Written by Gavin Youngman
Before I start this story, I want you to know it is okay. I lost my daughter, and it has left a scar on my heart that will never heal. I do, however, have three rainbow babies who make me smile every single day. People struggle to hear that a baby has died; it can be incredibly uncomfortable – but discomfort pushes our boundaries.
My wife, Gill, and I bantered about baby names for ages. I had a little trick … for each name she put forward, I would say “oh, I don’t know, that doesn’t sound like the name of a future Prime Minister”. And, it worked a treat. We were on our babymoon in Vanuatu, and in our third trimester, before we finally agreed on our Layla Emerald’s name.
We experienced the typical ‘nesting’ and were well prepared for her arrival; we had her nursery painted in a beautiful mural of dancing dragonflies. We had the car seat fitted. Gill had finished work and commenced her mat leave. Our parents were on stand-by. Neighbours were lined up to feed the dogs. Our hospital bags were packed. We’d selected an outfit for our little girl to come home in. We’d even planned the details of our first family trip together to Japan, with her in a little backpack.
Gill started experiencing labour pains in the evening; we were 40 weeks and 5 days along in the pregnancy. Gill became increasingly concerned that she hadn’t felt much movement that day. I Googled the hell out of it, and found reassurance in comments that towards the end of pregnancy babies have less room to move. It was probably okay. Nonetheless, we headed to the hospital and pushed through the doors of maternity.
The look of concern on the midwife’s face, as she used the doppler on Gill’s big pregnant belly, said everything. The lack of urgency as the doctor entered the room confirmed it.
After her silent birth, Gill and I stayed in the maternity ward for a few days so we could spend time with Layla. The sound of other babies crying was pure torture. I would walk to the bathroom or kitchen and see exhausted dads roaming the halls. I overheard them talk of the terrible night’s sleep they’d had. I envied them so much. I would give up sleep for weeks to hear one cry from my little girl but, instead, she lay quietly; perfect, sleeping.
Our family and friends grieved with us so completely. I remember watching Gill’s mum’s shoulders heave with an even mix of delight and grief as she held Layla, my mum at her side. They quizzed themselves as to how this was possible? For, she is so perfect, so complete … except for breath.
Leaving the hospital with empty arms was torturously hard. It felt like we were walking away from Layla. Thanks to family, friends and organisations like SIDS and Kids, Bears of Hope, and the Stillbirth Foundation Australia, we managed to seek out purpose in the weeks that followed.
Rebuilding our lives was a very slow process. As time passed, Gill felt an overwhelming desire to be pregnant again. Maybe to prove to herself that it doesn’t always end like it did with our beautiful little girl. But, also, because it is so hard being mum to an absent child. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to risk the same outcome ever again. I recognise this as a caveman-like response to not having been able to protect my family. Antiquated, perhaps, but it was reflex. I just didn’t want to relive the feeling of being completely powerless to protect those I loved from things I didn’t understand.
As with most things, Gill prevailed and six months after losing Layla, we were pregnant again. This was not a restorative process, however. It was terrifying. Every step of the way – more so given we had no real answer as to why our perfect little girl’s heart just stopped beating.
It was a tumultuous 9 months. We were to endure, what felt like, a slow motion replay. Our only previous experience had ruined much of the trust we had in life itself – and while that may sound dramatic, it was true. We ignored the pregnancy to a large degree. We expected a repeat. Hope struggled to rise to the surface.
We discovered we were having another little girl. We longed to make a connection. Layla had her very own song, so we thought that maybe our new little girl should have one too. Google.
Again. Girl’s names found in songs. We stumbled upon the very familiar Adia. Adia was a song by Sarah McLachlan, from her album released in 1998, and the soundtrack to the summer of 1999 – when Gill and I first met working abroad in California. It was a song that also played in the background as we fell asleep each night in our dank little London apartment … and often over the years since then.
We researched the meaning of Adia, and the internet told us something quite special – a name of the same origin was … Layla. A very special connection. Instantly, our newest little girl had a name. Adia Indigo was to be our rainbow baby.
Adia entered the world pensively, quietly. We worried – but she was absolutely fine. The labour and birth was emotional, but we were in excellent hands with our incredible, attentive and vigilant OB … and we trusted, desperately, in the universe.
The moment I saw her face, I felt love. She can’t repair my loss, or fix the part of my heart that forever yearns for Layla. She did, however, make me believe again. Ironically, another Sarah McLachlan song talks of a “newborn hope unjaded by your years”. Adia Indigo renewed my hope, and she reminded me that things can go right. So very right.
We now have three children on earth, as well as one in heaven, and I love them all dearly. Adia and her brothers know of their sister; they all speak her name because she is part of our family, and she is part of me. Always will be.
Grief, in any situation, is the emotion felt at the realisation that you have lost the opportunity to make new memories. In losing Layla, I lost the opportunity to make a million new memories. I grieve that loss every day. My loss may not define me, but it is very much a part of me, and for that I am eternally grateful.
What is stillbirth?
A baby is stillborn if it passes away after 20 weeks’ gestation, or weighs more than 400 grams.
Every day six babies die of stillbirth in Australia, one every four hours.
For every baby that dies of SIDS, 35 are stillborn.
In Australia stillbirth is the most common cause of death in children under 12 months old.
Stillbirth Foundation Australia
“One child is dying from stillbirth every four hours in Australia and more needs to be done to invest in research and education campaigns,” said General Manager of Stillbirth Foundation Australia, Victoria Bowring.
“It is vital that parents know about the risk factors, warning signs and possible prevention measures that can save their baby’s life.”
What can be done?
For more information on stillbirth awareness and prevention or to donate to the Stillbirth Foundation Australia, please visit: www.stillbirthfoundation.org.au