by SALLY HEPPLESTON
When I posted on Facebook on August 1 this year that I was going to take part in the Instagram photo a day challenge to help me get through what is always the most difficult month of the year, my friend and talented artist Tonia Composto said she could go one better.
For the past four years, August hasn’t been kind to me. And not just because I live in Melbourne where the winters are long, dreary and cold. On August 19 2008, my first child Hope was stillborn at 40 weeks and 5 days after a robustly healthy and incredibly normal pregnancy. Our world shattered. She was eight pounds and perfect in every way, just not breathing. We spent the night with her in hospital before coming home without her the next day, with empty arms and broken hearts, where we tried to make sense of living in the world without her. We didn’t just lose our baby, we lost all the dreams we had for her future. One of those dreams was reading her fairy tales.
To mark the month in which Hope would have turned four, Tonia, who has offered me rock solid support and friendship since the day Hope died, came up with an idea.
It was already about 10pm on the first day of the month when her email came through. She offered to do an illustration based on a popular fairy tale every day for the month. We would then share them among our Facebook networks and sell prints at the end of the month to raise funds for the Stillbirth Foundation. She was seeking my fast approval so she could make a start on illustration number one, which was Snow White. I read her email out loud to my husband Simon and we were both completely blown away. Her first illustration was posted before midnight, and Fairy Tales for Hope was born.
Each day in Tonia’s spare time (which she doesn’t have much of, chasing her two year old Nina around as well as working and teaching graphic design part time) Tonia set to work on a new illustration, with each one taking her up to four hours to complete, a little more than the happy snap I was taking on my phone! She featured some of the more popular fairy tales, including Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, and some lesser known ones like The Red Shoes and The Golden Headed Fish. I started a blog and a Facebook page and we got busy seeking a paper supply company and printer so we could bring the project to life.
Paper was donated by Spicers and printing services were offered by Ellikon and everything started falling in to place. The Stillbirth Foundation was thrilled with the concept and Facebook “likes” just keep rolling in. On Hope’s birthday, the daily illustration was Sleeping Beauty, which couldn’t have been more fitting.
The limited edition set of prints is on sale now through the Stillbirth Foundation for $20 each, plus shipping. All proceeds go towards the charity’s work, which primarily funds research.
There are six babies stillborn in this country every day. That is six too many. One in every 135 pregnancies or 2000 a year yet no one ever really learns these statistics until it happens to them. That was certainly the case for me. The “taboo” that surrounds this topic frustrates me. I have always wanted to change that, and this is why I think this project is so important. And unlike many charitable ventures that focus on the loss of a baby, this is fun, uplifting and vibrant, despite the fact that my grief and sadness will stay with me forever.
Stillbirth Foundation director Emma McLeod said: “It is disturbing that, in an age of enormous technical and medical advances, the rate of stillborn babies is not declining nor well understood. Through funding research, we want to ensure the rate of stillbirth starts to decline. Fairy Tales for Hope is a lovely and uplifting story, unlike most about stillbirth, even though at the heart of it all, there is a family who is desperately missing their baby girl.”
Tonia said: “I still can’t believe this happens to people daily. The grief, the sorrow, the injustice of it breaks me down. Sally never hid her grief and has fought for Hope’s memory since the day she lost her. This is one small way I can support what it such an important cause.”
Ever since Hope died, I have wanted to do “something”. Something meaningful, something important, something that “gives back”. I had my second child Angus just 15 months after Hope died and my third child Juliet 22 months after that. I’ve been so busy just living and surviving that I haven’t had time to throw myself in to anything like this. But this is it. This project has fulfilled me, inspired me and brought hope back to what has been such an incredibly difficult month for me. We would love it if you could take a look and support us in any way you can.