After enduring stillbirths, three Maine fathers, from left, Rob Reider, Jay Tansey and Chris Piasecki started the Sad Dads Club to carry themselves and others through the darkest days of their grief. The club has grown into a global community, meets weekly and gathers for retreats in Maine. In addition to building community, the organization is committed to fundraising to ensure other parents have access to life-saving mental health support. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Chris Piasecki didn’t know what to expect when he walked through the doors of a Portland brewery in the fall of 2018 to meet up with two other dads.

Piasecki had recently lost his daughter to stillbirth, and an old college connection thought he might find comfort in talking with Rob Reider and Jay Tansey, friends who lost daughters to stillbirths. Their bond was immediate.

“You had three grown adults shedding tears in the middle of Liquid Riot while everyone looks on saying, ‘What’s wrong with those guys?'” Piasecki said. “We didn’t care. This was the first time you can talk about it and don’t have to explain or justify your feelings. That was a very powerful moment.”

Months earlier, his sister-in-law had called him at work to tell him to rush to the doctor’s office to be with his wife, Sarah, who was 37 weeks pregnant. The baby had stopped moving. There was no heartbeat.

They spent the night in the hospital, listening to the song “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron over and over, waiting for an outcome they had never imagined.

The next day, on July 21, 2018, their first child, Isabelle, was stillborn.


“Two days before we’re setting up a nursery, then you’re being asked if you’ve thought about cremation or burying your child,” said Piasecki, 37, of Yarmouth.

Sarah Piasecki’s friend from Bowdoin College connected the couple with Reider and Tansey, who had been college roommates. The three dads made plans to meet up for a beer.

From that meeting grew the Sad Dads Club, a global community of fathers – and sometimes mothers and grandparents – who have experienced a loss and gather online to support each other. It is, Reider says, the worst club with the best guys.

Over the past year, the nonprofit has grown far beyond Maine. There are members across the United States and Canada. One dad in Paris gets up at 3 a.m. to join a weekly Zoom call. Another joins from New Zealand. They connect on Instagram and through Discord, an online chat server, to share their lives – their grief, their joy, their everyday routines.

“It’s become much bigger than we ever anticipated,” Tansey said.

The Sad Dads say the club gives them a consistent place to find support while breaking down stigmas around men talking about their emotions and pregnancy loss.


Birth Roots, a Portland nonprofit that supports parents through pregnancy and early parenthood, now lists Sad Dads in its resource guides and allows the club to use its community gathering space.

“Sad Dads is absolutely filling a big gap in support for families that have experienced loss, and specifically a gap for fathers,” Birth Roots executive director Kate McCarthy said. “It’s a unique offering that is so very needed.”


Tansey and his wife, Elly Pepper, were ecstatic in 2016 to move back to Maine where they had met as undergrads at Bowdoin. He had a new job in Portland, and they were expecting their second child.

The due date came and went, but there were no indications of any problems when Pepper went in for her weekly checkup in January 2017. Later that evening, when the baby was usually active, Pepper didn’t feel her move.

There was no heartbeat the next morning when a doctor did an ultrasound, and they were told Pepper would have to deliver their daughter stillborn.


“We hadn’t heard of anyone having a stillbirth,” said Tansey, 39, of Cape Elizabeth. “We didn’t even know the phrase ‘stillbirth.’ We were devastated and in complete shock.”

A stillbirth is the death of a baby at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy or during delivery. Stillbirths affect about one in 175 pregnancies in the U.S., with about 21,000 babies stillborn each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tansey and Pepper endured a long, excruciating wait to deliver their baby, who they named Bella because she was so beautiful.

Bella was stillborn on Jan. 31, 2017. As the couple grieved, their family, friends and employers did what they could to support them. Some came to the hospital to spend time with Bella.

Rob and Tehilah Reider, their friends and classmates from Bowdoin, were close by their sides.

“It was pretty eye-opening just to see how traumatic and unbelievably painful that sort of loss was,” said Rob Reider, 39, of Falmouth.


Soon after, the Reiders found out they were expecting their first baby, due on Dec. 30. They wondered if she’d arrive late and be the first baby of the new year.

The Reiders went in for a routine appointment about 38 weeks into the pregnancy. There was no heartbeat. Lila was stillborn at 10:49 p.m. on Dec. 13, 2017.

“In the days after losing Lila, and then for weeks and months, there was such a profound darkness. And that’s the only way I can think to describe it,” Reider said. “Because even though I had Jay, Bella’s dad, who was my best friend from college, I still felt so heartbroken and so confused and hopeless.”


