real life

'I was in a tiny bubble of horror.' Annabel's story of saying goodbye to her newborn baby.

If you or your partner has experienced pregnancy loss, support is available. Please call the SANDS National Support Line on 1300 072 637.

Adelaide mum Annabel Bower delivered her fourth child, Miles, in December last year, and like many proud mums, she soon after posted a series of photos of her newest baby to let everyone know he had arrived.

But the loving announcement included the detail that Miles had been delivered stillborn.

“He is my fourth child but unlike my older three I never got to bring him home with me,” Annabel captioned photos of Miles in the moments after his delivery.

“I will forever see an empty seat at my kitchen table and wonder what our gorgeous boy would have been like and grown to look like.

“Saying goodbye to Miles is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Annabel, already mum to Alfie, nine, Ted, eight and Bonnie, three, knew that her devastation was too significant not to share.

“My initial reaction was to hide. If I didn’t tell people, maybe this wasn’t happening. If I didn’t talk about it perhaps the all-consuming grief and heartache would disappear too.”

But her love for her “much wanted” baby, a child she had very much planned for with husband Josh, prevailed.

“The arrival of each of my other children was announced with great joy, this is obviously so different but our beautiful Miles deserves to be celebrated like the others,” Annabel explained.

 

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Speaking to Mamamia, Annabel describes the first few months without Miles as a private, “tiny bubble of horror”.

“When my fourth child Miles was stillborn, I honestly thought my life had ended in that very moment.

“Until that point in my life I had never felt such pain, disbelief or utter despair.

“When I lost Miles, I had the unrelenting support of my husband, friends and family who would have done anything to help, yet I still felt utterly alone and completely inconsolable.

“No one could help me, nothing could ease the heartache and I couldn’t contemplate ever finding a way to live with my loss.”

Annabel explains that in the second trimester, they had been given the news their baby would have “life limiting disabilities”, and there was the possibility he would die before, or shortly after, birth.

“I truly felt like everything we were going through at this point was a bad dream.

“At that point I had thought, please not me. Please God, the universe, whoever controls these things, spare ME, spare my baby. I thought I couldn’t possibly cope with this kind of tragedy.”

 

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Annabel describes the rest of her short pregnancy as a “hellish blur.”

“I suppose the best thing I can liken it to is a parent having to switch off their child’s life support machine,” she says.

“A task you never, ever imagine you will have to do. A task so dreadful and confronting that it beggars belief.

“In our case, I was the life support machine and there was no tangible switch, in its place a signature on a piece of paper, and a pill to swallow which would cause my placenta to stop working and induce labour.

“To this day, I still don’t know how I physically swallowed that pill.”

“The thing which still haunts me was the silence of the delivery room. No excitement, no reward after a painful labour, no first cry. The first of many lost firsts. No first tooth, first step, first word.

“I wanted to keep him inside me forever.”

Miles was delivered stillborn at 23 weeks’ gestation.

“The midwife gently wrapped up our little boy and handed him to me,” Annabel shares.

“He was beautiful, tiny but perfectly formed. He looked so much like my other newborns, just smaller, darker, and still.

“I was overwhelmed with fear, horror, love and pride. I was expecting a warm, screaming newborn, in its place I was handed a still, silent infant.

“There was no flicker of life, no suggestion that some miracle would occur and he would start breathing; he was already gone.”

Nothing could prepare Annabel for that moment.

“I had an overwhelming feeling of ‘what now’? You kind of know what is expected of you when you deliver a breathing baby. You hold the baby, feed the baby, send out texts announcing this exciting, joyful news, share pictures.

“What on earth are you supposed to do for a dead baby?”

The answer to that would come to Annabel when she decided to make that public announcement about Miles on her professional Instagram account (she is a chef and food stylist by trade). She didn’t know it at the time, but the honesty in her grief would be the first step in her journey of recovery, which would inherently involve the desire to help other women with a similar experience to heal.

Realising her purpose, during what she was expecting to be her maternity leave, Annabel began writing a book, telling her story of how Miles came into her life.

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This year I’ve been working on a project very close to my heart????I’d set a goal to write a book in 2019, the plan was to work on a cookbook whilst on maternity leave with baby #4 . When Miles was delivered stillborn at the end of 2018 my course was instantly changed in so many ways. I still ended up writing a book, but one of a very different nature and on a completely different topic to food . The book ‘Miles Apart’ is my story of navigating the grief and heartache baby loss brings. It is for parents who have lost a baby at any stage of pregnancy and my hope is that by giving an honest account of my experience those facing similar circumstances will feel less isolated and in some way supported in their grief . It is also for those who have not lost a baby but want to support a friend, relative, patient or co-worker who has. As a society we are not great at openly talking about grief. When it comes to baby loss the silence is staggering, this makes an incredibly painful time even harder . I hope by speaking openly of Miles and how much we love him, miss him and think of him I can help to open up much needed conversations about baby loss . My manuscript is due for its first professional edit in August, until then I have one more month of research and interviews to complete. My plan is to publish in 2020. I have started a page dedicated to @miles__apart and look forward to updating you on my progress over there, please share with anyone who you think would find this helpful Annabel xx xx

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“The book ‘Miles Apart’ is my story of navigating the grief and heartache baby loss brings,” Annabel wrote when she launched a new profile dedicated to Miles.

“It is for parents who have lost a baby at any stage of pregnancy, and my hope is that by giving an honest account of my experience those facing similar circumstances will feel less isolated and in some way supported in their grief.”

Annabel hopes that her book will also help friends and families.

“It is also for those who have not lost a baby but want to support a friend, relative, patient or co-worker who has.

“As a society, we are not great at openly talking about grief. When it comes to baby loss the silence is staggering, this makes an incredibly painful time even harder.

“I hope by speaking openly of Miles and how much we love him, miss him and think of him I can help to open up much needed conversations about baby loss.”

 

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The conversation is important to Annabel because she knows stillbirth is a silent experience of more women than we realise.

“The rate of stillbirth, six babies every day in Australia, has not dropped at all in the last 20 years. It is one of the highest rates in the Western world, and a rate which other countries have reduced significantly with public awareness campaigns and education,” she says, referring to the Senate report into stillbirth that was submitted last year.

“It’s sadly such a taboo topic that people often don’t know if they should say anything at all.

“In my experience this made it worse, when people didn’t acknowledge my loss my sense of isolation increased as did my fear that my baby would be forgotten.”

For Annabel, her book, which she hopes to publish next year, will alleviate some of the isolation for grieving parents.

“I am not a psychologist, writer or grief councillor.

“I am simply the very proud mum of a beautiful little boy called Miles who never got to come home with me.”

If you or your partner has experienced pregnancy loss, support is available. Please call the SANDS National Support Line on 1300 072 637.

Nama Winston has had a decade-long legal career (paid), and a decade-long parenting career (unpaid). Nama uses her past experience as a lawyer to discuss everything from politics, to parenting. You can follow her on Instagram: @namawinston and Facebook: @NamaWinston.

Tags: features , loss-and-grief , real-life , still-birth
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