September 3, 2015

Loss and grief- the sister I never met

As you can tell from the title, this is not my usual cooking or dining shenanigans story. This is actually quite sensitive so only read if you’re okay with a mushy topic like this.

Today, I had the privilege of attending a talk at my work where a lady spoke about the loss of her newborn baby.

She was absolutely amazing, I’m not one that usually gets emotional hearing other people talk about their losses but I did get teary in this one towards the end. It only took me a few seconds to work out why, it was because it triggered something else. But first, I want to share the lady’s story before I tell you mine.

The lady spoke about her baby who died two days after he was born because of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. This basically means, for some reason her baby had stopped receiving oxygen a week prior to her labour. He was in NICU after he was born but he had never opened his eyes, he had no brain function.

She spoke about all these memories she made with her baby while he was alive. She had a lot of photos the medical staff had taken for her. She introduced her baby to her family at the hospital when they met her for the first time and also said goodbye.
However, she does have many regrets, she says there are so many things she wishes she could have done with her baby but you just don’t think of it at the time because of the horrific process you’re going through. She suggested many things including getting hand or footprints of the baby, taking the baby outside for a walk or doing professional photography with the baby (I learnt there are organisations that do photography of stillborn or sick newborn babies, will share the link with you later). You may be thinking what are these are ridiculous ideas?

I’ll be honest with you. If you had told me about these ideas without the background story. I would’ve said- that’s just crazy! I mean, why on Earth would you wanna do these things with someone who isn’t going to make it? I mean the most you could probably do is take a photo with a normal camera but why would you wanna do professional photography? Professional photography is supposed to be only for happy tales only and doing it in this context is just depressing!

But hearing today’s story changed my perception completely! I had said earlier that triggered something in me and that’s why I’m writing this so I can process my experience in a healthy way. It took me back to the past and got me thinking about my mum who lost her first baby. As a kid, I never paid much importance to it because I thought, she only lived for a few days so it’s not like you could have much memory of her. Now thinking of it today, I can’t believe I had been so ignorant all this time!

It’s only today I realise, a loss is a loss – it doesn’t matter at which point you lose it or how long you’ve had it for. I never talked to my mum about the personal grief she experienced after my sister died. When I first heard about it as a kid, I thought it’s alright, she must be over it now because she has me now.

But what I realise today is that you can never be over it. Your life will never be the same after that loss.

We almost never talk about it because it’s been an awkward topic to address before today. All I know about her is that she was born on 10th November 1988 and she was born premature and that’s why she didn’t survive. To be honest, I don’t know if we have anything in common, other than the fact that we were both whisked away to ICU straight after we were born. It’s actually quite strange because I was more premature than her but I’m still here writing today. I guess it was just luck and partly technology. They must have had better incubators by the time I was born.

I never asked my mum what she did with my sister or how she got to say goodbye. Prior to hearing this talk today, I thought there wasn’t much you could do other than hope and pray. I don’t know how she cherished the moment. I don’t even know if there’s a photo of her but I don’t imagine there would be because cameras weren’t as common in those days.

I can’t begin to comprehend what my mum must have gone through during this time. She’s one amazing obstetrician but I know even the strongest people would break down at times like these. I have heard from other people that she had gone through periods of darkness. I kind of wish I could’ve been a part of it but she was born before me, unfortunately. All this time, I thought there isn’t anything I can possibly do because it was before my time; but I realise today, there is one thing I can do.

I can still acknowledge her- that’s the reason I write this today. I realise that I’ve rarely used the term sister in the past and usually refer to her as my mum’s first child. I don’t even know why I did this, it wasn’t intentional but it’s only today I realise the importance of addressing her correctly. She is my sister whether she lives today or doesn’t. She may not be here with us today but we do have the ability to keep her alive through us.

I admit that I will never fully comprehend my mum’s grief and the scar she carries from that pregnancy. I know it will always be a part of her but I hope the pain has somehow diminished after all these years. My sister will always hold a special place for her and I know she’s watching us from above.

I don’t have personal photos to share with you as I don’t have any, so I leave you with a picture from Heartfelt Photography. I’ve just had a look at their work because I got so curious as to how they photograph sick/dead babies and I have to tell you, it’s absolutely amazing what they do to make the photos look as beautiful as they can be! 


Photo taken from Heartfelt Photography