Friday, December 17, 2010

Worth A Read

This article is a few weeks old, I think, but I thought it was worth posting, for a couple of reasons:
1. If you are a babylost parent, it is likely that everything this woman says will hit home with you too. I know it did with me.
2. If you are the supporter/friend/family member of a babylost parent, the article gives some good insights into the state of mind of a grieving parent. It might help you understand why they do or say the things they do, especially in that raw initial period.

Worth a read.

Giving Birth To A Stillborn Son

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I dont think I have been very nice lately. I have always lived by the motto "it's nice to be nice." And it is. but it is also important to be true to yourself and your values. However, I think I have broken my own rule and been "overly assertive" (I am loathe to use the word aggressive, whether it is fitting here or not) in what I believe in.
I put this down to a number of things:
  • A lifetime of diplomacy, hiding my beliefs as not to be confrontational to others who may not hold them.
  • A recent upsurgance of challengers, who in the past, I would have ignored, but I just cant seem to curb myself when I feel challenged these days. It is a real impossibility, despite how hard I try.
  • A new wave of anger that my daughter was taken from me. Especially that it is Christmas. It is a generalised, free floating anger. And wrongly, I channel it by being overly outspoken and vocal about what I think.
These are not excuses. They are explanations. I guess I still crave understanding, even though I know I may have crossed some boundaries.
Please know that even though I have certain strong values and beliefs, I would never judge anyone else for their choices. Even if it has seemed lately that I have. My choices are separate entities from yours. I have made mine, and I have recently felt the need to vocalise them. But the purpose of my vocalisation was to be heard myself, not to push them onto anyone else. I hope that is understood.

As Christmas gets closer, I am sadder and sadder and miss my Bella more and more. And as Christmas gets closer, I edge closer to the 34 week mark of my pregnancy, and with each day, I panic a little bit more. Mourning, coupled with anxiety and adding the physical burden of a 29 week old pregnancy in an Australian summer is making me...not so nice. It is making me not think properly. It is making me...self absorbed? Or perhaps the word is insular. It is like I am in my own little bubble of grief and anxiety and heat. Occassionally, I step out of the bubble, and realise I have been argumentative, agitated, and in focusing on my own feelings, have failed to see how my behaviour or words may have impacted on others.
And so I am sorry. I may have even emailed you personally to apologise. So please consider this one extra.
I have spent many hours ashamed. And embarrassed.
This is a terribly honest post.
I am hoping and hoping that these feelings and impulses are short lived. I am praying for a sense of peace to wash over me soon, in regards to my sleeping baby, and also the one growing inside me now. I am praying for acceptance and serenity. Perhaps my anger and frustration are part of the process.
I want peace and love and friendship to be in my life. Not anger and fear and volatility.
So, I apologise. And I thank you for your patience.
I still have a long road ahead of me. But I will try and emulate Sybella's purity to help me through this time, and do away with the anger.
Deep, cleansing breaths. One at a time.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

'Tis The Season (To Be...Heartbroken)

Well, Christmas crept up, didnt it now? Has Sybella really been dead for 7 months? It seems like ages ago, but it also seems like yesterday. In all honesty, the last 7 months have been a whirlwind of pain, heartache, sorrow but also happiness (mostly due to learning about Rainbow Baby), new beginnings, gratitude, learning curves and newfound strength. I attribute all these positives to her. Sybella. She was the one who made them all come about.

