you must remember this

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.

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37 Comments

Filed under loss

37 responses to “you must remember this

  1. Thank you so much for sharing the memory of Sienna.

    My half-brother, Mfie, was still-born at 38 weeks gestation 22 years ago on the 14th December. I was 17 at the time and had little idea of the scale of my step-mother and father’s loss – it wasn’t until I was pregnant for the first time that I was able to even imagine it.

    My father has reserved the plot next to Mfie’s grave. When I once asked him about it, he said that my sisters and I would have opportunities to marry and have families of our own and that Mfie wouldn’t. He wanted to keep him company.

    Last year, my half-sister, born 3 years after brother, had his date of birth tattooed on her ankle.

    When I saw it for the first time, it made me cry – just as the tiny handprint on your partner’s chest made me cry.

    Happy Birthday, Sienna. Your mother and father both love you and honour you well.

  2. That is an exceptionally beautiful post. I’m incredibly sorry for your loss, and I’m thinking of your baby girl right now. As we do in Judaism on the anniversary of a person’s death, I wish you and your husband and other children a very, very long life.

  3. I hope you all have a wonderful day remembering Sienna.

    I remember my sons every day of the year but especially on the significant days because, like you, I will not deny the life they did have, short as it may have been. However every time I am asked how many children I have I feel I betray them to some degree if I am unable to include them in the count. Keeping the memory of your child alive, honoring the life they had, is not always an easy thing.

    • Liz, I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t always say that I am the mother of ‘3’ – and I know what you mean when you say that it feels like a betrayal. Sometimes, the explanations are too hard… I seek out sympathetic communities to share my story, such as this amazing one. xxx

      • I often don’t mention it because as you say, explanations… but I try to reply in a way that’s open ended. The easiest one is when someone asks if the child with me is my only one. I can say “No” and leave it at that 🙂

  4. I wish you and your family much strength. Your baby Sienna will always be safe in your memories and the beautiful tributes that you have created for her and I am sure that wherever her little soul rests, she knows she is loved by you.

  5. I am so sorry. I have three stillborn brothers who are never spoken of, ever, were never named and simply hidden. All I know of them is that they exist. when I lost my first baby I knew why Mum hid all her pain away, its too hard sometimes. You are very brave and wonderful to have the strength to remember her – both of you are. Thank you for sharing your daughter with us. You have no need to apologise for a post such as this.

    • Thank you so much. Your loss and your mum’s losses are important, but yes, we can’t always wear it out in public. I know exactly where you are coming from. Thank you for your kindness xxx

  6. seraphim75

    A beautiful way to remember Sienna. For too long it has been taboo to mention lost loved ones. I spent a life time of watching people squirm when I was asked how many siblings I had, I would say “five, but one is in heaven.” And it almost inevitably ended the conversation. It’s a conversation we should be having. And creating Rory’s Garden in tribute to my brother was a small way of doing that. Lots of love to you today Jayne and husband x

  7. Thank you so much Sarah – Rory’s Garden is such an amazing tribute and your willingness to speak of him is so touching. I am honoured to have found you in this community. xxxx

  8. My dear friend lost her baby Layla at 5 weeks of age. We remember her and each year have a cake on her birthday and talk about what she may have been doing now… Even the shortest life touches us, and deserves to be honoured and remembered. My thoughts are with you. Happy birthday Sienna.

  9. I’m just sitting here in tears. I am so, so sorry that Sienna never got to know her beautiful Mum and Dad nor you her.

    I recently had to organise my Mum’s funeral which although not nice, I could justify in mind that she’d had a long life, had seen her kids grow up and was witness to 4 grandchildren coming into the world.

    I cannot, for the life of me, imagine sitting there in that room discussin similar details for a child. I just can’t, so you to me are amazing.

    Love to you this Christmas. Bern x

  10. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to lose Sienna when you did. I admire your honesty and heartfelt post here. It could help so many, many people. But even if it only helps one person, it’s very much worthwhile.

