Dealing with a tragic death… five years later

Last week I was overwhelmed with the compassion and warmth offered when  Kate Hunter requested the help of Mamamia readers in finding ways to help her friend Bec acknowledge the short life of her beautiful daughter Georgie (if you missed that post read it here). This week, to mark National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, we hear the story of Jayne Kearney who went through the same anguishing journey 5 years ago, and how she and her family honour their daughter Sienna. She writes

“It’s the club no-one wants to belong to. I’m a member. My big sister is a member. So is a good friend of ours. Even my husband has full membership. And in my online community our numbers are many. Perhaps you or someone you love belongs to the group. And this year, approximately 2500 Australian parents will join the club.

We are all parents of a stillborn baby.

In years gone by, stillbirth – and its tragic partner, miscarriage – were topics no-one wanted to talk about. Parents were told to ‘just forget’ about their babies. But, thankfully, things have changed and many people – in both the medical and caring professions and in everyday life – now know that men and women must grieve the loss of their babies in order to maintain their emotional health.

For most parents this process involves remembering their baby in some way; never just ‘forgetting’ about them.

My daughter, Sienna, was stillborn almost five years ago. I have a little shelf in my wardrobe that holds all of her things. It started out as a storage place where I kept paperwork relating to her death – the autopsy results, grief literature from the hospital, prices and packages from the funeral home, as well as her photos and prints of her hands and feet. Sienna’s shelf has since evolved and now includes her ashes in a beautiful ceramic container, some poems, a square of her muslin wrap – which I used to wipe away my tears at her funeral – a plaster cast of her tiny hands and feet, and gifts from people who shared my grief.

Every day when I choose my clothes, I see her things. Some days I barely pause to look at them, yet other days something will catch my eye and I will take time to read and touch them. To remember her. I find it comforting.


It is often said that men grieve differently to women. After Sienna’s birth my husband’s behaviour was mysterious to me. He was quiet and often went missing for hours, either to the beach or to his brother’s house. Luke and I suffered a period of disconnection where I thought he didn’t care and he didn’t know what to say to me.

One night, after I broke down and said that I felt that no-one remembered Sienna, he also cried and said he felt the same. His friends and family rarely spoke to him about his loss, which made him feel that it was not acknowledged. From that moment, Luke and I began remembering Sienna together – merely through simple acts such as speaking her name, wondering what she would look like if she were alive today, imagining the toddler tantrums she would have pulled. Wishing that we could see her sleeping face. Wanting to hear the soft pad of her little feet in the early hours of the morning. We miss her.

Luke then found another way to remember Sienna. Never one for tattoos (and a big cry-baby when it comes to needles), he had her handprint tattooed on his chest. This way he carries her with him always. During summer – when we spend a lot of time swimming – he is often asked about his tattoo. He says, “It’s my daughter’s handprint. She died.” This is when he gets to tell people about his daughter. This is when she is remembered.

Remembering our babies is crucial. It validates their life and our own experience. It is our way of saying: ‘This happened to me and it is important.’

This act of remembering is recognised globally by the International Stillbirth Alliance every October. This month is dedicated to raising awareness about infant and pregnancy loss, and to honouring and remembering babies and infants who died due to miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, SIDS and all other infant deaths.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is held on 15 October . One of the events planned for this day is the International Wave of Light. In time zones all over the world, people are asked to light a candle at 7pm on 15th October for at least an hour to create a continuous wave of light around the world.

There will be a candle burning at our house.

Closer to home, the Australian Stillbirth Foundation is celebrating its Little Feet 5th Birthday Lunch on 24 October 24 in Sydney. Details can be found here.

For us, forgetting Sienna is not an option. She has coloured our life since her birth and death. She is remembered every day of the year.”

Jayne Kearney used to be found wearing many hats until she discovered that having a finger in every pie just makes a big mess – and who has time for that?

Nowadays she tries to be a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend as well as the editor of Sunny Days Magazine.

She also overshares and lolspeaks like a juvenile on Twitter as @indydreaming