Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald considers himself a pretty ‘private’ guy. Raised in a no-nonsense, suck-it-up kind of household, the Adelaide man went on to the machismo-soaked world of professional AFL.
Yet despite it all, there’s one personal experience the Nova radio host is intent on sharing; the loss of his stillborn daughter, Cayley-Jay.
Speaking to the Balls Deep podcast, Fitzy opened up about the grief that swallowed the first year of his marriage to Belinda Irons in 2008.
“We lost a child, which was pretty full-on,” the 41-year-old said. “I came from a family that’s like, you know what, you get dealt a bad blow and you move on. But she came from a family that was quite emotional.
“So I had to tend to her needs and work that out. But that brought us closer together than ever before, and it made us even stronger.”
Cayley-Jay was born without breath at close to five months gestation.
Fitzy said he and his wife approached the death in vastly different ways. While he was reluctant to see or hold his stillborn daughter out of fear of trauma (“I said, ‘No, I think this is ridiculous I think we should move on and forget about it.’”), she chose otherwise.
“She delivered the baby and she decided to [hold Cayley-Jay], and it was the best thing that we ever did,” he said. “Because we had closure. We got to say hello and then we got to say goodbye to Cayley-Jay. It was a beautiful moment, it really was.”
The Fitzgeralds now have two beautiful sons – Hewston, eight, and Lenny, four – and the father said their births were that much sweeter given everything he and Belinda had been through.
“There was a moment where [Cayley-Jay’s death] was the end of the world,” he told Sunday Style in 2015. “But when we had our first child, Hewston, we had to think how lucky we were to have one.”
Fitzy has spoken openly about the topic over the last few years, and lent his profile to StillAware, an organisation that aims to raise awareness of and help prevent stillbirth in Australia.
The former Sydney Swans player told Balls Deep his decision to share his family's story is motivated by how little pregnancy loss is discussed, especially among men.
"It's astounding to find out that the statistics are that one in three women miscarry," he said. "If it hasn't happened to you, you ask any of your mates and it's happened to somebody that you know.
"I think we need to talk about it."
If you have experienced pregnancy loss or newborn death and are in need of support, please call SANDS on 1300 072 637.