Veteran babylost mothers say that 7 months is still so fresh. I am so weary from sorrow that I feel that I have always been this person...the person with a dead child. You know how people say "I cant remember life before children?" Well, I cant remember life without the constant, heavy burden of grief. Others tell me that it took them a good 6 months to feel normal again. To feel human. That they watched the world and felt like they werent part of it. I havent really had that luxury. I fell pregnant immediately, had a preschooler to be there for and a husband who works an hour from where we live, and so I barely see him during the week due to him being away from 6am until 8pm. My life was thrown back into "normality" very shortly after Sybella's death, and so my only outlet, my only forum to process my feelings and be completely indulgent is this blog. I guess that is why it is so "variable." Sometimes it's controversial, sometimes it is narky or angry, sometimes it is bewildered, sometimes it is heartbreaking and filled with pain, sometimes it is lighthearted. Sometimes it just makes no sense. Kind of like my daughter's death.
As Christmas looms, I am struck by a whole new wave of grief that washes over me.The "what if" kind.
Such as the memories from last Christmas, when I was 14 weeks pregnant with Sybella, and we all chattered excitedly about the new baby that would be here by Christmas 2010. I imagined Jack helping a 6 month old open presents and show his new sibling how to "work" the toys she would be receiving. I imagined taking a preschooler and a new baby to visit Santa. As it stands, I took Jack on Friday. And brought home a photo with only him in it. No new baby. It has been only him in the Santa photo since 2006. I prayed after our visit to Santa on Friday that next year's photo would have two of my three children in it.
Writing out my Christmas cards this morning, I remembered that a year ago, I thought I would be writing "from Kelvin, Stephanie, Jack and Sybella." Now it says "from Kelvin, Stephanie and Jack"...and Sybella's name is stamped in the right hand bottom corner, next to a picture of an angel.
Trimming the Christmas tree. Of course, a 6 month old wouldnt have been able to help, but it has always been a family event for us. Except this year, one family member was missing.

My beautiful friend Belinda sent this most gorgeous decoration for our tree. The fact that she thought of us at this time, made the effort to get this star and have it engraved with Sybella's name and birthday just floored me. Not because I am surprised. Belinda is just like that. She is thoughtful, understanding, kind and compassionate. She even sent something for Jack, so he had something to unwrap too. She is just the kind of friend that one thanks God for when you suffer tragedies like this. I wish there were more like my beautiful Belinda.

I also purchased a decoration in honour of Sybella...except it has not quite the same elegance or simplicity as Belinda's star. When I ordered it, I didnt realise how big it was, and as a result, we are unable to hang it on the tree. It does fit beautifully on her shrine, though, and we have decided to keep it there all year round.

On Friday night, Deb De Wilde, Babylost Social Worker Extraordinaire, hosted a Christmas Service of Hope, Consolation and Remembrance for all children who have died. Part of the service, the most heartwrenching part, involved a slideshow of all the little children and babies who have passed away. As a gospel choir sang, in a dark church edged in candlelight, the children's images were illuminated on a large screen. Tiny foetuses, stillborn babies, babies that were born alive and were so sick that they died shortly after birth, babies lost to SIDS, toddlers and older children lost to cancer and other unthinkable tragedies. As I sat and sobbed for all these children, tears ran down my face, unstoppable. And they hadnt even got to Sybella's image yet. Sybella, who was one of them. It was so beautiful to see these babies, and they were all so gorgeous. But the fact that they werent alive haunted me and I couldnt get a hold of myself.
Reading the page with all the baby's names on it, I was astounded at how many of these children I "knew." Hope, Kayla, Jade, Morgan, Layla.
7 months ago, I was not in this horrible Club. It was another world. Now, I am ensconsed in a community of parents and families who know what I know and feel how I feel. Who cry with me and nod along with me. Who have my compassion and who give me theirs. It is a tragically beautiful community. I am proud to be a part of it...but desperately wish I wasnt. If that makes sense.

In our Christmas cards this year, I have included an insert with the following message. If you are someone who I know through babyloss, through my blog or yours, or you are simply someone whose address I do not have, I wish to extend this message to you too:

In the Christmas season of 2010, we look back over our year and remember our daughter, Sybella, a most beautiful and innocent baby, born asleep on the24th of April.
Christmas is a time for joy, although our usual Christmas joy is tainted with sadness and what would have been. Christmas is also a time for gratitude, and this we can embrace. We are thankful to Sybella for choosing us, and as she did, she touched our hearts, our souls and our lives.
We are also thankful to you, for your support, understanding and love over these past few months. Without your kindness, our family heartbreak would have been even more unbearable.
We hope you feel Sybella’s purity of spirit touch your heart this Christmas.

Remembering Sybella Eve

Our family wishes you and yours
all the love and peace
of the season this Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cherry On Top

My First Blog Award!
Thank you to Haidee from Maybe Baby Or Maybe The Loony Bin for thinking my blog was inspiring and beautiful enough to receive an award!
I've wanted one of these from Day 1!

