I was in the kitchen last night buttering toast for my five-year-old daughter – when my husband gasped from behind his laptop.
I looked up.
He kept talking I think. But I didn’t hear anything else. I didn’t need to.
Ada Nicodemou’s baby was stillborn today.
Bec with Ava, when she was pregnant with Georgie
That’s all I had to hear for my heart to feel like it was suddenly wafer thin and shedding layers. For September 2010 to come rushing back to me. For the moment I too found out that the baby I was carrying – my second daughter Georgie – had suddenly, inexplicably – died inside me at 36 and a half weeks.
And tears came to my eyes for a woman I do not know. For her husband. And for the excruciating road that lay ahead for them both. A road that I am still on.
This column I’m writing today is not for Ada and Chrys. Not now. Not yet. Today and in the days and weeks ahead they will be in their own protective bubble. Today, my guess, is that they will have disconnected from the world – both physically and emotionally – as they try to fathom the cruel hand they have just been dealt.
One minute my baby was here. Wasn’t she here? I felt a kick. And now. I don’t understand. She was just here. But we have the clothes. The cot. That new jumpsuit I bought on Monday. I don’t understand.
The raw primal pain. Collapsing in the shower screaming for my daughter. The numbness. The overwhelming desire to stop participating in the world. To just sink into my darkness only to be pulled out again by my two-year-old daughter Ava.
But I am here, four years on – strong and happy. I survived something I thought I never could. I have gone on to have two more beautiful healthy, happy children. And my grief somehow sits comfortably side by side with my happiness. Make no mistake I miss Georgie every single day but she is also an inextricable part of who I am. She has made me more fierce. More compassionate. More wise. I am grateful for how she has shaped me into the woman I have become. These days it is Georgie who is the light in my darkest hour.
Today is not the day for me to offer advice to Ada and Chrys. Today they will be blocking out the world and wanting only to wake up from this nightmare.
No, this column is for Ada and Chrys’s family and friends who right now are in shock and anguish themselves. Who are reeling from the news of Harrison’s death. And who are most likely now asking themselves “What do we do? What can we do? How can we help? What should we say?”
And since Ada and Chrys themselves won’t even know yet what they need, I thought I would step in as someone who has been there and who understands exactly how they are feeling.
So for Ada and Chrys’s friends and colleagues and in fact for anyone who today has been told that a friend has lost a baby – this is what I want you to know …
1. Do not be afraid to say Harrison’s name or the name of any stillborn baby.
Harrison was very real and very loved and he will always be Ada and Chrys’s second baby. Don’t be afraid to use Harrison’s name not just now but in the years to come. Hearing friends and family use Georgie’s name brings me such happiness I can’t describe. It brings her back to me. So rather than say “the baby” or “your loss” … talk about Harrison and how much you had been looking forward to getting to know him, cuddling him, watching him grow up. Does that hurt to hear? Of course but what hurts more is friends and family behaving as though he never existed in the first place.
2. Give out lots of love and expect nothing in return.
However Ada and Chrys decide to grieve will be the right way for them. They may shut out the world or embrace it. They may go silent or they may want to talk and talk and talk. But what they will most surely need is knowing that people care. That they are loved. Send a card. A handkerchief. Flowers. A Christmas ornament bearing Harrison’s name. A candle. Organise a food roster. Send a daily text message of love and support and know that you may rarely or never get a reply. But that’s okay. For me, just knowing that my friends were thinking of us helped us get through each day. Every message I received made me feel like Georgie mattered.
3. Don’t try to fix the situation.
You want to take the pain away. Of course you do. But trying to explain this tragedy or ‘find the positives’ will only cause more pain. You don’t know what to say? That’s okay. Just say that your heart is broken for them and for their two year old son Johnas. Just say that you love them. That you’re sorry. Don’t ask what you can do to help. Just help. Leave a meal on the doorstep. Arrange a play date for Johnas. Now is the time to step up.
4. Go to your calendar now and circle six weeks ahead of today.
The six week mark – it’s a particular punch in the guts for anyone who is grieving a loved one. At the six week mark people have moved on and you find yourself feeling very much alone. The world is moving around you as though life is normal. But life is not the same for you. At the six week mark, make a call, send an email, post a card – just don’t stay silent because the silence is deafening.
To Ada and Chrys – on the off-chance that you read this post one day, I wish for you such love. And know this, you will get through this. One day at a time. One hour at a time. It doesn’t feel like it now, I know, as you struggle to breathe in and out but you will be happy again. You will learn to live with this pain – a pain that will not always be so raw. I promise. (I also know that right now the idea of being happy is the last thing on your mind. It feels like the act of a traitor. So for now just focus on getting through each hour.)
And I am offering you my hand of friendship and understanding. Four years ago a stranger reached out to me and took my hand and navigated me through the crashing waves of grief.
Mia Freedman saved my life. I hope you find your own Mia as this storm of hurt and pain swirls around you. And if you don’t – my hand is here ready to pull you through the waves.
Later this month, Mamamia will officially release a book, Never Forgotten, for parents like Ada and Chrys and all the tens of thousands of families who have experienced pregnancy loss, miscarriage, still birth and neo natal death. The loss of any child, particularly during pregnancy or soon after birth, is an extraordinarily traumatic process and one it can be impossible for other people to understand.
Mamamia publisher Mia Freedman and senior writer Bec Sparrow have both been there and after helping each other through the grief process began to reach out to other women going through similar trauma.
Mamamia readers and writers have joined together to contribute their stories to this book, compiled by Bec and Mia and edited by Paula Ellery. The book is available as an E-book download or in print form [click here to order].
All the proceeds will go towards charities who help families who have suffered this very common yet widely misunderstood type of loss.
This post first appeared on Mamamia.