It’s very hard to explain how happiness and sadness can exist side by side but when your newborn baby dies in your arms, these emotions just do.
I have a clearer perspective of the phenomenon due to the fact that I was put under general anaesthetic for the birth. I was told that my baby was dying before I had even seen her. I was therefore prepared for grief, but when I set my eyes on Eva for the first time, the rush of immense joy took me by surprise. This mix of emotions lasted for days, the unrelenting sadness hit when I went home to my regular life as a new parent with no baby.
I had a lot of support from family and friends, and of course, my devoted husband Tim, who was himself grieving but remained so strong for me. The nurses at the hospital were very compassionate and few who insisted that I did things – that felt unnatural to me at the time – like take lots of photos, and spend time with Eva’s body, and to them I am very grateful. They persisted knowing that I would want this later. A lot of people want to keep their distance from a grieving mother – but I was thankful for those who stepped across that boundary to direct me through those first days.
We held a funeral. This is not for everyone, but we wanted to. The chapel at the hospital was overflowing and I was shocked by how many people came. In hindsight this was an amazing way to grieve and be able to see all the people who couldn’t speak to me about what had happened but were present in support. For me, celebrating Eva’s short life with friends helped me to feel more like a mother – a real one.
I have a beautiful cousin, Fiona, who lost a baby late in pregnancy and she gave me great comfort. She took me to a group called Stormanston House, run by the fabulous Deb de Wylde of Mater Hospital. Deb hosted group counselling events that gave us all a chance to talk about our babies and our journey and listening to other peoples stories about how their babies died and how their loved ones were coping with their grief. The journeys were all vastly different and realising this helped me to understand that grief has no predictable path. In the end it was just time that made me feel like it was okay to laugh again. I don’t think the sadness will ever go away but I have learned to cultivate joy alongside it again.
I wanted to have another baby straight away and I was told by doctors that I only had to wait six weeks for my body to be physically ready again. Eva was born in May and I was pregnant again in July. That pregnancy lasted until ten weeks and then I had a miscarriage. I went through a second surge of grief which was probably just the continuation of the first. It took me six months to fall pregnant again. I was very clear in my mind that this new baby would not replace Eva but I still was desperate to start a family. I can’t explain this desperate need as I was very hesitant about falling pregnant the first time.
I attended a new support group for ‘Pregnancy after Loss’, again facilitated by Deb de Wylde at Stormanston House. This really helped me to work through feelings of guilt and continuing grief, fear and expectation. I came to understand that wanting another baby was not the same as wanting Eva back. We were encouraged to find out the gender as, apparently, after loss, you subconsciously expect the same gender of baby and some women can become quite depressed if they end up having the opposite.
As a result of my loss of Eva and my parenting of Naomi and Marlow, I am much more compassionate and emotional. I cry a lot but for shorter periods and often with joy. Patience is also strength that surprised me. I felt on many occasions that I calmly dealt with a persistent parenting issue while my otherwise very calm husband, lost his temper. This was a total role reversal for us!
I went to a writer’s festival panel discussion about Rachel Power’s book on ‘Motherhood and Creativity’. The discussion centred around how successful artists work in a creative career with children in tow. After an hour of talking about how bloody difficult it is a woman in the audience put up her hand and said “I am a journalist and I am passionate about my work. I am considering having a baby, but listening to the discussion today, I am thinking that having a family might not be for me…” The four panelists all leapt from their seats and shouted in unison “Have a baby! It’s the best thing you’ll ever do!” I think this sums up parenthood… it’s so hard but so full of joy. Becoming a mum is certainly the best thing I have ever done.
Susie is mum to Naomi, Marlow and angel baby Eva
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, marked specifically on October 15th. Being a voice on what was once a silent topic is one way we can celebrate and honour babies who have passed away through miscarriage, stillbirth or postnatal causes. Speaking out may also be a way for some parents to work through this heartbreaking experience, help create awareness and support others. For helpful and supportive information about miscarriage please visit COPE.ORG.AU