parents

A very special birthday

Aurora

How many children do you have?

This should be one of life’s more straightforward questions to answer, but it always trips me up. Now I try to work out what exactly people are asking. If it is “how many little people do you tuck into bed at night?”, I answer “three”. But if a person might be asking “how many babies have you had?” I sometimes answer “four… but…”.

But… my second baby, our beautiful daughter Aurora, barely lived after her birth four years ago today. By horribly bad luck her umbilical cord was tangled around her so thoroughly that it deprived her of oxygen during the final minutes of labour. Despite being looped several times around her body and limbs the cord didn’t tighten around her until the end, so despite regular monitoring throughout the labour there was no indication of any trouble until it was too late. Our perfect baby girl was born with a rapidly decreasing heartbeat, never took a breath, and failed to respond to 40 harrowing minutes of resuscitation as her dad and I looked on.

Losing a baby so unexpectedly hardly seemed possible, the shock lingered and it was several days before I believed it. Unable to face all the happy inquiries about the baby (who was more than a week overdue) we escaped Sydney and withdrew to my parents’ beach house. All I could cope with was being close to my husband and our gorgeous 2 year old boy, who in many ways saved us. Every day he forced us out of bed, gave our days the rhythm of meals, naps and trips to the park, and allowed our minds to lift momentarily from the anguish we felt and instead spend fleeting moments discussing Thomas and his train friends. His beautiful character even drew the occasional smile out of us.

For me one of the worst aspects of those early days was when my milk came in. Grappling with painfully engorged breasts is bad enough, but when there is no baby to drink the milk (despite the double dose of lactation suppressing medication I received) it hurts so much more.

There were many things I had expected to do for my baby: feeding, changing, cuddling her when she was sad, and as a mum it felt all wrong to be deprived of these tasks. I searched for other things I could do to feel connected with her and threw myself into them with gusto, even though they were not what I had hoped to be doing for her: selecting music for her funeral, putting together an album of the photos we had of her interspersed with beautiful pregnancy shots that my sister-in-law (a talented photographer) had taken the week before her birth.

Over the years we have found ways to weave Aurora into our family, our own ways of keeping her memory alive. I found a poem that resonated with me at the time and my grandmother did an embroidery of it for me with “Aurora” at the top. It hangs outside the room that would have been hers. We have a framed photo of her at home and I always carry a laminated one in my wallet. Each year we make a donation in her memory to the neonatal unit of the children’s hospital, in the hope that other parents may be spared this kind of loss. Every Christmas morning and on her birthday we visit her grave which is in a beautiful memorial garden, and we always bring all her siblings. I find each of these rituals soothing, they make me feel connected to my daughter who I barely got to meet. Remembering Aurora brings me more peace than pain these days, although I am not immune to tidal waves of grief hitting me completely unexpectedly.

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We have had two more children after Aurora: a spectacularly delicious little boy who is nearly 3, and just last year a little girl. I was so relieved to have a boy after Aurora as I hated the thought that the world might look at our family and see that she had been replaced. Now, though, I was ready to have another daughter, and feel so lucky that I got one to keep. I’m glad they are so different: Aurora had dark hair had felt like a feisty little one, but her sister seems to have a more laid-back disposition and is incredibly blonde.

Four years later, how do I remember her? My whole life I will never forget holding her about an hour after her birth. Eyes closed, not breathing, but otherwise like any other newborn: her cheeks impossibly velvety soft, her sweet little face so much like her big brother’s when he was just born, all 3.8kg of her feeling warm and heavy in my arms.

Most of all, I think of my first daughter every day in terms of the amazing gifts she left us. I am far from a perfect mother and could often be more patient, but more often than not I feel lucky rather than anything else when my baby cries. What greater privilege and joy is there for a parent than to be able to cuddle their sad child, wipe their tears, or rock them to sleep? Any amount of night wakings and cries to be soothed are preferable to the consistent 8 hours of sleep I got after Aurora’s birth. Sometimes, like every parent, my children drive me beyond frustration – but Aurora’s legacy is her ability to remind me of the preciousness of every single moment that I get to spend with my living children.

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