Caroline's story

I would like to share our story of the loss of our baby Grace who was stillborn at 26 weeks gestation on 30th January 2016.

Our 20 week scan was perfect but because of the way our baby was facing I was told that I would not be able to feel kicking until a little later in the pregnancy and at 20 weeks I hadn’t really felt much at all. Our 20 week scan was beautiful and our baby was captured sucking her thumb in the scan which I was told is quite rare. I will always remember that time, it really highlighted for me that although she was small she was already aware of herself at some level and was learning to sooth herself, she was alive and here with us. I was very busy during this pregnancy and the 20 week scan was around 1 week before Christmas in 2015. I was running my own small business at the time and it was peak season for us so I was very busy.

After the scan I believed everything was well with our baby and I then became quite preoccupied with work, Christmas plans and then plans for my 40th Birthday in January 2018. I was looking forward to my birthday in particular because it was going to be a wonderful time  to celebrate with family and friends and it also coincided with a much needed week away by the beach with extended family and friends. It was midway through this week that I started to feel anxious because I finally had time to slow down and I noticed that I still hadn’t really felt much kicking from my baby but I just reassured myself that it must be because of the way that she was positioned (as our Doctor had explained) and continued to enjoy time with family.

Our next appointment was nearing 26 weeks and the day prior to the appointment I had this ominous feeling that something was very very wrong. I couldn’t shake the feeling this time but I didn’t rush to the hospital, I just waited anxiously until the next day, I somehow just tried to convince myself that this feeling I had was simply nerves and nothing more. When we got to our appointment and had the scan and there was no heartbeat I felt numb, and started to hyperventilate, I felt like screaming but no sound would come out. Knowing that your child has died is the worst feeling in the world. The emotion that overcomes you when you are told that there is no longer a heartbeat is actually still quite indescribable to this day.

My husband had to handle booking in my induction for the next day. I didn’t know what to do or say, I rushed out of the Doctors rooms and went straight to our car. I couldn’t talk to friends or family, my husband handled all of this because all I could do was sob. By the time I got to hospital I was exhausted, completely depleted of energy. I was induced in the evening around 8 pm and was told to expect to give birth the next morning but I just new she would be born much sooner than that. Grace was born around 2 am in the morning and came so quickly that I gave birth in the hospital suite.

Unlike the birth of my previous two children there was no pain, just the pain inside my heart. Our midwives were incredible and so caring, I will never forget how they brought Grace into the world with such dignity. There was classical music playing as she came into the world and I felt very cared for and safe. I really found it hard to see our baby after she was born, she was so small and void of life and it’s just not how I wanted to see her. I wanted to see her alive. I have never seen my husband so sad until that day. It made me recognise how much love we have for our children.

Grace was just as special to us in death as she would have been if she had lived a full life. We felt so broken because she would never have a full life, we would never see her smile or laugh or play. She would never know her brothers. My husband held her and told me that he wanted to give her that, he wanted to hold her, he wanted her to know that she was loved. The next day before we left the hospital we had her blessed by the pastoral care services at the Mater. We also came back a couple of days later to say our final goodbyes and to see her and sit with her one last time before she was sent to be cremated. We had a small family funeral a week later.

Losing a baby makes you feel like you are part of a club that nobody speaks about yet they should be speaking more openly so that grieving parents don’t feel so alone. It was the toughest time of my life and for us as a family. After the funeral and after the condolence messages stopped coming, that is when I started to feel very alone with my grief. My husband and I visited the Mater bereavement counselling service which really helped us a lot. It was actually only three visits in total but I don’t think I would have coped if I didn’t have access to this service. I also sought some counselling around six months later outside of Mater and even joined the Seeds of Change parenting group, all of this helped me with my grief.

You don’t realise until you experience it first hand that grief is a process that takes time. For me, it was a year and a half before I could really say that I had started to heal and to feel whole again. I made a lot of lifestyle changes in that time. Losing Grace made me take a look at our life with new perspective. My closest friends became closer and I realised who they were because they were willing to be there for me.

So many people didn’t know what to say to me when they heard of our loss, it was like the loss of a baby was so shocking that they were lost for words and found it was easier to say nothing all. The opposite is actually true, people should acknowledge the loss of a baby because it helps the healing process. It meant so much to me when people did acknowledge the loss of our baby because is was like they were acknowledging that our love for her was real. Unknowingly someone said to me that they don’t feel the depth of our loss because she (baby Grace) didn’t live a life and people didn’t get to know her. However, that is why our grief is so magnified, because we had always planned for our baby to be here and we planned for her wonderful life ahead. Instead she died and we will never have the joy of seeing her full potential, that is the greatest loss.

During what I refer to as my ‘healing phase’, I learned how to meditate. I now meditate as much as I can. I always think of baby Grace, much more than people will ever realise. I now actually think that although her life was short and she didn’t make it to full term that her gift to me as a Mum is larger than life. She made me realise how precious all life is, no matter how short. She made me realise how fragile we all are and that nothing should be taken for granted. The happier times are now happier because I know that life is short.

One of the hardest parts of this journey was telling our son youngest son Jack, who was four at the time, that his sister had passed away. He was so young and innocent and he grieved for her too. These days he is the one that talks about her all the time. He actually brings her up randomly in conversations which means that we often have to stop and explain to people who Grace was. His talking about her keeps her real to us. We welcomed our daughter Isabella into the world in May this year and he is the best big brother ever. We know that Jack will always remind Isabella of Grace was as she grows up. We also keep her memory real by talking about her always being here in spirit which is comforting to us all.

For all the parents and families who take the time to read our story, I thank you. I sincerely hope that you never lose a baby but it happens and if that person is you, remember that are not alone. I urge you to take time to grieve and to take care and be gentle with yourself and to reach out to the bereavement counselling at the Mater or the Seeds of Change group or friends or whatever feels right for you. Grief is a process but you do get through it.

Hopefully our story will help others in some way.

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