Four years ago today, Nerida and Gabe’s baby Mia was born. Her birth was not under normal circumstances though, for she had died three days earlier in utero. Today is Mia’s fourth birthday and North Manly couple Nerida and Gabe want to share their story of the birth and death of their daughter, and how they came to survive it.
CONTENT WARNING: The following story and images is a deeply profound and confronting account of a couple’s experience with stillbirth. Reader discretion is advised.
Nerida instantly knew something was wrong. She went to the hospital insisting for a scan. “I knew something wasn’t right, it felt really heavy”. It was there at hospital that Nerida’s doctor delivered the earth-shattering news, that baby Mia had unfortunately died and no heartbeat could be found.
In that moment Nerida pleaded with the doctor to perform a cesarean. She couldn’t bear the thought of going home with her baby still in her tummy.
The doctor insisted she waited so she and her husband Gabe could go home and process the circumstances.
He booked in Mia’s induction to be three days later. At the time Nerida found this unbearable, but years later she is so glad she waited, for it gave her and Gabe more time to process the grief.
When asked to recall those days at home, Nerida says it is a blur. She remembers her mum forcing her to drink water. She remembers her mum telling her when to shower and when to eat.
Nerida and Gabe are often approached by friends and families asking them how they survived this time. It has become part of their life journey to help others going through the loss of a child. It is how they keep the memory of their first born daughter, Mia alive.
Nerida pays heavy tribute to her ‘angel in human form’- Obstetric social worker, Deb De Wilde, who she says aided immensely in getting through those days. She is still in regular contact with Deb who also attended the births of Nerida and Gabe’s sons Kai, 2 and Kobe, 11 weeks.
Deb was also there when Nerida delivered Mia at 2.24am on Sunday morning the 4th of June 2017. It was an intense 18 hour labour. Mia was also posterior and breech. For all women who’ve had a posterior birth, you know how much more excruciating that is.
Gabe was holding Nerida’s hand, and the obstetrician was guiding Nerida with the pushing. Nerida recalls giggling when Gabe asked the OB “Is that the head?” To which the OB replied, “no, that’s her bum.” A few pushes later and Mia was born. Initially, Nerida was too scared to hold Mia. Gabe held her first. It was Deb that took Mia over to Nerida and strongly encouraged Nerida to hold Mia. This is something that Nerida is eternally grateful for.
In the moment it was fear that stopped her from wanting to see or hold Mia. Now Nerida cherishes those last memories holding her daughter. Their family were all waiting outside in the waiting room to hear the news of the delivery of baby Mia. Nerida now recalls that it must have been hard for them, waiting there, surrounded by families receiving the news of the safe arrival of their latest grandchild. Their families were awaiting the birth of a child they already knew had died.
They all came into the room after the delivery and everyone got a chance to hold baby Mia. Nerida and Gabe spent three days in hospital until Mia went for her autopsy which confirmed an umbilical cord accident.
After Mia’s birth, Nerida and Gabe had to get straight into organising Mia’s funeral. An unfathomable scenario, where they had to select a coffin for their daughter. Deb helped Nerida choose a coffin. The coffins all felt very confronting to Nerida. She chose one called a ‘nest’. “I felt Like I was tucking her into bed for the night.”
The funeral day came and the place was filled to the brim with people there to support Nerida and Gabe and to remember baby Mia.
Nerida and Gabe tribute their survival through this time to the support they received. They could not have survived without the support of family, friends and especially the support groups of bereaved parents. They have formed unbreakable bonds with parents who have gone through the same situation. Nerida fondly recalls a memory where she was in hospital with four of her friends massaging a limb each.
While the experience was one of the worst in their lives, it has also transformed their perspective on life. They say they know for sure who their real friends are and who they can really count on.
Nerida said one of the most helpful things in dealing with the grief was the support she received from her employers. She was still given one year maternity leave which she says was absolutely necessary in order to heal. Nerida believes that because she was supported by a black and white policy this made her healing process so much easier.
New laws for stillbirths
In 2020 the federal government released a new law to say that employers had to provide maternity leave for parents who had a stillborn child. Having policies in place that support leave in the instance of a stillbirth removes undue stress and uncertainty. In 2021 the Stillbirth Foundation Australia is pushing for companies to include Paid Parental leave for parents of stillborn children to relieve the financial pressure while parents are in mourning.
The birth and death of Mia, changed their lives and now it is their mission to help and support others who may be experiencing the death of a child. Gabe says “When life knocks you down, you just have to get up again. You have to deal with it. We can think how unlucky we are having this happen to us but then there is always someone else who has it worse. We were lucky enough to feel Mia move in Nerida’s belly. We got to hold Mia. Some people never even get to experience those feelings.”
Four years later, Nerida still cannot walk into a florist. The smell of a lot of flowers instantly transports her back to that harrowing time at home when every inch of the house was filled with flowers. While Nerida admits the sentiment of flowers are nice, she does not recommend people give flowers to someone who has lost a baby. “Flowers are maintenance, you barely have the energy to get out of bed let alone changing water. I had to leave the house and have my sister clear out all the flowers for me.” The beautiful aroma of flowers now haunts Nerida.
How to help a friend who has experienced Stillbirth
- Don’t try and make them feel better because you can’t. Just be there.
- Cook for them or send meals
- Consider making a personalised keepsake box
- Flowers are not ideal because they require maintenance and they die
- Cards are excellent. Nerida said she would read the cards over and over.
- It’s ok not to know what to say. Gabe says, If you don’t know what to say then at least say that!
- Say their child’s name. You will not upset them by bringing up their child. They will never forget their child. In fact it makes them happy when you say their child’s name as you are acknowledging their child and keeping their memory alive.
Nerida and Gabe are continuing on their mission to help other bereaved parents. They have made it out the other side and now they want to help others survive the unbearable situation of the death of a child.
Nerida is now wanting to organise a fundraiser for a cuddle cot for a hospital that needs one. She wants to do it in memory of Mia. The fundraiser is here.
Stillbirth support groups
Nerida and Gabe’s vital supports four years ago:
- The support groups through the Mater Hospital – Bereaved Parent support group
- PALS Group (Pregnancy After Loss Support)- Nerida found this incredibly helpful when she found herself pregnant with Kai. She had extreme anxiety due to the loss of Mia and this group helped immensely
- PIGS (Parent Infant Group Support) – Nerida and Gabe formed incredible friendships with other parents from this group
- Deb De Wilde- Nerida tributes much of her survival to Deb. Deb also helped counsel the younger children in the family who were waiting for their baby cousin to arrive.