By Pia Dorer*
Mother’s Day is always a mixed bag of emotions for me.
On one hand I celebrate the two beautiful Rainbow Babies I have here with me, and on the flipside I mourn the babies who did not make it home with me in the past five years.
The truth that most do not see, is that I am a mother to five sweet babies, not two.
On Sunday May 10, 2009, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day. I was 18 weeks pregnant and happy beyond words. Close friends gave me cards, I bought myself a necklace that had the word “mother” engraved on it, and my husband wrote me a beautiful card and bought our baby his first outfit – it had a lion on it and was cute as could be. The reality is that we become mothers from the moment we conceive, or for some from the moment that their adopted baby is placed in their arms. A heartbeat equals LIFE and life that is, or has been, is irreversible.
Sadly just two days later I would discover that my much-loved baby had died within me. The very cord that given him life had also taken it. I was admitted to hospital the following morning and induced. My perfect little son was silently born at 9:30pm on May 13, 2009. The room was quiet and still but I was fortunate to have the loving support of my husband, two friends and caring nurses around me. After I delivered Sam I lay there broken into so many pieces that it seemed inconceivable that I could ever be put back together.
I thought to myself, just a day ago I was a mother, now I am not. But how wrong I was.
In those weeks and months that followed I looked desperately for answers and support from other mothers of loss. I was living and working in the USA and found a wonderful stillbirth support group on DailyStrength.org. It became my lifeline, connecting with others who understood my journey and in that first year I wrote 73 journal letters to my much-missed son. It was a way of coping … a way of beginning to heal.
The following year on Valentine’s Day, the same day I had announced I was pregnant with Sam a year earlier, I unveiled my tummy to my husband. On it was painted a Baby On Board sign. And so for the second year in a row I faced Mother’s Day once again with life beating within me.
Mother’s Day 2010 presented numerous challenges for me. I was confronted with the anniversary of my precious angel Sam and the celebration and hope that this little baby, our Rainbow Baby, would arrive safely.
Being pregnant around Mother’s Day unavoidably leads to people asking the question “Is this your first?” or “Do you have any other children”. I dreaded that question as I felt unable to answer without mentioning Sam. I felt like I dishonored his memory by not mentioning him and what stranger really wanted to hear about my loss. The truth was that more strangers than expected expressed their sympathy, only to open up with their own story of pregnancy or infant loss. In honoring Sam, I had somehow liberated these other mothers, and some fathers, to speak of their babies or of a much remembered baby of a family member or friend. We stood there united in loss and also unexpectedly joyous to have the chance to remember and speak of these missed babies.
What has become poignantly clear to me is that most people want to be able to speak about their experience and yet as a society we still remain silent on this issue. It is time to break this silence.
In September 2010, 5 weeks early, our beautiful Rainbow Baby Abby arrived safely into our arms. Her cry at birth was the sweetest sound we had ever heard. People who have lost babies always treasure the term ‘Rainbow Baby’ because it so aptly describes what these babies mean to parents but for those of you who may not know the term I would like to share its meaning.
“Rainbow Babies” is the understanding that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn’t mean the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may still hover but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of colour, energy and hope.
In 2012 we were ready to give Abby a sibling. Sadly we suffered two first trimester miscarriages in March and then in December. With each loss I felt myself slip into a dark space but I was forced, or I guess looking back I chose, to emerge into the light for Abby and for Andrew.
Suffering loss before I had any living children had allowed me to consume myself with the grieving process but now I had to find a way to grieve without shutting down or shutting out my husband and daughter – who needed me now more than ever. Mother’s Day 2012 fell on Sam’s angel birthday and so we balanced celebrating Mother’s Day with a little celebration in memory of Sam, still recovering from our March Angel and rejoicing in the happiness Abby brought us. The following year Mother’s Day fell on May 12, which was the date we had found out we had lost Sam. You see this time of year will always be a portal to the past – to both pain and joy.
