Updated: Sep 30
“My daughter was born still on 26 May 1990. It was a surprise to find out I was pregnant, because I was told it would be unlikely I would be able to. Instead, my pregnancy was textbook perfect. It was only at 38 weeks that I started to notice my baby was not as active as usual. I went to the hospital and was informed that everything was ok. I heard my baby’s heartbeat, and was told to go home. I didn’t want to leave, it just didn’t feel right. But I did. In those days, you just did what you were told.
When I arrived at the maternity ward the following day, the nurse checked on the baby again. She left the room and came back with another staff member. I had never heard about stillbirth so in my ignorance I felt relaxed. I was informed there was no heartbeat. My baby had died.
I panicked. How could that be possible? I remember screaming in disbelief. I was taken to a private room in the maternity ward to be induced the next day, not really comprehending what had happened. I could hear babies crying throughout the night.
My labour was intense and incredibly painful. The doctor was desperately trying to find an anaesthetist to administer an epidural, but he was busy in ER patching up Canberra Raider players after a match. When the anaesthetist finally came, he sat with me for some time, telling me I was brave and strong and he was devastated for me. He felt contempt for the rugby players next door crying over minor injuries.
My baby was finally delivered via forceps. I watched as the midwife wrapped my baby gently and then handed her to me. It was true: my baby, a daughter, was dead.
I was able to hold her for only a very short time. I was told she had to be taken to the morgue. The midwife gently carried my baby out of the delivery room while I was left to listen to other babies crying. No hand or footprints were taken, no photos of a bereaved mother holding her baby. If there had been a window in that room I would have jumped.
Everyone stayed away and left me to my unbelievable grief. I insisted on seeing my daughter again, despite the nurse telling me it was best to let my baby go. I persisted yelling out in pain until my baby was brought to me. She was freezing. I was able to look at her again and give her a name. Rebecca.
I was advised to go home and arrange my baby’s funeral. I was given medication to stop my milk coming in, but it didn’t work. There was no counselling. Friends and work colleagues avoided me. Family didn’t get on a plane to visit. No one ever asked about Rebecca. No one asked about me.
At my follow up appointment I was advised that Rebecca's placenta had started to deteriorate and that's why her movements decreased. The placenta stopped working at some stage overnight when I was sent home from hospital. I wasn't told when I went to the hospital that there was a concern about the placenta. I blame myself for my daughter's death. I should have insisted on staying at the hospital. That decision has haunted me until only recently.
My Rainbow baby Hannah was born at the same hospital 11 May 1991. I was monitored closely throughout my pregnancy. My placenta started to fail again. I was admitted and induced at 36 weeks. My cervix wouldn't dilate despite a long and violent labour. I started to become distraught fearing the worst. I was given an emergency caesarean. My obstetrician said I must have had an awful infection after Rebecca's forceps delivery which caused my cervix to close. He said I would have been in terrible pain, how could I not notice something was wrong. Seriously! Something was very wrong! I was in terrible pain after leaving the hospital with empty arms.
No support. No counselling. A shattered heart that will never completely heal. If only I had someone to talk to at the time who could offer support and reassurance that I would learn to live and laugh again, that my grief will subside. But it will forever be a part of me.
I learnt quickly that I wasn't able to talk about Rebecca with my husband, family or friends. I shouldn't upset anyone or make them miserable. No one asked about Rebecca. No one asked about me. My husband couldn't cope with my grief so when Hannah was less than 2 years old we separated. From about 3 years old Hannah would tell me about her sister who would come and visit and talk to her. There is no way that Hannah would have known she had a sister. Hannah's father had very little contact with her. He was too busy burying his pain with his single life. He avoided relationships or having any more children. I understood that he was traumatised and didn't receive any support either.
When I left the hospital with my body still producing milk and aching for my child, the midwife handed me a small envelope with precious photos of my baby girl and a lock of Rebecca’s hair. But my polaroid photos remained out of sight for 30 years. I have now learnt that baby loss and grief should not be kept quiet. I suffered alone for too long and it had a devastating and cumulative effect on my health and quality of life.
When I received my Possum Portrait after all this time, I didn’t know what to expect. But it literally took my breath away! Somehow it seemed to have more beauty and more meaning than a photo. It’s gentle, subtle, beautiful, and somehow less confronting than a photo. It helps heal me in a different way. I have let go of so much heartache, so much trauma. I feel complete.
Maybe my story will touch someone of my generation or older who might step forward now to speak their truth, share their heartache and receive the support they so dearly deserve. It's never too late!! Don't worry about upsetting others by discussing your loss. That's their problem.
Rebecca’s portrait has turned out to be an important part of my healing journey. This International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month I would encourage anyone who has the capacity to support this very worthy and giving cause. Your donation will make a difference to someone.”
If you have found Dianne's story triggering or distressing, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 to speak to someone now.