want to give them the best chance to survive, but then we don't want to put Lisa at risk. 

And I think - I don't know, maybe it would be more for me, I don't know. Because I was worried about Lisa as well as the baby. And kind of the risks of infection, and that seemed to be the biggest kind of thing that was , they were worried about. And if you put a stitch in, and keep it all there, who knows what could happen. So I mean you said at that point, it suddenly gets really, really - moral, ethical decisions you're making about should I - yeah, should we continue, should we? And I think for us, we've got a strong Christian faith, and so the idea of kind of terminating a pregnancy - it almost wasn't, it wasn't really an option. But then, then you're also conscious of - you know - what's the right thing for Lisa. And you don't know all the statistics. And at the end of the day, they're just statistics. So anyway, we talked to the consultant, and she was a lot more - She didn't necessarily say anything different to what the other people had said, but just the way she said it, and. She was quite - just quite relaxed about things.
 

Mike found it extremely difficult seeing his wife in pain and feeling completely helpless.

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Mike: I'd been through some pretty tough stuff in my life, but nothing sort of touched on how hard that was. And as a man as well, you kind of feel like you should do something. Well there's nothing you can do. 

Emily: Mmm.

Mike: And you see your wife in pain, and you're worried, and you've seen her being rushed off in an ambulance, and you're trying to follow behind her, and. Yeah. It's just, - it was pretty –

Emily: You're a doer, aren't you? So it was tough for you to not be able to fix it. 

Mike: Yeah.

So all of those weeks were tough for you? Again, it's not just the one day, it was the whole –

Mike: Yeah. I was - Yeah. And then going to work, and then something happening. And driving back from [town of work], going to the - meeting Emily at the hospital, and - The whole time as well, was like me not being able to stay there as well, so having to do all that and then come home each night. And then you just kind of –

Emily: I didn't make it easy. I'd cry my eyes out when you left, as well [laughing]. "Don't go." 

Mike: - sat here by yourself. So, yeah. It was really tough, but.

Emily: Yeah.
 

Matt describes feeling almost relieved after the birth because he was so worried about Lisa’s health.

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Matt: And that was one thing that I kind of yeah, found a bit difficult. In that I was kind of almost relieved that it was over. Because it was so stressful.

Lisa: It was very stressful.

Matt: Like, yeah. I was relieved that okay, Lisa's - Lisa's alright. And I think I hadn't - and you know, you don't like kind of saying these things. But I hadn't - hadn't had a kind of connection with Emmanuel. And I knew Lisa was pregnant, but to be honest I hadn't - it wasn't something that I thought about very often. So I kind of hadn't really got my head around the fact that we were going to have a baby. I knew we'd have a baby, but I didn't know. So. So kind of my main emotion was relief that Lisa was alright. And I was kind of - yeah, sad that we didn't have Emmanuel, but I didn't have that same emotional connection. Yeah, which is kind of difficult to kind of get our heads round first. And we both kind of processed things differently. I think Lisa thought a lot more about having a baby, was more aware of the whole thing. And I think perhaps just differences in personality. I hadn't really thought about, about things.
Fathers often had to juggle home and work life while their partner was ill. There was work to fit in with visiting and fathers with older children also had to look after them and try to maintain a sense of normality. While some parents were provided with bereavement suites that offered a helpful space for both parents during and after the birth, often fathers felt marginalised as the facilities available during pregnancy were not inclusive of them. Some talked of not being able to stay at the hospital while others had to sleep in a chair while staying with their partner.
 

David Z found it very tough balancing work, caring for his son and visiting Asun in hospital.

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I mean, I mean to me it was very tough because, was working and picking up the little one from nursery, going to the hospital and then here. It was, it was quite stressful. But, but I had to be strong. I had to pretend that nothing was happening, for the little one. And to keep live as, to keep the routine as poss- and the life as normal as possible for [my son], not realising what's going on. Although he felt something was happening. Because he - since Asun was at the hospital. He- So, couple of weeks before all this happened, we managed to put him to his bed in his room, he was sleeping without us. So, so it was like - yeah, that's a big achievement for us. And, and since - since Asun was at the hospital, then he - he slept with me every night. He wanted to be with me. He needed the dummy a lot. So he was all the time with the dummy. He - Yeah, he - It was kind of - He felt that he needed to be with somebody all the time. 
 