May 13, 2013, became the first day of a new life for us. I was pregnant once again. Our latest little Rainbow Baby, Ben, arrived safely in our arms on February 17, 2014. Born calmly under water he surfaced with two short cries to let us know he was here and then snuggled quietly into my chest and looked into my eyes. “I am here Mum…I am safe” – these were the words I felt echo from him as he lay there in my arms looking at me.
Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate all the babies who made me a mother. Life is uncertain and there are no guarantees. But as Mahatma Gandhi said so perfectly “Where there is LOVE there is LIFE”.
My experiences have guided me to help others who have lost babies. In 2013 I produced and edited a short documentary for the Australian-based support group Bears of Hope. It is titled It’s Not All Black and White – A Journey Through Pregnancy & Infant Loss and it provides a window into what it is like for parents who have lost their precious babies. Not just the moment of loss but also what it is like years later. I urge anyone who has lost a baby, or wants to understand how to support people through loss, to watch this video. As Emma Comito says “If you remain quiet everyone else around you will remain quiet too. But if you speak out you give them all the permission to say “How are you? What was your daughter’s name?” and Rebecca George comments “As hard as it is to bring up stories they’re important because even eight years down the track you never forget … so don’t ever forget.”
The sad truth is that 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage and 1 in 160 babies will be stillborn or die within the first 28 days of life (known as neonatal loss). With an average of 2 babies per woman in Australia there is an up to 50 per cent chance that each woman you meet carries what I often refer to as “silent family tree branches”. I am yet to meet a mother, or a father for that matter, of any age who does not remember the due date of the babies they lost through miscarriage, still birth or post birth. They may not speak about them openly but the experience of knowing they have created a life…only to find out it has been lost is heartbreaking at any stage. A heart still beat, a life was still created and in that moment a MOTHER and a FATHER was also born.
Recently I read a poem in a newly released book to linger on hot coals that so beautifully reinforces what it means to be a mother of loss. US-based writer and artist Stephanie Paige Cole writes.
Your life began and
ended within my womb I
am a sacred space
because of you
What do mothers of loss want?
We want our babies to remembered, we want their lives to be acknowledged, we want to know that the days, weeks, or months meant something, we want people to know that we are irreversibly and always a mother. Be it miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss – Our Children Lived.
Let’s make a commitment to UNITE. Let’s join together and celebrate ALL MOTHERS. Before I lost Sam I did not know what to say to families who had lost a child. It is an issue that is hidden, often taboo, but I wish I had been more informed so I could have supported my family and friends in their times of need.
These are just some ways you can show parents you care and you remember*:
- If they lost their only child, give them a Mother’s Day card letting them know that they are a Mother and that their baby is remembered.
- Acknowledge loss – talk, remember, unite
- When someone loses a baby, no matter how far along they are, send a sympathy card and/or flowers to let them know their baby will always be remembered
- Plant a tree in memory of their baby
- Immediately following a loss make food to deliver at their house to help during this time of mourning
- Contact Bears of Hope and have a Support Package and Bear sent to them
- Light a candle each year on the baby’s birthday and on October 15 which is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day. There are also ceremonies and activities worldwide for bereaved parents/families to participate in and remember their baby
- Donate to Bears of Hope, or a similar non-profit organisation in honor of their baby
- It is also important to know what not to say. One life can never be replaced by another so try not to say the words; you can always have another, it was meant to be, just move on, or at least you have other children. If you don’t know what to say, that is ok. Just say “I am so sorry for your loss”.
* This article first appeared in The Bubhub in October, 2015. Since writing this article Pia has given birth to another baby girl, Vivien. Pia is a Filmmaker and PR professional who uses her many skills to help break the silence around pregnancy and infant loss. She is co-founder of The Sacred Project (thesacredproject.com) with Stephanie Paige Cole and produces documentaries for Bears of Hope in Australia.