We are continually learning about the ways that parenthood changes us, but the loss of a child is the most profound, devastating thing a parent can live through. Why is it then, that we find it so difficult to talk about? Today marks the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15 October) and as heartbreaking a topic as it is, it’s also a subject that needs bringing into the open.
We’ve been talking to Suzanne Grosvenor – our friend, an amazing mum and beautiful soul – to listen to her personal journey. She lost her second child, Amelia, to a rare condition during induced labour at 41 weeks. Her story is deeply moving and incredibly sad, but most of all, she shows us how losing a cherished child has brought a clarity of understanding to her life’s purpose…
Hi Suzanne, and thanks for talking to us. Can you tell us about yourself and your family?
I am a 42-year old busy mum who lives in Sydney, Australia. I work for my family investment business and also in a volunteer youth mentoring role. I have three living children (Nicholas 14, Hannah, 9 and Claire, 8) and a daughter Amelia who died when she was born during labour 11 years ago. I love my family, value my health and my passion is working with young people to hopefully make a difference in their lives.
Tell us about your daughter, Amelia
Amelia was born on 20th June 2007. She was my second-born child, my first daughter and perfect in so many ways, except she never took a breath. She tragically died during a routine labour induction at 41 weeks as a result of an undiagnosed rare condition known as Vasa Praevia.
Amelia’s death was tragic, unexpected and changed the lives of me and my family. It taught us many things about life that otherwise may not have been taught. She is visibly present on the walls of my home, is talked about often, remembered every day, and loved very much by her brother and sisters. She was beautiful and looks a lot like her siblings when they were babies. She rests in a gorgeous children’s cemetery close to where we used to live and we try to visit her as much as possible but especially on special occasions like birthdays and Christmas.
What is Vasa Praevia?
Vasa Praevia is a rare cord and placenta abnormality that happens at conception in approximately 1 in 20,000 pregnancies. The cord does not insert into the placenta (as in normal pregnancies) but instead into the sack surrounding the baby and placenta. A web of blood vessels connects the cord to the placenta making it perfectly safe for the baby when they are inside the womb, however as soon as the waters break (or are broken in the case of an induction) tragedy strikes and it is like cutting the cord while the baby is still inside. There is no clear fluid, it is just blood and the poor babies lose their whole blood supply in less than a minute. Amelia’s heartbeat on the monitor went from 180 to 0 so quickly and turned our calm labour room into an emergency scene out of a movie. It was so surreal. Unfortunately undiagnosed Vasa Praevia is almost 100% mortality rate, however, when the condition is diagnosed (usually at the 20 week ultrasound) it is almost 100% survival rate due to a very early elective caesarean at around 36 weeks.
How have you changed as a result of losing a child?
I definitely refer to myself as ‘pre’ and ‘post’ Amelia. She has taught me so much about life and people, and I use her for guidance in almost everything. Before Amelia I was fairly innocent and naive and generally hadn’t experienced any type of grief or deep emotional pain. Amelia taught me that emotional pain was so much more intense than any type of physical pain. You can’t fix it with anything – people, medication, books, sunshine, holidays, more children (as lots of people suggest). It is deep, relentless, and never goes away. Time helps it move into the background and allows you to continue living and moving on with your life but it is always there.
Post Amelia and 11 years on I am in a peaceful state, but a friend of mine says I can never be a 10/10 happy. Nine is my peak! I am always sad for what we went through and that she is not here physically so I can watch her grow as part of our family. But I try hard to remember her with love and concentrate on the lessons learned and the changed person I became because of her. I am a more empathetic, understanding and a softer person because of Amelia. I have a passion to help others and share my story to connect with others going through grief, loss and heartache. Christmas is very different as I try to think of those who are having a tough time and reach out to them rather than consume myself in the sometimes manufactured happiness of that time of year.
What has losing a baby taught you about life and motherhood?
Life is precious and not to be taken for granted. Life can change in an instant. Live in the moment and cherish your loved ones. Never assume anything. Control is an illusion. Nothing is forever and death is a part of life that needs more conversation.
As a mother I try to love my children unconditionally, provide a healthy home, do my best to keep them safe and let them follow their own path and be individuals as much as possible. Initially after Amelia’s death I was very protective and anxious with Nicholas and my subsequent children Hannah and Claire. However, as time went on I became more relaxed and took the attitude of really letting go of my perceived control and recognising that I don’t own my children: they are entitled to their freedom to explore the world in their own way. I believe they shouldn’t be disadvantaged by the emotional trauma that I hold from my experience with Amelia. I want them to hold on to the innocence of childhood for as long as possible before the challenges of adulthood and life experiences are real to them.
Is there anything that could’ve helped you more in the period immediately after you lost Amelia, or helped you on an ongoing basis?
My obstetrician and hospital were amazing. Very respectful and transparent with information and they gave us precious time with our daughter. They cried, loved and grieved with us through the whole journey. Our obstetrician was heartbroken, he was devastated and showed support, understanding, and real empathy. Our midwife was the most beautiful soul who spent a lot of time with us and Amelia in the 24 hours after her birth and death. She bathed, dressed her and encouraged us to take photos with her (which I was resistant to) and now I wish I took a thousand more.
Counselling was provided for me and talking to others who had lost babies made me feel less alone in what was a very isolating experience. The love and support from people around you does help you survive and get through those initial days and weeks which are excruciating. Reading books, online forums, practical help by way of childcare/cooked meals, etc, hearing other couples’ stories, finding some forums that could provide positive hope for the future all helped with moving forward.
Do you have any words of wisdom that you’d like to pass on to other mums (and dads and siblings, family members and friends) who are facing a similar loss?
Don’t hide your grief, Don’t push it away. Feel it, live through it, recognise and name it and talk about your beautiful baby with others. This is part of your story now but it doesn’t define you and it is not all you are. It is a tragic, horrible, painful time but you will get through it with time. You will find a way to own your story, talk about it, be proud of it and live with it. Look for the lessons, they are there and will appear when you least expect them to, often many years down the track.
Heartfelt thanks to Suzanne for sharing her story with HoneyKids.
Top image: Liv Bruce via Unsplash
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