Courtney felt there were no facilities for her husband while she was in hospital.

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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And like they don't - They're not given a bed or anything, so he just slept on a chair the whole time. They're not even offered the food that comes round. You know? And I mean, it's only a sandwich that you get given anyway. So, for me, I'm just like - It's not nice for them. They're going through exactly the same experience as you. But it's not nice for them. There really has to be more for people that are losing. 

I know some hospitals, - like a couple that have specific rooms for losses, and like the bereavement room where - if you're going to lose, you get taken into that room, and it has a nicer couch. It's sometimes a pull-out bed for the father. Or it's - it's like a nicer, painted nicer, and it's got a lot more light and stuff like that. Unfortunately in the hospital that I went to, doesn't have anything like this. Not every hospital does. You know? It's - It's like limited. When you're losing, it seems like you're just lucky if you get to the right hospital, or if you're not - every hospital's limited in what they can do. What can you do about that? 
Giving birth to their very premature baby was very difficult for mothers we spoke to. Fathers were a key presence, helping them through an extremely difficult time. Iain felt he had to be assertive to get pain relief for his wife Michelle saying "No, my wife needs gas & air. I've seen this loads of times, she'll need gas & air." Courtney was very touched by her husband’s gentle care and attention during the birth when they were left alone as he was “mopping up blood, and trying to clean my legs… because I think he was by himself. That was tough”. 

Coping with grief

Parents often spoke of different reactions or ways of dealing with their loss. Some fathers felt they were less deeply affected or found it more difficult to grieve than their wife or partner as they had felt less of a connection with their baby before the birth. This sometimes contributed to different experiences of grief after the loss of their baby by mothers and fathers and had an impact on their relationship.
 

David Z felt helpless at being able to comfort his wife after the loss of their baby.

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My feeling all the time was, was helpless. You feel helpless, completely helpless. Because you - At this stage, or in these situations, there's nothing you can do. So, you - you can't, you can’t. No matter what you do. Because you cannot actually comfort your partner, because she's going through - So the way pregnancy is, and the way that everything works - it's different, the way the woman - the way you live it, and the way the women lives it. Because it's just different. Actually it's a part of you. I mean, it's like - I feel like more - Although I understand things is, it's like - it's like for you, that you carry the baby and it grows inside of you, and you deliver the baby. Losing a baby is like if you - I don't know, if you - like you lose a hand, or you lose something. And yeah it doesn't matter what you do, or how hard you try, it's always - there's nothing you can do that can, that can make your partner feel happy. Because the situation is just very sad. And it's very difficult. 
Time off work

Some of the fathers had to manage taking time off work before the birth of their baby when their partner was in hospital for several days or weeks. But many had very little time off work after the loss of their baby (between 1 week and 6 weeks) and their experiences of support on returning to work were mixed. Adam described how hard it was being back at work, “obviously it's been really, really tough for Joelle. But it's been tough for me as well. You know, I've been back at work, and had to kind of get on with things”. Raj found being back at work “distracts you quite well, but obviously you're not talking about what you need to talk about sometimes, and getting it off your chest.”
 

Sharon described how her husband was asked why he needed time off work after the loss of their baby.

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
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I think [my husband] suffered because he was trying to look after me. Because I'd gone through the physical trauma as well. Everybody was concerned what was happening to me. And [my husband] was - grief was delayed. So when [my husband]'s grief started to come out, there was nothing available for him. He did end up getting counselling in the end. He did have counselling. But when I lost the first baby and I had three weeks off work, [my husband] asked for some time off work and was told, "Why do you need time off work?" And wasn't given it. The other times, the GP gave us - gave [my husband] the time off. But I think, everything's focusing on the mother. When actually, the father's got two jobs to do. He's lost his child. But he's also seeing that somebody he loves very much is going through so much pain. And you don't often feel that when you're the one going through it. So [my husband] took a lot longer to recover. 
 

