Lifestyle

When your baby doesn't cry ...

FEELING LOSS: One year ago Kirstie Shaw lost her baby Lachlan.
FEELING LOSS: One year ago Kirstie Shaw lost her baby Lachlan. Claudia Baxter

AFTER he was born, Kirstie Shaw's beautiful baby boy Lachlan was wrapped in a quilt lovingly made by his grandmother who was at the birth, he was hugged and kissed by his proud mum and dad Matthew, then he was carefully prepared for his funeral.

Lachlan Shaw was born weighing 1.295kg and 40cm long after a 12-hour labour on September 27 last year, the day after he died.

Today, Kirstie Shaw, 29, sits at the kitchen table of her home, surrounded by pictures toys, scans, the normal paraphernalia for a new mum.

Her cheeky son Kaleb, who was 18 months old when Lachlan was stillborn, plays nearby as she talks.

She says she is happy to share her story in the hope that others don't feel so alone and to help break the taboo and silence surrounding infant and pregnancy loss.

She's thankful that gone are the days when a stillborn baby was whisked away as soon it was born so the mum didn't see it; it would be too upsetting for her, and she was simply told to have another baby straight away to get it out of their head.

Kirstie has been through the worst and has come out the other side, wounded but strong and able to see light in the darkness of despair.

"I was 28 weeks pregnant and six days and this was the last scan that I have of Lachlan, which was about four days before he passed away," Kirstie says, pointing to a 3D scan on the table.

"I went for a routine obstetrician check-up on September 26, 2011. I felt him moving that morning then I thought he might have been just having a rest.

"When I got to my obstetrician I wasn't worried at all. I got up on the table and they said to me: 'We're having a bit of trouble finding a heartbeat. We're going to send you down the road for a scan and see what we can find.'

"I rang my mum and I just had this feeling in my stomach that he was gone."

Still, the terrible truth was impossible to accept.

"I got down to the scan place and they said: 'We're sorry but your baby has passed away.'

"I was just like, 'What do you mean? I'm 28 weeks pregnant. This type of thing doesn't happen.'

"I have two aunties who had stillborns and I grew up knowing about it, but you just don't think it's going to happen to you."

Still reeling from the shock news, there was worse to come.

"Obviously our whole world just fell apart. I had to wait for my husband to fly home; he's a FIFO worker in central Queensland. I rang him and told him our baby had died and he had to come home. It was horrendous to have to have that conversation," Kirstie said, breaking into tears.

"I went home with my mum and waited for my husband to fly in and then on September 27 I went to the Mater Mothers Hospital, was induced and Lachlan was born at 10.41 on September 27.

"Having to hold your baby when there's no heartbeat was one of the most horrific things that has ever happened to me.

"The whole time I was thinking, there's got to be a mistake; he's going to come out and he's going to be crying, but I was wrong and I had to deal with the fact that he was gone and he wasn't coming back.

"I didn't know what to expect. It was scary because I'd never even seen a dead body before. To have that as your own child was something that nothing can prepare you for. You don't expect to go through a silent birth, where the baby doesn't cry."

Worse still, she still doesn't know why it happened. Her obstetrician is investigating whether it's a case of SIDS, but in utero rather than after the baby is born.

They had an autopsy done and did everything they could because we were desperate to find out what happened; a seemingly healthy baby, a healthy mum - how did it happen?

Thankfully, they had so much support from the hospital with pastoral care and bereavement services.

"They've got a fantastic bereavement program at the Mater and I think that combined with the support I've received from SIDS and Kids has put me in such a good place, considering what's happened," she said.

"It's been a year and I still miss him very much. I always wonder what he'd look like and what he'd be doing; wondering if he'd be more like Kaleb or more like his dad.

"He had my hands and feet and he had Matt's little ears and he had the same little nose that Kaleb's got.

"He was perfect. He could have been a piano player."

The hospital gave them a memories book, took photos, casts and prints of Lachlan's hands and feet and a funeral service was conducted.

"He got cremated with one teddy bear mum bought and I've kept the other so that's sort of my link with him too. I still sleep with it; it's pretty special. Pretty sad I know," she said with a laugh.

As part of her search for healing, Kirstie found a group of women online and they now have a Facebook page called Supporting Mums of Angels and through them she discovered the SIDS and Kids meetings.