    My thoughts and prayers and wishes for the future are with you and your family. I promise to say an extra special prayer for Sienna tonight. x

  11. An Idle Dad

    I don’t want to base our Twitter relationship around this, but you write emotions my wife and I rarely can express but often feel.
    Nice work yet again. Thanks for sharing.

    • Chris, we connected before we even realised this sharedd experience, this won’t be what we always talk about (you have too much brain that I want to know), but I’m glad we can. You know my love is with you and your wife as you walk this pretty crappy path. I hope you are doing ok at this time which I know is an especially hard one for you this year, a year of first anniversaries. I send you both all my hugs. xxxxxoooo

      • You must remember this
        A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
        The fundamental things apply
        As time goes by.

        😉
        Kisses for your Sienna and my Fred plus a bloody great movie I’ll have to watch again.

  12. i’m part of this community too. Two miscarriages and no prospects for ever having a child. I love the way you talk about remembering. Thank you.

  13. Remembering Sienna with you today, Jayne. I am glad to have met you on this lonely road of grief. Although, not so lonely, when I get to walk it with women like you.

    • Sally, you are such a special part of this experience for me. You have expressed it so beautifully here, as always. Our friendship is our children’s gift to us. Hope gave me you and Sienna gave you me 🙂 xxxxxxoooo I hope Angus is doing beautifully.

  14. Pip Mangos

    What a beautiful blog Jayne. I can’t imagine how Christmas must have been for you 4 years ago. Sending you lots of love. xx

  15. Angela

    Happy Birthday Little Angel.

    Love and hugs to you all today.
    xox

  16. This is truly a beautiful and heartfelt post! Thank-you for sharing. I had some friends go through this last year. It is a true pity that you did not get to know Sienna, but the memories of her will stay with you and Luke forever. Lots of Love, hugs and prayers!!xxxx

  17. I remember this post from our blogging days- and it is every bit as powerful a year on. My mother had still born twins (at 8 months gestation) before she had me- a boy and a girl. She has sometimes told me laughingly that I should be grateful they didn’t survive, because she never would have gone on and had me if she did. I guess that’s a bit macabre, but I do think of those two souls as my guardian angels, and that our lives are entwined even though theirs were so short. You have your own guardian angel Sienna, and I know she is watching over you and all your children.

    • Thank you Kylie for your support. And after all this time I did not know that about you – and your mum. She must have gone through a lot of sadness – which would no doubt have been lifted by your birth. Isn’t it funny – I often think that if I am ever lucky enough to have another child it will only be alive because I lost her. I’m crossing all my fingers… xxx

  18. A beautiful and moving post. I read it when you first posted and haven’t been able to get it out of my head since, so came back to comment.

    I don’t think there are many people who haven’t been touched in some way by the loss of a baby. I am so fortunate not to have experienced it as a mother but I know too many who have. My mother in law lost a baby who lived for 7 hours after he was born and she never got to hold him. My husband was 4 at the time.

    My aunty and grandmother also had stillborn babies and it was never spoken of again. My aunt had a little girl who lived for 13 weeks and then lost her battle after a series of heartbreaking operations. Her brother was 3 at the time, he’s now 22 and has a tattoo of his sister’s name on his back.

    You are so brave and honest and noble to share this private part of yourself because helps so very much – both yourself, others who have been through it and those who watch helplessly from the sidelines. The bigger your support community gets the more support for those who are unknowingly yet to go through it, and the better chance they have of healing and being present in their lives.

    Thank you for reminding me to count my blessings each day and also to reach out again to discuss topics that, while initially uncomfortable, may bring a welcome relief and gratitude from those who are still carrying the pain of their loss with them.

    • Thank you so much for your generous and thoughtful comment. I have come to the conclusion that it’s a very small degree of separation between the babylost community and everyone else.That is, I think we all know someone who has lost a child in some kind of circumstance. Heartbreaking but true. All the more reason to keep giving validity to these experiences by talking and supporting. Some people think it’s ‘dwelling’ on things and have the attitude that it’s healthier to ‘get over it and move on’. I don’t agree however. We do all move on, but for me the moving on is easier when I remember her. Thank you xxx

  19. Such beautiful writing on such a sad memory. Sorry for you loss.

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