by MATT SILVESTER
“You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have” – Author Unknown
29 September 2010 is a day we will never forget. Our lives changed forever. Our whole world was turned upside down when our son Samuel was stillborn at 36 weeks term. Samuel’s umbilical cord got tied in a true knot and he had cut off his own oxygen supply. The pregnancy had been completely normal up to this point to with no complications at all. Losing Samuel was devastating to our family and friends and I clearly remember thinking at the time, “If we can get through this we can get through anything.”
Today we will be celebrating Samuel’s second birthday. It’s hard to know how to spend the day. We could hide indoors feeling sorry for ourselves or we could go out and face the world. Should we have birthday cake to celebrate? We couldn’t bring ourselves to buy a cake for his first birthday. Last year we celebrated Samuel’s birthday by releasing balloons from a bridge over a lake at a local park. We went to a party shop and all chose balloons to release.
Our eldest son Oliver (8) chose a balloon with soccer balls all over it “because I would have taught Samuel how to play soccer.” Thomas (6) chose a bright orange balloon with stars “because Samuel is up in heaven near the stars.” My wife Alison and I both chose balloons with butterflies on them. We had released balloons at Samuel’s funeral so it seemed a fitting way to celebrate and butterflies have come to symbolise Samuel. I am sure we will do the same again this year.
I often wonder what Samuel would look like now. He was the spitting image of Oliver when he was born. He had my “big” big toe! Would he have light hair and blue eyes like Oliver, or dark hair and hazel eyes like Thomas? What would he be doing? No doubt terrorising his older brothers I would imagine. Samuel is very much part of our family and we often talk about him. The boys bring his name up unexpectedly which always makes me happy. Every time any of us see a butterfly we say “hi” to Samuel, I am determined that we will never forget Samuel, although I know there is no way that we ever will.
Since we lost Samuel I have been determined to do anything I can to help others who have experienced a similar loss. I ran the Sydney marathon in September last year in memory of Samuel and to raise money and awareness for The Stillbirth Foundation Australia. I cannot describe how much it saddens me that on average six families every day in Australia have a stillborn child, and their lives have been indelibly changed. I found that training for and running the marathon was good for me as part of my own grieving process. It gave me something positive to focus on and new found purpose. I was doing this for Samuel.
To be honest the day of the marathon is a bit of a blur for me. It was an unseasonably warm spring day with temperatures reaching 31C during the run. The heat and the emotion of running for Samuel really got to me and from 27km to the end (42.2km) I was doing more walking than running. With Samuel on my mind I was determined to make it to the end. I still laugh when I think back to just after I had crossed the finishing line, Thomas came running up to me scolding me by saying “Dad that was so boring. You took so long!” I was completely overwhelmed to have raised $7,672 in sponsorship for The Stillbirth Foundation which was beyond my wildest dreams. I did promise Alison that I would never run a marathon again.
Early this year on my daily bus ride home from work I noticed that entries were open for the New York Marathon on 4 November 2012 – coincidentally just two days after our 10 year wedding anniversary.
I half-heartedly read the information on the New York marathon website about the lottery draw for international entrants. The website stated that the percentage of successful applicants accepted for my category would be between 8% and 12% depending on the total number of applicants. I thought “what the heck” and I’d give it a go anyway and entered the international lottery draw.
Alison and I actually met in New York in 1996 when we were both part of an international exchange program – Alison is from Orange, NSW and I am originally from Kent in England. For the past few years we had said that it would be great to spend our 10 year anniversary in New York. With Alison due to give birth to our fourth child in March we had discounted going this year. I am delighted to say that in March our beautiful daughter Lucy was born.
I had pretty much forgotten about my New York marathon entry until, to my complete surprise, I received an email in late April saying “Congratulations! This is the beginning of your New York City Marathon journey.” I was in! Wow! As a friend said to me at the time, “Maybe fate is playing its part. After all you guys have been through, the arrival of Lucy and with the marathon coinciding with your 10 year wedding anniversary. You just HAVE to go to New York!”
After a lot of discussions we have decided to take our children too. Oliver and Tom were so incredibly strong for us that there was no way we could go without them. Lucy will be only 8 months old so it is a shame that she won’t remember the trip.
So after promising to never run another marathon I will be running in New York, again in memory of our son Samuel. This year I am also running for bereaved dads and for a recently formed charity called Pillars of Strength. I consider myself fortunate that I have always been someone that can openly talk about things, and I find that talking helps.
I know this doesn’t come easy for a lot of dads who tend to keep their feelings to themselves. Pillars of Strength provides a peer support group with other bereaved dads who have experienced a very similar tragic loss. No matter how great your family and friends are it is hard for anyone to truly understand that feeling of utter loss, devastation and pain that you feel when you lose a child.