“No one ever expects to experience the death of a baby or child,” she says. “The initial experience is so incredibly overwhelming because it triggers a whole range of emotions that we’re just not equipped to deal with, and they’re so unfamiliar to us.”
The support provided by SIDS & Kids – a precursor to Red Nose – served as a “safe space” that helped Ludski navigate her grief. “A big part of it was having those thoughts, feelings, emotions normalised, to be told that I wasn’t going crazy,” she says. “The boundaries of normal when you are grieving are really vast, so it’s about finding a way to grieve that works for you individually.”
Aria’s death was an isolating experience for Sarah, who didn’t know anyone who had lost a baby. Adrian contacted Sands, which connected them with a peer support network.
“Within days, we’d organised a phone catch-up with other parents who’d had a similar experience,” says Sarah. “It was awful to talk about such devastating and unspeakable things as the loss of your baby, but also really comforting to know that other people had survived that and grown from their experiences.”
Sarah says that most of the care the couple received focused on her as the birth parent, relegating Adrian to support person. “Not many people asked Adrian how he was doing. He had to go back to work and keep going on with life, but at the same time, he was organising baby’s funeral, organising my mental health care, and where Noah would sleep when he came home.”
What to say – and what not to say
Many people don’t know what to do or say when a friend or family member loses a baby and often end up saying something insensitive – or nothing at all.
“It’s OK not to know what to say or do,” says Ludski. “We put so much pressure on ourselves to say the right thing, and that’s often when we stuff up and say the one-liner that we pray will make them feel better, but often makes them feel worse.”
Don’t say, ‘you’re young, you can have another one’, ‘you’re so lucky you’ve got other children’, or anything that begins with ‘at least’, Ludski says. “The minute you say at least, you’re minimising their experience.”
While there are no magic words to make a grieving parent feel better, acknowledging their loss can help them feel less alone, Ludski says. “Say things like, ‘I don’t know what to say, but I’m here, and I’m here for the long-term.’”
Follow through on offers of practical help. Deliver meals, do a grocery run or pick up older children from school. Whatever you do, don’t expect anything in return. “What we hear a lot from bereaved families is that people often turn up on their doorsteps expecting to be entertained, and they don’t have the energy to do that,” Ludski says.
Neither should you avoid talking about the baby’s death. “Saying nothing is the worst thing you can do,” says Liana Quinlivan, a bereavement midwife who lost her own baby, Dot, at 23 weeks.
“Say things like, ‘I don’t know what to say, but I’m here, and I’m here for the long-term.’”
A key part of a bereavement midwife’s role is helping parents “create memories” in the precious days they have with their baby before the funeral. “When you lose a baby, they’re suddenly gone, and there are no memories of them to draw upon,” says Quinlivan, who now works as a postnatal midwife and helps run the Glimmer Project, an organisation that supports bereaved parents through baby loss.
Speak the baby’s name and, down the track, remember anniversaries. If you can, look at photos of the baby if the parents want to share them. Quinlivan says when Dot was born, she wanted to show her off. “I was a mum who’d had a baby, and she was really cute.”
When Aria died, recalls Sarah, “there were a lot of people saying the wrong things with the right intentions, like, ‘oh you still have Noah’ and ‘it’s probably easier with one’.” Sometimes, it’s not a person’s words but their presence that helps the most. “You just need to be there,” she says.
Living with grief
“Grief isn’t linear,” says Ludski. “We don’t go from one stage to the next, and then we’re cured. Grief is with us forever. Over time, we learn to live with it better, so it’s not as prickly and edgy and takes your breath away – it just becomes a part of who you are.”
In 2021, Sarah and Adrian – both musicians – organised a fundraising concert for Red Nose Australia called Songs for Aria. “It was a really healing experience because we were able to say her name and honour all the babies who were no longer on the earth anymore, and do it with music,” says Sarah.
Aria’s family remembers her in many ways. Noah plays with “Aria’s toys”, and his middle name is Aryeh in her memory. “He’s always talking about Aria. I don’t think he really knows who she is yet, but he will one day,” says Sarah. “She’s still part of our household even though she’s not here.”
For more information call the 24/7 Red Nose Grief and Loss Support Line on 1300 308 307 or visit rednosegriefandloss.org.au.
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