David described how supportive his employer was when his wife Asun was first admitted to hospital and when he returned to work.

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Luckily for me, I had - So at work, they were very flexible. So they gave me time off, as much as I needed. 

While Asun was in hospital as well, or?

Yeah. Yeah. So there was no problem at all. So, the day that happened - the day that, that Asun broke water, I just - I just call my boss and said, "Listen, this is the situation. Do you want me to book a day off of holidays or whatever?" He said, "No, don't worry. The important thing is your family, so just - just be there. Just, that's it - don't worry about work. Just be with your family, and that's what is important at the moment."

And yeah, I consider they helped me a lot. And when that happened, and when - when everything was over, and I went back to work, and - yeah. So my, yeah. My boss and my manager - so everybody was quite understanding, you know, with me and my situation. And they just had - Yeah, we had a few talks, and - and it really helped me. Really helped me. And it helped me that somehow that to go back to a routine, to be my mind busy. And yeah, talking to people, it helped me to just let it out, and that's it, and. Yeah. And just - just move on, no? I guess. But you never - 

How was it, going back into the work? How did people help you?

People helped me. I didn't tell many people. Because I didn't - I didn't want - Because sometimes people confuses things, the situations. And they tend to feel sorry for you. And that's the last thing you want, you don't want people to feel sorry for you. You want people to understand what you're going through. Well, not understand, it's just listen to me. That's it. 

But the way that people treat me at work was, was good. They, they - We just talk about it, and they - and I talked with the people I wanted to talk. And I told them the situation, how I was feeling. They asked me how was my wife. And every now and then, if you need time, if you want to talk, just let me know. And - And yeah, I think that was just the right amount. They - Because they didn't actually – They, they weren't nosy, nosy. And, or trying to just - No, no, it was just the right amount. So it's "Just tell me how you feel." And that's it. And "Let me know if you want to talk about it." And I think was fine. And every time they told me and remind me, "If you need time, or time off, or you want to go home, just feel free to do it." And yeah, that's the way, that's the way it worked. 
 

When he went back to work David was angered by someone asking if “Are you over it yet?”

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David: And Elaine - Then we had to get back to normality. I think I went back to work, just a week later. Or a few days later. Was that a week? And Elaine went back to what she did. And that was it. And I remember going back to work. And they're very good, work. And I was working for [company name] at the time. And they sent flowers. You know, card of condolence. Which was lovely of them. [dealing with tissues] I was at work. My first day at work. And I remember, I went to my desk. And I was an IT analyst there, we had a team of analysts. And there was the guy, senior guy, who must have been then as old as I am now - about 60.

Elaine: [laughing]

David: Senior guy. And he said to me - I sat down and was getting my - trying to catch up with my emails. He said to me, "Are you over it yet?" And I thought - I thought [laugh] - If I hadn't have restrained myself, I probably would have smacked - done something I regretted. 

David: Like my football team had just lost the cup final, "Are you over it yet?" And I looked at him and I said, "You don't know what you're talking about." And I just went out for a coffee. If I'd stayed there, I would have - as I said - done something I would have regretted. 

But there was a lot of other people who were sympathetic, but this guy was lucky he didn't lose a few teeth. But it would have been worth it - if I'd have lost my job, it would have been worth it. But I couldn't believe someone's insensitivity. I think it took someone else to actually tell him what happened. 

But I'm not sure if he did know what happened, I can't believe - And he did apologise, but that sticks with me. That one thing sticks with me, about work.
Emotional support

Many of the mothers and fathers we spoke to felt men’s feelings were overlooked. Fathers often felt forgotten after the loss of the baby as help, sympathy and care was focused on the mother.
 

Matthew felt people don’t really think about how loss affected fathers.

