I had a very ’normal’ pregnancy with no complications. Our angel baby is Gemma Violet Tharme. I was 37 weeks and 2 days gestation when I realised I hadn’t felt Gemma move since the evening before. I had an anterior placenta so movement wasn’t ever particularly strong, but it was definitely out of the ordinary. I was at work (my last week before starting maternity leave) and tried all the tricks I knew to make the baby move. I called my doctors rooms and the hospital, they told me to go to the hospital to be checked. On the way to the hospital I was convinced I was being silly and all was okay. Devastatingly, that was not the case. The midwives tried for so long to find a heartbeat using the CTG before trying an ultrasound. It was confirmed that Gemma had no heartbeat and they called my doctor.
I don’t believe it’s possible to overcome the grief of losing your child. But with time we can find each day a little easier to face without them. Time is a big factor; the grief is so raw in the beginning months. It is a very physical grief too - at times I would literally feel like I’d experienced a sudden blow to the chest. And it impacts your ability to socialise and concentrate for any length of time.
The bad days by far outweigh the better days in the beginning. But with time the ratio changes. In the beginning, I was constantly researching on the internet but, to be honest, I don’t think that was very helpful. I did attend a bereaved parents support group and it really helped to meet and speak to others that truly understood what we were going through. I also met with a psychologist that specialised in this type of loss. These sessions gave me permission to remove the ‘mask’ that I put on to face each day and to speak of our loss and our fears. Taking time to return to work slowly (time off, and then a gradual return to normal working hours) also helped.
Our rainbow baby, Amber Violet Tharme, was born 15 months after we lost her big sister Gemma. At almost 2.5 years old now, we are probably very similar to most other families with a toddler. However, during the newborn stages, it was difficult. I didn’t spend much of my pregnancy thinking about what it meant when our baby actually arrived safely, I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I had a lot of anxiety and felt that any little thing may have catastrophic consequences. I also had a hard time giving myself permission to admit that it was difficult at times, and that it was okay to feel that way.
To expectant parents or those hoping for their rainbow baby I would say - you are already parents. I wish I could tell them that everything would be okay, but I can’t. But I would tell them to surround themselves with people or programs that can support them on this journey. And to be your baby’s advocate. A mother needs to be the advocate for their baby (even though this may not have made a difference for Gemma). I’ve learnt that stories like ours are not rare, and we need to talk about it more and raise awareness.
Everyone has a different story, and different ways of coping. And men and women are often different in how they live with their grief. There is no right or wrong way. Although a cliche, bereaved parents need to be kind to themselves and do things when it feels right to them.
We honour Gemma’s life in many ways.
- The colour purple
- Special jewellery gifted to us in memory of our daughter
- Speaking of Gemma often and posting on social media about Gemma and stillbirth/pregnancy loss awareness
- Always acknowledging Gemma as a member of our family, family photos always have a representation of Gemma
- Attending Bears of Hope events
- Carly Marie’s ’The Seashore of Remembrance’ artwork
- Attending the annual Service of Consolation, Remembrance and Hope service in Sydney
- Joining the International Wave of Light on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day
- Photos around our home
- Ordering/receiving a ‘Molly’ Bear for Gemma (a teddy bear made to the same weight and length as Gemma when she was born)
- Always taking time out/off to celebrate Gemma on her birthday
- Submission for the Stillbirth Senate Inquiry
- Donating a gift each Christmas in memory of Gemma
I think more carefully before I ask people if they want children or plan to have more children. I’ve also learnt to be comfortable talking about grief and being around others grief.
Gemma’s death was a cord accident, so there wasn’t anything medically that we needed to do differently in a subsequent pregnancy. But the anxiety throughout that pregnancy was extremely difficult. I ensured there was plenty of support by continuing to see my psychologist and also joining a PAL (Pregnancy After Loss) group. I finished work at 34 weeks gestation so I could focus on mine and my baby’s wellbeing without distraction. I had more check ups (often just because I was anxious). And I had additional ultrasounds (including a 3rd trimester ultrasound).
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