After losing their daughters, all three dads sought mental health counseling, individually and with their wives. But they also became a crucial outlet for each other, Reider said.

They started getting together regularly. They were there for each other on hard days and on happy days, as they marked milestones in their lives and welcomed more children into their families. They talked a lot about the things that were difficult for them and how to deal with the moments when they felt overwhelmed by grief.


“Things that we’d seen one way just didn’t appear that way anymore. Everything was clouded by grief, and everything was now informed by grief,” Reider said. “You have to get used to a brand-new version of yourself. And that’s really weird, and that’s really complicated.”

He described a “lightbulb moment” when the men realized they could be an outlet for other dads who needed the same kind of support. They wanted to provide a space where dads would feel comfortable being open about their emotions.

On March 1, 2022, they officially launched the Sad Dads Club with an Instagram page, a website to share stories and a plan to gather with others on Zoom.

As the number of dads logging on for the “Sad Dads Open Hour” grew, they decided to meet weekly instead of monthly. Those who joined changed their screen names to honor their children – “Lila’s dad Rob,” “Bella’s dad Jay” and “Izzy’s dad Chris.”

From left, Jay Tansey, Rob Reider and Chris Piasecki get together on a recent night at Liquid Riot brewery in Portland. After enduring stillbirths, the three fathers started the Sad Dads Club to carry themselves and others through the darkest days of their grief. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Will Boyer, of Hagerstown, Maryland, said he found Sad Dads while “doomscrolling” on Instagram. His third son, Lucas, was stillborn a month before on May 1, 2022, and Boyer was “all over the place emotionally,” he said. During meetings, he found a place where he felt comfortable opening up. Now he can’t imagine his life without Sad Dads.

“It’s completely changed who I am and how I go about looking at everything. As terrible as it was going through the loss, it makes me feel like I’m not alone in it,” he said. “It’s nice to break through the stigma of having to be this tough, strong guy who can’t show emotion and feel like it’s OK to take the time to feel things myself.”


Albert Thomas, of Los Angeles, said he found his way to Sad Dads in the weeks after it launched. His son, Auggie, was stillborn on July 20, 2020. He assumed the gathering would be doom and gloom, but hoped he’d find some tools to cope with his loss. He found much more.

“It’s not even coping anymore. At this point, it’s just part of our lives,” he said. “I don’t want other fathers to have to go through this alone. I don’t want there to be another father who thinks there’s no resources for them.”

Earlier this year, Thomas helped set up the Sad Dads Discord channel, which allows people to chat outside of meetings. It has deepened the connections and friendships between club members, he said.

“We are connected through our children,” Thomas said. “Our children are the ones who are actively getting us to join and become friends.”


In late October, nearly 20 Sad Dads from across the country gathered at Panther Pond in Raymond for their first retreat. They already knew each other well, but for most, it was the first time they had met in person.


The retreat marked another step forward for the Sad Dads, which recently received nonprofit status. Reider quit his job this fall to take on the role of executive director.

The founding members say it’s been surreal and humbling to watch the community grow. And they have big plans for the future.

They envision more meetings for people with different losses and more opportunities to gather in person. Recognizing the importance of mental health care and that Sad Dads is not a replacement for professional help, they plan to raise money to help its members pay for and access professional therapy.

“One of the drivers of Sad Dads is always talking about getting that mental health care to people,” Piasecki said. “It may have saved my life.”

Another thing that will always remain central to Sad Dads is making sure their children are not forgotten and that people know it’s OK to talk about loss.

“In the void of those children being here physically, the world doesn’t see them, so they don’t remember them. They don’t talk about them,” Reider said. “It’s a really hard thing for other people to bring up with bereaved parents because they think they’re just going to bum them out.”


The Reiders talk about Lila all the time, especially with their 4-year-old son, Dallas. Her name is inked across her father’s neck.

“We find a way to make sure she’s part of our family, because she is,” he said. “It’s up to us to talk about her to make sure that she is remembered, because the world can’t see her and they wouldn’t know otherwise.”

An important part of their healing process has been learning not to associate Lila with pain, but with the beauty they find in the world around them. Reider said he and his wife often think of Lila when the sky looks a certain way.

As the sun sets, turning the walls of their home a perfect apricot hue and casting shadows of dancing branches and leaves, they feel like Lila is saying hello.

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