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I think it's - You don't - [sigh]. I think when you're the father, you're in - In the pregnancy, you're naturally the second fiddle anyway, you're pushed to one side. But it's, it's - I think it's certainly the case with something like this, where people don't really think about how it's affected you. Or it's kind of expected more that the woman's going to be upset, the mother. But the father's just expected to sort of get on with it. And I think it's - You've got to recognise you're allowed to say, you know, you're finding it hard. And that it'll only get better if you, you allow yourself to say that, and go and speak to someone about it. Otherwise just sort of trying to be stoic about it, and pushing on as if everything's fine, isn't really necessarily going to help in the long run. It's not going to help you or your partner to get through it.
 

Iain found it really helpful when people acknowledged not only that he was supporting Michelle but also how badly affected he was too.

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Iain: Yeah, I think - I often refer to this as kind of like a fluke. But it was just simple things, like you know, I happened - you know. We talked about the friends who'd been involved in Miscarriage Association, they both came round. And he looked at me in the eye, and said - you know, talked to me individually, as though my feelings mattered. And you know, tried to get me to see that yes, I'm supporting Michelle, but I have to work through my own grief as well.

So you know, he kind of eyeballed me [laugh], you know, and made sure I understood that, and gave me a leaflet about what - from the Miscarriage Association, about how men go through this. So [clears throat], that was helpful. And then again, you know, the fluke that there was this pilot men's group that started up and I'd been invited to go along. And suddenly I was in a room full of blokes who were talking about miscarriage. You know, that was a fluke, but it really helped. 

Michelle: Mmm.

Iain: So, so right at the beginning I wasn't given the option of silence [laugh] and brooding away myself. You know? So that was a good thing. And because - you know, I - A lot of things I did, I had to tell people I wasn't coming that day [laugh]. You know, like I think I was due to do an assembly, or a - or a lesson at a school, you know. And I had to phone and say "I can't come." So kind of everyone knew.

Michelle: Yeah.

Iain: Which was really helpful, actually. You know? So, I - the next time I turned up at school, you know, there was one teacher that made sure she gave me time before I started my lesson, so she could see how I was. You know? That sort of thing. So, yeah. So I think just a) people acknowledging what we've been through, but also acknowledging - I want them to acknowledge that I'm supporting Michelle, and that's not easy. But I also want them to acknowledge that I've been through something too.

And I had that. You know. It really was - And that, listening to other people's experiences, that's quite a fluke, actually. [laugh] You know? So I'm, you know - since then, you know, offered to other blokes - you know - that I can go for a walk with them if that helps. And that, that's helped some of them - you know - to sort of know that they can talk about it from their perspective, and it's okay. It's not being selfish. You know? It's not detracting from what they're trying to do supporting their wives, but they - they need to process it as well. So, I - I was just lucky that I had people doing that with me, so. 
Many parents highlighted the lack of support that was available to fathers compared to mothers. Sarah described how bereavement care was focused on her as a mother while her husband was treated “as my secondary support… but it was very much… his loss as well.” Asun also felt bereavement care was “not something that's offered to the dads… It's focused on the mother. And the loss is for both.”
 

David described the lack of support for fathers and the impact that had on delaying his grief.

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Elaine was fantastic. She was like - She was like she was just in there for a check-up [laugh]. She was making jokes, and - I don't think a lot - you know - Elaine's, Elaine says she's got anxiety issues and that sort of type of problem, but she's stronger than she thinks. She got through that. I don't know how she-. In her position, to give birth like that, I don't think I could have done it. Obviously not. But if I was a woman, you know what I'm saying. 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

The mindset to get through that - I wouldn't have the mindset to get through that. I don't think a lot of women have. Obviously they do, and I - As a man, I don't know - I don't know - I can't comprehend what they go through. You know, my wife went through it, and she got through it, and she was fantastic, you know? And - What I don't think is the men, i.e. me - the man - has to get on with things. Because I don't think there's any network for a man to get through this. And it caught up with me, several years later. This happened in 2001. In 2005 it actually caught up with me. And I didn't know it at the time. Strange story, was - I'd taken the day off in 2005, to go - And we went to see Lauren's grave. We had a headstone done at that stage. And I went to see Lauren's grave. I don't know why I went to see her. It was a Tuesday. And the date was 7/7, July 7th 2005. And I worked where those bombs went off. And I normally go on the train that these, those guys took. And the bus that these guys took. Not at that time, but that was my journey. Not saying I would have been on those at the time, because I usually get in at seven o'clock, so I would have missed it. But for some - I took the day off that day. And I went to see Lauren. And my son, bless him - he now knows all this these little stories. He said was Lauren keeping you safe.