She and husband have also been to counselling separately and marriage counselling through SIDS and Kids.

"When Lachlan was born Matthew didn't know if he wanted to hold him because he didn't have the same bond I did - I was desperate to hold him - but I think when he was born he just fell in love with him; he was his little boy and we both had a cuddle and we both kissed him and it was nice to spend that time with him," she said.

"As a parent you feel a sense of guilt you weren't able to protect your child and I think that's something we both struggled with, especially Matt as a man.

"I had a lot of guilt and it took me a lot of time to get over that, even though I did nothing wrong; I was a very healthy pregnant mum; I didn't drink or smoke. But I went through a lot of time thinking it was my fault."

SIDS and Kids Queensland has set up a free support group in Ipswich, providing bereavement assistance to families who have experienced the loss of a child during pregnancy, birth or infancy - regardless of the cause.

The group meets on the first Thursday of the month from 10am to noon in the Ipswich Library, 40 South St, Ipswich.

SIDS and Kids Queensland bereavement counsellor Esther Elliott conducts the session.

"The support group is held in a private room within the library, and offers a safe and comfortable environment for families to share their stories," Ms Elliott said.

"So far the group has been well received, but we hope to be able to reach more families in the Ipswich community."

Young children are welcome to come along, with toys provided.

RSVP is required by the Tuesday prior by phoning 3849 7122 or emailing queensland@sidsqld.com.au.

"About four months after Lachlan died I was invited along to one of the meetings by one of the mums," Kirstie said.

"At first they were scrap-booking meetings so I sort of developed this really therapeutic love of scrap-booking; it was lovely to do something with the photos and mementoes I have of him.

"Part of my way of spending time with him is through scrap-booking and looking at his photos. I've got his little urn so I'll talk to his ashes, I'll talk to his teddy and tell him I love him and miss him and wonder what he's doing.

"I wonder all the time what he's doing. And with the Angel mums I've met, I wonder if he's met their kids up there.

"I'm sure a lot of people believe in that, but it's all we've got to hold on to and any other thought is just too unbearable.

"Now, one month we'll do scrap-booking and the next month we'll do talking, which is really nice. I think a combination of that peer support as well as the professional counselling is just so important for women who have lost a child.

"To be able to meet women who have been through what you've been through and come together through such a tragic circumstance is such as important part of our healing; so we can get to a place where we can get out of bed in the morning and function like a normal human being even though your whole world has been shattered.

"It's so healing to say goodbye. A lot of women are sent home without having that therapeutic experience that enables them to say goodbye and heal themselves.

"I was touched by how many of my friends wanted to see photos of him. They said: 'We love you and we want to see photos of your little man'."

Rather than push Lachlan into her past, Kirstie and mums like her have developed a spiritual relationship with their child to replace the lost earth-bound connection and learned to see joy in the pain and to laugh at even the darkest of things, like talking to Lachlan.

"We still have that primal urge to parent our children and part of that is learning how to parent them without them being here," she said.

"On one hand I'd love him to grow up and experience life but on the other hand he's never going to get hurt; he's never going to feel pain, he's never going to get his heart broken.

"As a mum, it's kind of a comforting thought that he's safe and he's loved and he's with my family who have moved on and he's not alone.

"It was really important for me to talk about that to my counsellor; that I wasn't the only one who felt that way and I wasn't the only one who talked to their dead child."

It'll never be okay, she says, she lost her baby, but life doesn't stop. As hard as it as to go forward, she has another child and he deserves his mummy.

"And I used to think I didn't want Lachlan looking down and saying, 'Gee mum's a miserable cow'," she laughed.

"I wanted to make him proud of me so that's why I decided to go to uni and do my Masters in counselling.

"I've nearly finished my first year and it's probably been the hardest year of my life; I've lost my son and now my first year at uni. It's been a really big year.

"But I'm proud of myself, I'm proud of my son and I'm proud of what he's taught me.

"Even though he's not here, he's taught me so much."

Kirstie and Matthew Shaw are expecting another baby in May 2013.

Kirstie said a subsequent pregnancy was extremely difficult and a baby after loss was called a Rainbow Baby, as in a rainbow after the storm.

Topics:  editors picks infant mortality stillborn



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