*Trigger warning – this topic may be be distressing for some readers*
Recently I went and placed a single white rose on the grave of my daughter Melissa, she would have been 32 years old if she had lived.
Melissa was born at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, 4th October 1982. She was delivered by cesarean and weighed only 5lb 3 oz (2.353 kilos) due to placenta failure. She was also born with multiple heart abnormalities and only lived for 13 days.
My grieving started within hours of Melissa being born. I had been in hospital for 6 weeks for bed rest due to placenta failure and during this time the normal “What if the worst happens?” did not really increase as at that stage we believe the baby was fine, it was just the placenta. We already knew that she would be born small but was not expecting any other problems. My grieving started with the loss of not having a healthy baby that I could just get to know and take home in a few days; instead I did not know what the future would bring.
Over the next 2 weeks until she died I went from being hopeful and spending as much quality time with her as I could to a numbing fear that she would die. Towards the end, as she started to deteriorate I felt like I was being slowly run over by a stream roller and I dealt with this by keeping busy and tried not to think past her next feed.
Late in the day when Melissa was 13 days old we were told Melissa had gone into a coma and would not live through the night. I went and spend some time with her, held her and told her how much I loved her. After leaving intensive care I was numb and going into total emotional shutdown. I took 2 sleeping tables and went to bed. I didn’t want to know when she died; I just went to sleep knowing that when I got up in the morning she would be gone.
She died at about 2 am in her father’s arms and to this day I still don’t think I could have been there.
In the morning as we were preparing to leave the hospital we were asked what arrangement we want to make for her. Right then I was not able to deal with anything, I just wanted to get far away from the hospital as quickly as I could. Even when we were told if we didn’t make any arrangements they would keep her in cold storage for a few weeks, then she would be buried in an unmarked grave with other babies. I said I didn’t care, I just wanted to leave.
We went to Ballarat to stay with Rob’s mum for a few days and thankfully Rob’s sister was close friends with brothers who were the funeral directors. She spoke to them about what had happened and then told us to speak to them – which we did.
They were so good and told us that if we left things as they were we may regret it and to avoid unnecessary pain in the future they were happy to do a funeral and burial for only the cost of the coffin.
Two days later I was ready to organise a funeral, we went and bought a christening gown and small white fluff rabbit to be buried with her so she could look pretty and not be alone. This really made no difference to her but it was so comforting for me, I felt like I was still doing something for her.
Melissa was buried with only Rob and I there; this upset quite a few family members who would have wanted to attend her funeral but I was still in shut down and could not have dealt with anyone crying around me. I was teary most of the time, but not really crying or feeling anything except a numb disbelief that she was really gone.
This was the self-protective denial stage that most people feel generally at the start of the grieving process but it can come and go. The fear was “If it feels this bad now if I let it out and start crying I may never stop”.
I could have looked back and said “How could I have ever thought of letting my beautiful precious baby be buried in an unmarked grave and not even know where she was” but right then I could not deal with anything at all beyond breathing and walking.
The reality that she was really gone hit me when we got home and a well-meaning friend had gone to our house and packed up the nursery; when I walked into the room and everything was gone, packed away in the cupboards out of sight, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I had wanted to go in and see her in the bassinet, see her in the clothes I had bought and slowly put them away and let got her go when I was ready.
This is when the crying really started, and I did think I would never stop. From there I cried at some point every day for about a year. I went back to work as quickly as I could so I was not at home in an empty house all day on my own.
As time went by I found there were more and more hours in the day that I didn’t think about her until I got to days when I would think of her only as I was going to bed and realised I had had a good normal day.
We did something that helped us and our friends through the first 6 months after Melissa had died. We have started putting money in a piggy bank for her and when I got the baby bonus ($30 back then) I didn’t want the money. I then remembered that when I was leaving the Albury Base Hospital with Melissa to be flown down to The Royal Children’s Hospital the paediatrician who had been looking after Melissa said he thought we may be coming back and could I sneak some of their specialist equipment into my suitcase and bring it back for him. I rang the hospital in Albury and asked to speak to the pediatrician and I said I wanted to donate some money to the hospital to get some equipment for their NICU. I asked him what was something they really needed and how much would they need to get it. He told me what he wanted. what it was for and that it would cost $1500.
We told our friends what we were doing and they all rallied around and were enthusiastic about doing some fundraising. We started by asking everyone to donate their coin jar, bowl or glove box stash. Most people have somewhere they throw their loose change. This raised about $200. Then we had a raffle for a painting that a local artist donated and we organised a Crown & Anchor night with a Dutch auction. We basically set up a mini casino for a night and raised over $1000 on that one night.
This with the raffle money and coin jars, we now had more than $1500 we needed. Doing this gave us and our friends something to do and concentrate on that was outside of our grief.
This is something that Rob and I didn’t do past the first couple of weeks and it made it so much harder. The next time we cried together was on the 8th anniversary of Melissa death. I am sure that when Rob saw me crying he would have thought he needed to be strong for me. Sometimes he would hold me when I cried but I felt like I was crying on my own. I then stopped crying when he was around so as not to upset or remind him and I am sure he was doing the same. I felt so lonely waiting for him to go to sleep so I could have a cry.
Rob and I had a bad fight over something trivial when we were 6 months pregnant with our next baby and Rob finally said that he was not ready to have another baby as he said he could not go through another lose. Then he said he had agreed to try again because he did not think he would ever be ready. This was hard but good because until then I had no idea he felt like this and I was able to now be more understanding of his fears.
Family and Friends
Something else that was sad was some friends drifted away because they didn’t know how to interact with us. They didn’t ask how we were going or feeling and even totally avoided the subject, either because they didn’t want to get upset or they thought it would upset us. The sad thing is not just the loss of their friendship but that they didn’t get to hear about Melissa’s life by avoiding her death.
The consolation to this is some people that had not been close before became very good friends. These were the people that would come up and say “You look like you need a hug.” Sometimes this would open a floodgate of tears and they were fine with that. They would ask how things were going and did I need to talk about what had happened.
The Good News
We had Daniel 20 months after losing Melissa and 3 years after he was born Rachel came along, both big, healthy babies who have grown up into to 2 beautiful people. We now have 2 grandchildren as well.
I do still have a little cry a couple of times a year when telling someone about her, hearing of someone else loss or a memory of her just comes on unexpectedly. But overall my life has been enriched by the birth of all 3 of our children.