Trigger warning: This article discusses pregnancy and infant loss.
Amelina Joannie was born on 3 May 2017 after a quick and easy labour. Not many of you will have known we were pregnant. That’s life after loss. Unlike many other parents, we weren’t expecting. We were just hoping. This time we were lucky enough to bring her home. – Jane Lê
At 38 weeks pregnant, Inner West Mum Jane Lê was packing her hospital bag. ‘Where are the baby clothes? And what about some nursing tops?’ asked her husband. Jane swallowed. She hadn’t thought about those. She hadn’t needed those the last time she had delivered a baby. But the last time was different. Heartbreakingly, on 22 January 2016, their third baby, Callan Raphael, was born sleeping. And in spite of her enduring profound grief for her son, Jane had to remind herself that shortly she would be delivering her rainbow baby, a baby who would breathe, and cry, and need to be clothed and fed.
Jane and her husband had told a mere few loved ones that they were expecting again, this time a baby girl. For Jane, part of the difficulty in sharing their news was believing that inside her a healthy baby was growing. Jane says: ‘After I lost Callan, my entire world fell apart. I didn’t trust the world and I trusted myself even less. It was my body that had failed Callan. He should have been safe in my womb. He should have been healthy. As a mother, you feel that burden of responsibility much more heavily. You carry and grow that baby. That’s your job. And you never expect it to go wrong. I had done it twice previously. Why would this time be any different? In my world, things like that just didn’t happen. But now, in this new world, that confidence, that trust, that naivety is gone.’ Cruelly, there had been a subsequent loss too, an early miscarriage, which knocked her confidence in her body’s ability to grow a healthy baby even further.
Another challenging aspect of sharing their news was that since Callan’s loss, Jane has become close to numerous mothers who have also experienced the unimaginable loss of their baby – some of them, devastatingly, more than once. She knew that to tell her news could be shattering for those dear friends.
Jane was well into her pregnancy when she finally found the courage to book herself to deliver at her local hospital. ‘To make care arrangements requires you to think about the birth and means admitting that you might bring the baby home,’ says Jane. ‘I couldn’t do that. My mind couldn’t go there. Every time the idea of bringing a baby home flashed across my mind, I immediately shut it down. How STUPID to think that might happen. Why should I get to bring her home?’ She would deliver at the same hospital where she had birthed and said goodbye to Callan just over a year ago.
At each of Jane’s pregnancy check-ups, which were much more frequent this time around, the hospital staff reassured her that this baby was well. But, Jane says, ‘even as I went into labour I was in total denial. I hadn’t thought about birth – I was just living in the day. Never ever looking forward. It’s all I could do to cope.’
The delivery was smooth and their baby girl was born weighing 3.28 kilograms, 48 centimetres long. Amelina looked just like her older siblings. And indeed she was well. They named her Amelina Joannie. ‘Amelina means “work”,’ Jane explains. ‘We joke that we picked the name because the journey to having her was such hard work. But actually we just really liked the name. Joannie is a dear friend who supported us with incredible sensitivity following Callan’s loss. It’s our dedication to kindness.’
While Amelina’s arrival has brought the family great joy, it is a bittersweet time. Callan’s loss is still at the forefront of their minds. ‘Of course I still miss Callan,’ says Jane. ‘I now know that I’ll always miss him. Grief lasts a lot longer than anyone would think.’ Jane wears a beautiful necklace with an engraving of Callan’s footprint and a small fill of his ashes. Her son is with her every day. ‘I find my healing in my connection to Callan.’
Image: Jane, wearing her special necklace, holds Amelina. Courtesy of Jane Lê
She holds her newborn daughter close too. There is a fierce protectiveness, one that only a parent who has lost a baby can understand. ‘I can’t quite believe we got to keep Amelina,’ she says. ‘Sometimes I wonder if it was all just a dream. I’m waiting to wake up, but it’s just not happening. She’s ours!’
Image: Amelina Joannie. Courtesy of Jane Lê
If there has been a positive to Jane’s experience over the past year and a bit, it’s that she has become a passionate, influential advocate for families who suffer the unfathomable loss of their baby to miscarriage, stillbirth and postnatal causes. In a series of videos and written posts Jane has shared some of the most intimate and intricate moments of her family’s journey with her social media networks. Her posts are raw and beautiful and stop you in your tracks. In person, she speaks with honesty and grace. For some, it is too much. Jane has coordinated fundraising campaigns for various infant loss services, including raising $10,000 for Red Nose in memory of Callan on his first birthday. A social researcher by profession, Jane has even led a research project calling for greater support for mothers returning to the workplace after loss. ‘We need to give these parents an opportunity to grieve,’ she argues.
Jane is adamant about breaking the silence on pregnancy and infant loss – and now rainbow pregnancies too. ‘Pregnancy and infant loss is a topic that is too often draped in silence. I think it’s also so important for people to understand the battleground that is a rainbow pregnancy.’ To those who have experienced infant loss, and those who are embarking on the rainbow journey, Jane offers this: ‘Be kind to yourself – being strong is exhausting!’
Image: Remembering Callan Raphael. Courtesy of Jane Lê
Bears of Hope Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support
24-Hour Bereavement Support Line: 1300 308 307
Pregnancy After Loss
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Remembering with Love: Jane’s Story
How to Support a Friend through the Loss of a Baby