Baby loss and Christmas
A life without your child is something a parent can not bring themselves to contemplate, but for many families this is a devastating reality that they face everyday and bravely face every Christmas and every New Year- year after year.
Lorna Savage, 34, had a good pregnancy; she was overdue and was induced.
She got out of her hospital bed to go to the loo and to see if her waters had broken, they had.
Her midwife had popped out the room for two minutes to dry her shoes when Lorna noticed her baby's heart rate had started decreasing.
In the hours that followed, Lorna and her husband went through the most devastating experience a couple could possibly have to face together.
"I felt a bump, like he had moved and when the midwife came in, I told her I was trying to find his heartbeat because he had moved. She tried to find it, but couldn't so she called another person to see if they could find it and that is when they said there was something wrong..." she explains.
"I don't know what it was, but I knew he had died. I just knew. I think it was just the way he fell inside me, it just didn't feel right."
Her husband, David, 38 didn't know what was happening and the staff did not have the time to explain as they rushed Lorna into theatre for an emergency ceasarean.
Their beautiful baby boy Ronin was born and as she was sewn up, Lorna watched on as a team of doctors tried their best to resuscitate her first born.
"That was quite traumatic to see. I think it was about 20 minutes or so, they came to me eventually and someone said, we tried to revive him, but he has not made it. We are really sorry..."
Lorna says that watching her husband Dave's grief and not being able to physically reach out to him was one of the most difficult things right after Ronin's death.
"I felt like more of a spectator at the time. I was just helpless, I just felt like a failure as a mum. I had managed to bring him this far, all the way through to birth... I am meant to be his mum. You are meant to be able to protect your kids. I couldn't prevent him from dying. I blamed myself at that point."
Going home without Ronin
Lorna was able to share a few special moments with Ronin after he was born.
"He just looked like a sleeping baby. He looked absolutely perfect, he looked like me, he had hair, he had fingers and toes."
One of the midwives took photos of him, precious snapshots of their baby boy.
"No one tells you when you lose a baby that you have a short amount of time to make as many memories as you can. I got some hand and footprints and casts of his hands and feet, so at least I have a few things that say he was here," Lorna says.
Lorna also managed to spend some time doing things with Ronin she would have done had he been alive, she washed his face and hands, told him a story and sang him some songs the Saturday night after he died.
"Someone had put clothes on him, but I changed him. I got to do some things you would as a mum really. I visited him at the mortuary after that and eventually one of the staff had to make me see reality, that I couldn't keep coming back just to hold him for a few hours a day, as nice as it was."
"The journey home was ok, but I remember walking into the house and just collapsed on the floor and just shouted 'why' for half an hour, punching the floor. The last time I was in the house, I was thinking to myself, I am going to be walking back in with a baby and the nursery was ready," Lorna says.
"I had done all these things and had expected to have this beautiful little boy, but when I came home my arms were empty. I still had the body of a pregnant woman and nothing to show for it. It was even a struggle to breathe sometimes, it was so overwhelming."
Telling people about Ronin
The most difficult part of telling people about Ronin, was having to manage their reactions, as each one was different.
"We bumped into someone a few weeks later and she asked 'How is your boy". I just burst into tears and told her he hadn't made it. She had no idea what to say. I think a lot of people just aren't used to hearing about the death of a baby. She looked very uncomfortable, said she was sorry and hurried away," says Lorna.
Comments from others that Ronin "had gone to a better place" or that his death was "part of God's plan" didn't help and she often felt she had to console the people she had told.
"Some people are just so upset for you you end up having to be the strong one for them because they were so upset."
Some people would avoid her, because they didn't know what to say and the hardest part was going out and seeing other mums with newborns.
" I didn't want to go out at first because I just didn't want to see anyone else who had kids. It was really difficult, because it seems everyone else is pregnant, or has newborn babies. I just didn't want to see it at the time," she says.
Some people would try share their experiences of traumatic pregnancies, although their children had not died.
"I remember one women saying 'oh my son didn't breathe when he came out'. But I thought to myself - he is there, he is still alive. My child is dead," says Lorna.
"I remember when I went back to work, everyone knew I had lost my baby and on the first day I was back a woman rushed over to me with the pictures of a newborn of another woman I knew. I just couldn't believe how insensitive she was. I had photos to show of Ronin, but no one wants to see pictures of a dead baby."