But the follow-on from that was I got back in the car, Elaine had driven. Got back in the car, and we stuck the radio on about nine o'clock. We went early as well, it was nine, nine-thirty. And the news started to filter through. And it dawned on me, well - you know - that's where I work, that's the bus I would have taken, you know? It's the route I would have taken. And I, I had a breakdown. I went into - my brain switched off. And Elaine phoned the doctor, and the doctor - I had two weeks in [acute mental health treatment centre]. And I don't know what clicked in, but it took them six months to realise that I had the association of losing Lauren, and not dealing with it, and the possible death and carnage that I wasn't around - something clicked in my mind, brain, and it switched it off. And I spent six months in - Two months - Two, two weeks in the hospital, [acute mental health treatment centre]. And another six months as an outpatient having therapy to get over, over it. I couldn't go on a train, I couldn't do anything. Couldn't - I didn't want to go back to work. And it took till - from July until end of December, for me to get back to normality, and get over that. But they two things together, as a cause of that breakdown. And that's because I didn't deal with Lauren's stillborn as perhaps I should have. I didn't have the network. You know, the man gets on with it, goes back to work, carries on as normal. He's just lost a baby, what difference? You know? You've got to earn a crust. And get back to normality. And that's basically not good, a good thing in any way. And there should be something more for the man as well as the complete network support for the lady, the woman who's just lost that baby. So, there's nothing there for the guy. Should be more for the man, and there should be a lot more for the woman. And that's my story.
 

Sarah always felt awful when people didn’t ask her husband how he was feeling.

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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I think in terms of dealing with things with my husband afterwards, like between us - it was really important that we were open with each other about how we felt about things.

That was - I think that was one of the most important things for us, to make sure that we stayed close during our grieving, that it was something we did together. 

And also allowing him - allowing him to be a grieving parent as well. Rather than it being all on me. So that we did - we took care of each other, not just - it wasn't just one-sided.

He's quite, he's quite emotionally open, like - that's with me, anyway. So I think [sigh]. It's not so much that we grieved differently, it was at different times. It was So, yeah. But then that was quite good in some respects, because it felt like we could take turns taking care of each other.

And it was just, it was just who needed the most care at each time. You know, who needed the most help. And not being - not being selfish with our grieving time - you know, that's not probably quite the right word. But. Yeah, just to take care of each other as well as anything else. Because, you know - I'm - Just me accepting that he was, he had lost a baby as well.

Which I think probably - I don't, I obviously can't speak for other people. But I would always feel awful, for the fact when people asked him how I was. And I think rather than asking him how he was. And I thought well that's, that's a horrible thing - why would they not consider the fact that he was also going through this horrible thing? Like he'd have to sit and watch me do all that. And having to - And so the fact that I think he said he appreciated that I appreciated how hard it was for him as well. 

Considering what I was doing, that I could also see how, how badly it had affected him too. 
 

David Z felt that fathers’ needs were very much forgotten.

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No, it's just that somehow we are forgotten, no? In some moments. Especially when you talk to people. People don't - Some people don't even ask you how you are. Just asking you "How is your wife, how is?" And you think well, what about me? You know? What happened if I - if I'm totally broken? What happened if I - if I'm devastated? So, what happened? But yeah, I think that more information for, for both, no? Or more - more assistance for – even for the father, is required. Because depending how strong you are, you may be suffering a lot.

And people don't even care, you know. Or even notice that you’re- that you need some help, no? You're actually crying for help, and maybe - maybe because of, I don't know, some parts of the society - maybe it's not, it’s not good if you're a man and you cry, you know, in public. And things like that. And it's like, come on. I think that the parents should be actually looked after a bit better, a bit more. Or not looked after, it's just asking more how you are, how - do you need anything, or do you need to talk about it, and you need some time, or. I think that that's what it is, no?
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