It’s the club no-one wants to belong to. I’m a member. My big sister is a member. So is a good friend of ours. Even my husband has full membership. Perhaps you or someone you love belongs to the group. And this year, approximately two and a half thousand Australian parents will unwittingly join the club. We are all parents of a stillborn baby.
In years gone by stillbirth and its tragic partner, miscarriage, were topics no-one wanted to talk about. Parents were told to ‘just forget’ about their babies. Luckily things have changed and many people – in both the medical and caring professions and in everyday life – now know that men and women must grieve the loss of their baby in order to maintain their emotional health. For most parents this process involves remembering their baby in some way – never just ‘forgetting’ about them.
My daughter, Sienna, was stillborn four years ago today. My husband and I remember her in many ways. I have a little shelf in my wardrobe which holds all of Sienna’s things. It started out as a storage place where I could keep paperwork relating to her death – the autopsy results, grief literature from the hospital, prices and packages from the funeral home as well as her photos and hand and footprints. Sienna’s shelf has since evolved and now includes her ashes in a beautiful ceramic container, some poems, a square of her muslin wrap which I used to wipe my tears away at her funeral, a plaster cast of her tiny hands and feet and gifts from people who shared my grief.
Every day when I choose my clothes I see her things. Some days I barely pause to look at them, yet other days something will catch my eye and I will stop – reading things, touching things, remembering her. I find it comforting.
It is often said that men grieve differently to women. After Sienna’s birth my husband’s behaviour was mysterious to me. He was quiet and often went missing for hours – either to the beach or to his brother’s house. Luke and I suffered a period of disconnection where I thought he didn’t care and he didn’t know what to say to me. One night, after I broke down and said that I felt that no-one remembered Sienna, he also cried and said he felt the same. His friends and family rarely spoke to him about his loss which made him feel that it was not acknowledged.
From this moment Luke and I began remembering Sienna together – merely through simple acts such as speaking her name, wondering what she would look like if she were alive today, imagining the toddler tantrums she would be pulling, wishing that we could see her sleeping face, wanting to hear the soft pad of her little feet in the early hours of the morning – we miss her.
Luke also found a way to remember Sienna that was meaningful to him. Never one for tattoos (and a big crybaby when it comes to needles) Luke had Sienna’s handprint tattooed on his chest. This way he carries her with him always. During summer, when we spend a lot of time swimming, Luke is often asked about his tattoo. This is when he gets to tell people about his daughter. This is when she is remembered.
Remembering our babies is crucial. It validates their life and our own experience. It is our way of saying, ‘This happened to me and it is important.’ This act of remembering is recognised globally by the International Stillbirth Alliance every October. The month is dedicated throughout the world to raising awareness of infant and pregnancy loss and to honouring and remembering babies and infants who died due to miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, SIDS and all infant deaths.
October 15th is global Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
(See http://www.october15th.com/ for details)
One of the events that I participate in is the International Wave of Light. In time zones all over the world people are asked to light a candle at 7pm on the 15th for at least an hour to create a continuous wave of light around the world. There is always a candle burning at our house on this day.
And in the babylost community there are some angels who help us remember our children. One of these is Carly Dudley. Carly is a Western Australian mama who lost her son Christian in very similar circumstances to my Sienna. Her experience led her to create the website To Write Their Names in The Sand. She writes the name of children who have been lost all around the world. She brings immeasurable comfort to bereaved parents – for some her photos are the only memento they have of their child or children. She wrote Sienna’s name for me here.
And in a lovely synchronicity Carly gave birth today to her daughter Ocea. Congratulations Carly and family. I’m so glad your little one is safe with you now.
This year I met a lovely woman – a supporter of the babylost community – on Twitter. A friend of Carly’s, Sarah Pietrzak is also doing beautiful work for bereaved parents with her team, including photographer Richard and designer Danielle, on her website Rory’s Garden. This is a place where Sarah honours the memory of her baby brother, Rory, by honouring other little ones who have been lost. One day she simply sent me this beautiful image. Once more I am touched and humbled by the support in this community. Thank you.
For us, forgetting Sienna is not an option. She has coloured our life since her birth and death. She is remembered every day of the year.