Christmas without Ronin
This will be Lorna and Dave's fourth Christmas without Ronin and Lorna feels that because she has had two other baby boys, Owain - almost two and Archie, seven weeks - people expect that she is "over" her loss.
Ronin would have celebrated his fourth birthday on February 26, he would be starting kindergarten, he would be a big brother, he would be their eldest child.
"I am not over it. Even though I have two beautiful boys, I should have had a third one here. Besides close family, who I have asked to still acknowledge Ronin, no one else does. Others say 'oh well, you have got two beautiful boys you are fine now," she explains.
"People just don't realise, that with Christmas coming, there are things you would have done as a family. You would have opened presents together and they are not here to do it and his brothers are missing out on a sibling they would have had."
Lorna says she often feels that once the first anniversary has gone, people take it for granted that the grieving parents are "over" the loss.
"It's different to losing a parent. When you are pregnant you make plans for this child, what they are going to be like, how you are going to spend Christmas together, how you are going to raise them, what sorts of fun things you are going to do. All of a sudden that is taken away from you."
How friends and family can support a loved one this Christmas
"It does get easier, in the sense that the grief doesn't consume you but I think people think that you will get over it, at some point you are fine and you are over it and you will get over it. You never forget, you never get over it. You learn to live with it," says Lorna.
Dr Vicki Culling, has been actively involved with Sands NZ, a loss support group, for over 10 years. She told Essential Mums that for many parents who have experienced the loss of a child, they often go to Sands support meetings over the Christmas period.
For family and friends, knowing how to speak to the family or how to be there for them can be tricky.
"The most important thing you can do is to keep on being a friend. As a friend prior to the death, you probably talked about what was going on in their life, about things that were on their mind and about life and the universe. Keep doing that," says Culling.
"It might be that their baby is on their mind and they want to talk about it. Part of being a good friend is being a listener - there is nothing as helpful as having someone listen, really listen to us."
Your friend might want to talk about their baby six weeks, six months, two years and maybe even 10 years after their loss.
"Being a friend is about sharing part of someone's life and this incredible and sad experience is a part of theirs," says Culling.
"Don't be too scared to mention the baby, in case you might upset them. Your friend will be thinking about the baby a lot and your mentioning their precious child might well bring tears to their eyes, but they were tears that would be shed whether you mentioned their name or not."
Culling says it is important that you don't feel you have to heal your friends pain, or do anything in particular. Just let them know you are there and you are their friend.
"The ear you lend during this time of pain and your understanding heart will mean so much more than flowers and a chirpy demeanour."
If you would like to like to get a friend who has lost a child a gift over Christmas, here are some ideas:
Card: Cards are always much appreciated and are usually kept forever.
Flowers: Always good, but if getting flowers add something to it that will last forever such as a wee teddy bear etc.
Photo frame: This gives families 'permission' to display photos of their baby. Specific baby photo frames can be especially nice here too.
Photo album: Again, specific baby album or pink or blue album good here. Parents are encouraged by staff to take lots of photos of their baby, an album is a special memory to put the precious photos in.
Candles: Check out www.thecandlemaker.co.nz in Christchurch for absolutely beautiful candles. Very unique and special gift which parents can then light on baby's due date, Christmas day, and anniversary date, plus other special dates each year in remembrance. $45.00 - $50.00.
Memory box: Often hard to find something suitable but parents often have lots of lovely memorial items such as teddies, photos, scan pictures, cord clamp, funeral bits and pieces, cards etc., so a nice box to put them in is a lovely idea .
A locket: A particularly nice gift for a mum to put a photo in to keep close to her heart.
Plant: If the family have a garden, a lovely plant in remembrance is good. Plants are a really good idea as a gift for grandparents too, who often get forgotten.They are grieving too, both for the loss of their grandchild and also for the son/daughter for whom they can't take the pain away.
Most important is to keep in touch with both grandparents and parents, even just a card every now and again or a text message, letting them know you are still thinking of them and their precious baby.
Christmas will be particularly hard for them, as will the baby's due date, so make a note to be in touch at these times. Four to six months down the track appears to be a harder time too, possibly because their life will never be the same again but everyone else has gone back to normal.
If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed this Christmas- these resources may assist: