TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses pregnancy loss.
Chris Duncan is one of those dads who definitely does not babysit his kids. He’s right in there with his wife, Danni - parenting in a way that’s a million miles from what he experienced himself growing up in England. Active, engaged and present, Chris loves being a dad - partly because he thinks he’s a big kid himself. But when times have been tough, he’s quick to step-up and lead from the heart, parenting Harper and twins Harlow & Beau.
We’ve met the twins before with mum Danni, as she walked us through her reality of feeding twins alongside an active toddler in one of our Feed Fearlessly posts last year. Recently, those tough times have included a devastating miscarriage while overseas on a dream family holiday. For Chris and Danni, this only brought them closer together, with Danni openly and honestly sharing parts her grieving process with her instagram audience.
This Father’s Day, we spoke with Chris about what fatherhood means to him - and how he too has learned to acknowledge his own grief in addition to supporting Danni through hers. He also candidly shares his thoughts on what it was like to support a partner during a particularly difficult feeding journey for Danni with both Harper and the twins.
“I love being a Dad and I’m lucky enough that it comes naturally…I didn’t come from a big family but I always wanted a big family of my own so our little household (not forgetting the cats) is something I’m really proud of. Don’t get me wrong being a parent can be bloody challenging at times but it's the most rewarding job in the world!” Chris says.
“My parents split when I was 5, it wasn’t a positive experience for me so I’ve always wanted to ensure I create a happy family unit. All of my friends parents are also separated and from a young age I just never wanted that for my kids. I’m very family orientated, and I’m lucky enough that Danni is the same.
“There are certain parts of my own childhood, like arguments & domestic violence that I don’t want my kids to experience. This is something I was very aware of growing up, long before I was ready to settle down and have kids. Of course Danni & I have arguments like every other normal couple but I’m very aware of the fact we have 3 little children in the house who hear and see everything we do. I want to show them what a loving, respectful relationship looks like,” explains Chris.
Together, they also consciously model an incredibly active lifestyle.
“As parents, you automatically become role models for your children. They watch your every move - from what you eat, your daily habits, the way you speak and treat people. Our children don’t drink juice or fizzy drinks - they all like green vegetables and understand what certain foods do for our bodies. We made a conscious effort as they grow up to eat meals at the table and talk about the food we’re eating,” he says of their home life.
“I live a healthy lifestyle for my own mental health but I know the importance of my children growing up with a positive attitude towards health & fitness and sport.”
Mental health is something that comes up frequently when speaking to both Chris and Danni, both demonstrating a level of self-awareness that has undoubtedly helped them navigate the chaos of raising small children, particularly the unforgiving baby years.
“Those first few months are already stressful enough for a mother (first, second or third child) but breastfeeding twins is another level all together. Seeing a loved one stressed or have high anxiety is tough but I just made sure I was there to support Danni in anyway I could,” Chris recalls of the days when the kids were babies.
“We made the decision that Danni would try and breastfeed to the best of her ability, for as long as she could but she knew she had my full support and backing if we needed to introduce formula. It’s not nice seeing someone you love unhappy, anxious, and emotional, so I always try my best to help resolve what we can. If that meant moving to formula then that was always the best option in that case,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Danni breastfed Harper for 6 months and I used to wake up and sit with her whilst she fed Harper. I obviously can't help with the breastfeeding but I could go downstairs and get Danni some food, make her a cup of tea or burp Harper when she’s finished. I don’t understand the Dads that don’t wake up or selfishly sleep in another room. It’s your child too!” he exclaims.
“When the twins came along it was all hands on deck - there was never a question that I wouldn’t be up with her feeding them. As parents, as husband and wife we just made it work.
“Everybody’s situation is different and I believe you need to do what’s best for you.”
Recently, the couple sadly experienced a tragic miscarriage while on a dream family holiday. The heartbreaking scenario played out with Danni in hospital and Chris burying his emotions to get through the next few days.
“Danni miscarried on the flight from Manchester to Singapore so as you can imagine it was extremely tough for her, having to go through that on a plane but also with 3 children, under 5 to look after,” he says.
“We landed in Singapore, Danni was rushed off the plane and taken straight to a hospital, leaving me with the 3 children and carry-on luggage. The first 24 hours in Singapore was a complete blur and mentally I think I turned off my emotional side because I had to focus all of my energy on the children. Danni’s Mum flew over from Australia to help which we can’t thank her enough for, and that’s when I could release the emotion,” he recalls.
“Danni had to stay hospital for 3-4 days, so I just wanted to make sure she felt supported. I tried to let out my emotion away from her as I wanted to be strong for her. When I get upset - she gets upset and she was already hurting so much. We did have some time together in the hospital - that was very emotional.”
“Fast forward 3 weeks, we’re home in Australia and back into a routine which I think helps. I’ve seen a few people that didn’t actually know Danni had miscarried so they congratulated us on the 4th child, for me to then explain what happened which is hard. We still talk about it, what could have been but the main thing for me is making sure Danni knows it was nothing she could have done,” he says.
Reflecting on his grief, Chris acknowledges that communicating together is key, as well as sharing your experience and emotional journey with others if it helps you.
“As parents, we both lost the baby, we’d both talked about the future with a 4th, it’s much harder physically and emotionally for Danni,” he says.
“Having now experienced 4 miscarriages together, the advice I can give is that you’d be surprised by the number of people who have experienced the same. I think the world is changing in the aspect of ‘men can’t talk, open up, show their emotional side’ but there will be some men out there that will keep their emotions hidden away which could have an adverse effect on their mental health. It’s okay to talk, to grieve - it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.”
Red Nose grief and loss 24 hour support line: 1300 308 307
Sands Australia (miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death support) 24 hour support line: 1300 072 637
Pillars of Strength (Australian-first organisation supporting bereaved dads to stillbirth, neonatal death and infant loss): http://pillarsofstrength.com.au/