When my husband, Martin, and I discovered we were expecting our second child earlier this year, we were overjoyed.
I was 42 and felt so fortunate to fall pregnant during COVID-19. I thought to myself – ‘I’ll be able to relax and come out of this with a little baby boy’. At the 11-week mark, we delivered our thrilling news to the family. We were all beyond excited to reach 12 weeks and were more than ready to bask in the comfort of a smooth pregnancy.
However, that wasn’t to be the case for us. Halfway through my pregnancy, Martin and I lost our precious son, Woody.
When Martin and I went in for our 19-week pregnancy scan, we were blindsided by the news that awaited us, and completely unaware that our world was about to change forever. In that moment, you’re not just finding out that your baby has 10 fingers and 10 toes, you’re finding out much more about your baby’s health and likely yours too. For us, it was the news you do not want to hear. The worst kind. Our baby was ill. And it caused a chain of devastation and heartbreak within our family.
I gave birth to our son Woody on June 24th just after 8pm. It was the most horrifying and devastating experience of my life, and while there was so much beauty in meeting our son, the devastation of holding a stillborn child sits with me every day.
When I went public with our news on social media, I was initially quiet about how many weeks along I was and the facts surrounding Woody’s illness. The worst response I received? “How far along were you?” Often when you provide a timeline – not knowing how to provide comfort – people will dismiss your experience: ‘At least you weren’t [closer to] full term’, ‘You’ll be able to try again soon’, ‘You were only very early’.
No matter how ‘far along’ you were on your parenting journey, you had all of the same dreams for your baby; you endured the tiredness and sickness, you spent countless hours pondering your child’s tiny features, their personality and quirks, their future – not to mention the journey and heartache in trying to conceive in the first place.
If someone you know, care for, or love has a miscarriage (which I’d experienced the year before) or a stillbirth, just offer your loving support. Share your heartfelt sympathies, acknowledge their pain and be there for them when they need you. Validation is important for a grieving mother who never had a chance to hold her breathing baby; her grief is real whether you can see it or not. The most helpful comments I received were from people who validated my grief with simple words like: ‘I’m so sorry, you have been through so much’.
Allow the family space to reveal what they want to, when they’re ready. Offer no-strings-attached support and perhaps ask if they want to talk about their baby. This might be a way of allowing someone to share the information they want to share without feeling like their grief is being measured or invalidated.
It’s been some months now since losing Woody and, for the most part, we are doing well. I’ve kept myself as busy as possible and am about to release a new kids’ album, The Kid’s Gone Country II – Fun for All the Family on November 20th. It’s the third instalment in my catalogue of children’s music that is full of fun and catchy tunes about country life, animals, adventurous and (sometimes) mischievous children, inner beauty, fun in the sun, dirt, drought, and plenty more. My son Ike was the inspiration for many of the songs.
To honour Woody, we hosted a beautiful farewell ceremony with our family via Zoom. We also keep his ashes with us here at home. We didn’t want to forget about what happened. Woody is our baby, and we gave him as much love and reverence as we could in the short time we had with him. I returned to motherhood with our two-year-old son, Ike, and Woody’s older brother. He’s amazing, and he will know about his brother as life goes on.
We need to open the conversation about stillbirth and miscarriage, because it happens so frequently, and it’s a loss that needs to be grieved, validated and supported to enable the family to recover. Potentially a difficult topic to broach, and one that we’ve been conditioned to believe should be kept quiet, we’re now publicly recognising that families need support, and these little babies need to be celebrated for their transient yet beautiful time spent on this Earth.
I wanted to share my story because I could not get back to being myself and smiling if I didn’t. I couldn’t pretend everything was OK, because it wasn’t. I wasn’t. And, at the time, I felt like I was the only person who had ever gone through this. I found articles online about other families who’d been through loss, and it gave me reassurance that I could make it through too. Knowing that this has happened to so many other people has helped us to accept what we went through together.
There is a sadness that does hang over us, but it also allows us the space to be happy and enjoy our two-year-old. We wish things were different, that Woody was here and Ike was his big brother. But we’ve accepted that we had Woody for a fleeting moment but the time we had with him was abundantly special.
8–14 November is Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) Week, which aims to help women and families suffering from perinatal anxiety and depression. This year, more than ever, the support group PANDA wants expecting and new parents who are struggling with their mental health to know they’re not alone, that they are always there to lend a helping hand. When parents do reach out and confide, they will be supported by the health system. It’s something that I can personally relate to.
Words: Amber Lawrence