real life

When parents lose a baby, Deb de Wilde is there to wrap her arms around them.

Kathy Benson remembers the day Deb de Wilde walked into her life. It was early 2004, and she had just lost her daughter at the age of seven days.

“My daughter was born early and very unexpectedly and quickly at home, which was not the plan, but that’s how it happened,” Benson tells Mamamia.

“She was taken directly to Grace Ward at Westmead, then never came home.”

A friend contacted de Wilde, who paid Benson a visit.

“She came to my home and had a cup of tea,” Benson remembers.

Listen: How to support a loved one who’s lost a baby. (Post continues.)

“My son was 18 months old at the time and he was there having a massive tantrum on the floor. She was just so calm. She was just this lovely calm influence that came in.”

Most of Benson’s family and friends didn’t really want to talk about the baby she’d just lost, but de Wilde did.

“I wanted to validate her life,” Benson explains.

“It was a very short life, but it still needed to be validated. It still was important to me.”

De Wilde was there to hear whatever she had to say, or scream.

“If I wanted to just scream at the world, she’d say, ‘Okay, you do that.’ Wherever my emotions took me, she allowed that. She was there to virtually hold my hand.”

Deb de Wilde helps grieving mothers deal with their pain. (iStock/supplied)

De Wilde has spent the past 35 years devoting herself to parents like Benson who have lost a child around the time of birth.

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“The vision I have in my mind is wrapping my arms in a circle around the family to give them privacy and protection, and create a place that feels incredibly safe and supportive while they follow their own process,” de Wilde explains.

De Wilde started out as a nurse and midwife, then studied social work. She was always drawn to towards supporting people around the death of their baby. She and her colleague Belinda Power now work across three Sydney private hospitals.

“It is incredibly sad,” she says.

“But there are moments of enormous beauty and joy.”

De Wilde often meets parents for the first time when they have just found out that their baby has died before birth. At that point, the parents can find it hard to comprehend.

“There’s often an inner dialogue about how there’s been some terrible mistake. They’re so big and full of life. Often they believe they are feeling the baby’s movements.”

De Wilde will talk the parents through the “daunting prospect” of giving birth, what their baby will look like, and any investigations that doctors might recommend afterwards to determine why their baby has died.

“Universally, mothers and fathers will believe that something they did or didn’t do may be responsible for the death of their baby. That’s a very painful burden to carry.”

At that point, the parents can find it hard to comprehend their baby has died. (Image via iStock.)

Her aim is to give people some control over the situation, including the amount of time they spend with their baby.

“For some people, spending time with the baby might occur over a profoundly intense but brief period, maybe some hours,” she explains.

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“For other people, seeing and spending time with the baby might occur over a number of days.

“I will gently explore with people doing some of the things that we all do with our babies: holding them on our skin, bathing them, dressing them, walking them out in the garden.

“I’ve seen families for whom it was terribly important to sit with the baby and read a particular book, or to talk with the baby about the family story, about how the baby might have been brought to this life, all the hopes and dreams that the family might have carried for the baby, and their immense sadness that they have to go on without their baby.”

Listen: Libby Trickett opens up about her miscarriage experience. (Post continues.)

De Wilde often develops long-term relationships with families who have lost a baby. They’re invited to join support groups – run through the Mater Hospital in North Sydney – with other families in similar situations. This is especially helpful when they become pregnant again, and well-meaning family and friends often say the wrong thing.
Benson remembers that happening.

“With the subsequent child, it’s like, ‘Well, everything’s okay now, you’ve got a replacement.’ You go, ‘Nuh, it doesn’t quite work that way.’”

Other women who’ve been through the loss of a baby can understand the anxieties of the pregnancy that follows.

“Every night when my husband and I would go to bed, we’d go, ‘Okay, we got through that day, so now our percentage of getting this baby to the end has increased,’” Benson remembers. “Every day it was like, ‘Well, we made today.’

“It was difficult to feel joy during the pregnancy.”

De Wilde says even with the birth of a healthy baby, it often takes a while for the joy to come.

Being pregnant again doesn't mean the grief is over. (Image: iStock)
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“Sometimes it’s just a few days. For other people it takes longer. Many parents have never really allowed themselves to envisage holding that little warm, alive baby on their chest, because the hope of doing so seemed so fragile.”

It was only a generation or two ago that the attitude towards losing a baby was completely different.

“People suffered terribly through the misunderstandings and ignorance and well-meaning advice given to them,” de Wilde says.

“But we know that it’s part of who we are as human beings to know our babies and to have an opportunity to grieve. It’s through that process that people do reach some degree of healing.

“I don’t think people are ever the same after they experience a significant loss of any type, but with good support, with kindness and respect, I think it’s possible for people to live and love fully.”

Mamamia Pregnancy Loss Awareness Week

You can download Never Forgotten: Stories of love, loss and healing after miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death for free here.

Join the community of women, men and families who have lost a child in our private Facebook group.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with pregnancy loss or depression, contact PANDA on Ph: 1300 726 306.

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