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Supporting Canberra families in grief

Stefanie Gorter

Content warning: Child loss 

Prior to July 2014 I never would have imagined that my association with Red Nose, then SIDS & Kids, would extend much from reading the Safe Sleeping guidelines and buying merchandise for Red Nose Day.

After all, you never really think that one day you will lose a child. Everything changed on 21 July, when I was 38 weeks and two days pregnant with my daughter, Edith, who is my second child. That night while getting her big brother to sleep I noticed she hadn’t been kicking him during our bedtime stories which was unusual, but she didn’t have much room left and perhaps she was resting after going crazy in the bathtub that afternoon. By midnight I was worried when she didn’t respond to a cold drink, to chocolate, my voice, poking and prodding or even me jumping up and down so I left my three and a half-year-old sleeping soundly and went to hospital. By then it was too late, she was gone. Less than a week before I was booked in to meet her and following a perfect pregnancy.

On 24 July our little Eadie had arrived, absolutely beautiful and looking just like her big brother with a gorgeous little nose, dark hair, chubby cheeks and big hands and feet. We were fortunate to spend three days in hospital with her before having to leave her behind and return to our new ‘normal’, though life would never be truly normal again.

The hospital staff were fantastic and contacted Red Nose on our behalf, as well as providing a range of Red Nose literature when we were in the hospital with information on topics you would never think you would need. How to talk to your children about their sibling dying, how to plan a funeral, what to expect in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Within a week of Eadie’s birth, we were contacted by a wonderful Bereavement Counsellor from Red Nose who offered to come to visit us to offer support. From that point on, the staff at Red Nose were by our side, offering a range of services including one-on-one counselling.

Having experienced the loss of a child themselves, the team at Red Nose offer a safe space to talk with someone who ‘gets it’, able to listen, empathise and provide both support and practical assistance in trying to get through the grief including coming along to and debriefing following hospital appointments. Red Nose offer monthly support groups, allowing parents to connect with other people who share similar experiences, in what would otherwise be a very isolating period. While no one would wish the loss of a child on anyone, it is comforting to be surrounded by others who can relate to your story and share their own.

After losing Eadie, I was fortunate to be put in contact with one of the many amazing peer support volunteers, who had lost a child in similar circumstances to my own. Peer support offers an opportunity to chat one-on-one with someone a little further down the track from their loss, which is helpful particularly in the early days when it is hard to imagine the following day let alone a time in the future when you will begin to feel happiness again. Red Nose offers a playgroup, Puggles, which has been fantastic in that it allowed my eldest son to connect with other children who have lost a sibling. When Eadie was born, half of his classmates at childcare had new baby siblings and it is hard for a 3.5-year-old to understand why their baby never came home. It also it a great way for parents to have an informal catch up each week and a safe place to share the unique experience of parenting following a loss.

18 months after Eadie’s birth, I was fortunate enough to fall pregnant again. While generally pregnancy is a time of happiness and excitement, when you truly understand there is no guarantee and no ‘safe point’ it becomes fearful and anxiety ridden.

The Pregnancy After Loss group was invaluable in getting me through the pregnancy by providing a space to meet and chat to other mothers going through their own pregnancy after loss. As well as the group, the counsellors at Red Nose were always there to listen, checking in after hospital appointments and scans and even coming to visit once my son arrived safely.

Sponsorship from organisations such as The Vikings Group allow Red Nose to assist more families in the Canberra region who have experienced the death of a baby or young child by providing free bereavement services and organising events such as the annual Family Day for Red Nose families, Vikings Red Nose Dollar Ball and the annual memorial service. The services provided by Red Nose are unique and allow families to be supported through the most unimaginable of experiences, as well as assisting in eradicating childhood deaths through providing safe sleeping guidelines and workshops.

If you’re interesting in making a donation to Red Nose, to assist more Canberra families, visit givingincelebrationforrednose.everydayhero.com/au/the-vikings-group.

Stefanie Gorter

Stefanie Gorter is a mother of three little ones who lives in Canberra. She is currently enjoying her time as a stay at home mother while completing a Bachelor of Education. More about the Author