baby

'We lost our daughter Isla at two days old. Our world ground to a standstill.'

Content warning: This post deals with infant loss and may be triggering for some readers.

In late January this year, my family suffered a terrible tragedy - my daughter Isla passed away at two days of age due to complications from birth. She was full term. It was a completely normal pregnancy. Until we presented for the induction.

It was all very unexpected.

It was the bottom of my universe falling from beneath me. 

It was the most awful, painful and existential crisis I’ve ever faced.

Bec Sparrow on losing her daughter Georgie. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

As a medical doctor working and training in obstetrics and gynaecology, it made me question my speciality, my life and my perception of vulnerability for everyone I know and love. I thought of all my patients who have been through this same tragedy - how did they survive?

The memories of her bath flash before my eyes. Holding her as she died in my arms. My husband dressing her in her final resting clothes. Clutching her body to me and crying harder than I’ve ever cried before. Seeing the grief and despair in my parents, my husband and our extended family. The dismay. The injustice. The cruelty.

We picked her coffin. We collected locks of her hair. We had the most heartbreaking of family photos. We registered her life and death. She is still on my Medicare card - how can I ever take her off?

My milk came in. That really hurt. That was insult to injury.

We cremated her. We spread her ashes. We cried. And cried.

She was perfect. She had my dark hair. She had heart shaped perfect lips. The softest skin.

Flowers, cards and parcels of food filled our deck, living room and kitchen - our loving friends could only look on in horror and dismay. We came home without our daughter in our arms. We packed up her clothes, her cot, her room. We replaced it with the memory box and urn.

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Life came to a grinding halt. I slowly recovered from the emergency Caesarian.

I wondered - could our family survive this? Would it ruin my life, mental health, career, hopes and dreams, forever? Would our eldest daughter understand this loss and would our grief poison her? Can we ever conceive of conceiving again? How could I withstand putting myself and my family through this ‘roll of the dice,’ ever again?

Did you know eight babies die of stillbirth or newborn death every day in Australia? That equates to thousands of families facing these same major questions every single year. How can this be?

Our world ground to a standstill. We waded around in the oceans of grief - waves and waves crashing over our heads. The depths of the sea felt bottomless.

And then guess what? The world really did grind to a standstill. The COVID-19 shut down occurred. 

The uncertainty of it all. The confusion.

My husband is also a doctor, and he worked at the hospital while I was still ‘on maternity leave.’ We pulled my eldest daughter out of daycare. She and I stayed home - in our house of sadness. I hope she doesn’t understand. She is not yet two years old.

Our family couldn’t come and visit because my husband's work ‘put them at risk.’ Trying to parent an 18-month-old while facing a pandemic and grieving the death of her sister felt completely impossible.

How can this be 2020? It was filled with such promise. I thought I would have two gorgeous little girls and be enjoying mothers' groups; complaining about sleepless nights and celebrating first smiles.

Then my eldest daughter developed respiratory symptoms. "Is it COVID? Am I going to lose my other child?" Wow, things really could get worse this year. I prayed she didn’t worsen.

It wasn’t COVID-19. She recovered. 

My husband and I marvelled at how we can have one perfectly healthy, robust daughter running around, fending off the common cold; and how we can have one that died?

The limbo. The loneliness - both circumstantial and government-enforced isolation. 

Who am I now? How many kids do I say I have? Will I ever be able to practice Obstetrics again? None of my friends know what it’s like to lose a child. Why do they keep saying inadvertently hurtful things? Why don’t they call me more? If this is so common — where are all the other mothers in my situation?

I joined the massive social media Facebook groups for women with pregnancy loss. But they had so many upsetting images and stories published at random, that I was left feeling triggered and re-traumatised. Everyone on there was like me - wading through the worst imaginable agony and grief, wanting normalisation and connection - but the harm of the time spent on those groups felt greater to my mental health than the good.

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I clutched the necklace I had made that contains my daughter's ashes.

Image: Supplied.

There is a seriously underappreciated and downplayed collective grief, trauma, mental illness and struggle that goes along with reproduction. No one talks about it.

As a woman embarking on this great journey of motherhood, you don’t even know what you don’t know. You don’t know the risk of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death.

You don’t realise the inherent risk of ‘birth trauma,’ even if things go ‘medically well.’ You don’t know the difficulty of adjusting to motherhood, the possibility of developing mental illness, the troubles feeding or parenting a child.

Of course, the flip side is all the hopes and dreams you miss out on if you don’t take the leap and try to reproduce. That is what I mourn over the loss of my daughter. The joys, the richness, the fulfilment. The laughter. The meaning. The daily act of loving your child beyond anything else in the world.

So what did I do?

I learned to meditate. I became obsessed. It was my way of re-calibrating, finding peace and calm amongst the ravages of grief. I did it every single day.

I exercised and enjoyed the sunshine.

I connected. A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend reached out - she had experienced a similar loss just six months before mine. We texted each other - every single day. All day. 

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She was a lifeline in the ocean of loneliness. She held space for me and the dark thoughts, the sad thoughts, the weird thoughts, the lost hopes and dreams. She and I connected - the type of connection that is sacred and achievable only to people with shared experience and mutual understanding. 

The idea of The Glimmer Project was born. Because like government supported mothers' groups for women with living babies, we need more community supports, strategies and information for those of us who have babies that have died. We need peer support, connection and (I really believe) meditation.

So I created a 100 per cent online mothers' group specifically for bereaved mothers suffering the isolation, grief and ache of pregnancy loss.

I began recording The Glimmer Podcast - it is for bereaved mothers who want to hear from international grief and loss experts and deliver them straight into their ears. Thanks to COVID-19, interviewing internationally famous people was easier than ever - Zoom took off and the barrier of geography was eliminated.

I interviewed psychologists, doctors, grief experts, psychics, healers and more - most of whom have also experienced a pregnancy loss themselves and have so much wisdom and insight to offer.

The horrendous negative in my life, started to turn into a positive for others. Glimmer is now a social movement to manage pregnancy loss grief better. It is a glimmer of hope.

The recurring advice from the experts - just keep going. Just keep going. It gets easier.  And try mindfulness - the scientific proof of its transformative power is clear.

So here I am, five months after losing my youngest daughter. Her name is Isla. She is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. I miss her every day. But Glimmer is her legacy. 

I am returning to work. I am a different person than when I left. But Glimmer now exists.

Women suffering this isolation and agony of losing a baby won’t have to be so alone.

Keep going. Don’t let yourself do this alone.

The Glimmer Podcast is now live. Please disseminate it to anyone and everyone you know who has been affected by pregnancy loss. Join the bereaved mothers' group if you want to find connection and compassion through peer support at www.theglimmerproject.com.

If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637. 

Feature image: Supplied.

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