The rules of this award are:
  1. Link back to the person who gave it to you
  2. Pass it on to five (or more) other blogs 
  3. Leave them a comment telling them about the award
Okay, so I didnt have to think too hard about this, as I have a little bubble of places that I like to go for comfort, so my Cherry On Top award goes to:

Sally at Tuesday's Hope
Angela at Little Bird
Maddie at After Matilda
Merrill at It's Days Like These
Cat at Life In Cat's Pyjamas

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Steph Gets Cranky About Vaccines

There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.
- Hippocrates

Yesterday I was asked:
"Don’t take this the wrong way, but did you receive a flu shot (while pregnant with Sybella)?"

The nature of this comment is wrong on so many levels. And it sparked an intense reaction in me that bubbled away all night. So I thought I'd write about it.

The answer is no. I didn’t. But only because I spent the majority of my pregnancy in the warmer months (September to April) and the flu vaccine isnt routinely administered at that time of the year in Australia.

But thank you, J, for your disclaimer ("don’t take this the wrong way") and very clear insinuation that IF I had gotten a flu shot, it may have caused Sybella to die. That made me feel great! Just load some guilt on top of my grief!

The issues surrounding vaccination are contentious ones. It is a passionate, opinionated debate. (Although I will come back to the issue of opinion later). There are usually three major parties when it comes to the subject of immunisation. Passionate pro-vaxxers, passionate anti-vaxxers, and people who vaccinate according to the government schedule without much thought about it.

Those who sit in the third category, I don’t take issue with you... I think it is commendable that you pertain to the schedule and trust your medical caregiver. Thank you for protecting your children, and mine. But it is many (not all) of the anti-vaxxers that will try and coerce this group (mostly through uncivilised means) and make sweeping statements that ALL pro-vaxxers are blind followers of government schedules, medical advice and behave like sheep...or lemmings. Sometimes I feel that anti-vaxxers think we ALL sit in the third category. Not that I think those in the third category are blind followers, I dont. But it just seems to be what the anti-vaxxers cling to when trying to put their point across...the fact that vaccinators "havent done the research." They beseech us to look into it, assuming that we havent already. I will put most of my money on the fact that those who vaccinate without question do so because of the correct information that is already out there circulating and being advertised by reputable health professionals. Which DOES make you informed. Lets hope this positive information continues to circulate.

Amy McKay Cooper responded to an anti-vaxxer who questioned her, my and other pro-vaxxer's knowledge of vaccines and their effects with the following comment:

"It is the worst opinion out there that people who are pro-vaccination are "uneducated", "unopen to the truth", "lacking in common sense", or a myriad of other more than vaguely insulting talking points. We have read the studies, pondered their implications, listened to authorities, weighed them against our own understanding, thought critically and arrived at our own thoughtful conclusions based on the best evidence. We are not ignorant, closed, mindless followers, or uncritical. You don't have anything over on us... We just think you are wrong. And we think so because the preponderance of peer-reviewed, methodologically strong, replicable, evidence-based medicine from a variety of sources all over the globe point us in that direction."

I take huge issue with the assumption from anti-vaxxers that my beliefs are unsubstantiated, uneducated and lack intelligence.
I sit firmly and proudly in the first category and have been strong believer in vaccines since 1992. Yep, I was 12. Since then, I have researched, studied, questioned vaccines and the immunisation schedule, becoming more and more interested in the topic as time went on.

In the months after Sybella died, I found myself becoming a fully fledged advocate, amping up my research, participating in groups and forums, speaking with paediatricians and general practitioners. I was motivated from an emotional standpoint by the story of Carter Dube, a 6 week old baby, who died from the respiratory complications of Pertussis, prior to being of an age where he could receive his first batch of vaccines. Luckily, I had the facts and scientific knowledge to back up my emotive argument also.

I will warn you now though, if you do not believe in vaccines, this post is not an invitation to debate the pros and cons, so don’t worry about posting your opinions. Not that I don’t want to hear them, am not open to them, or am scared that you will prove me "wrong." On the contrary. I have enough knowledge and education and facts up my sleeve to be able to debate any anti-vaxxer. But I am burnt out from my conversation yesterday with the person who questioned whether I had a flu shot while pregnant, I am cross, and so I am venting. That is the purpose of this post.

The fact of the matter is, vaccines are a community health issue. In my world, there is no room for diplomatic conversations about choice and opinion when it comes to immunisation. It isnt like birth choices, or breast feeding vs. formula, where parents should mind their own business and leave each other to do what is best for them, their child and their personal situation. Sounds harsh. I know. And I am SURE to get a few heckles up, I am aware of that.
My personal disclaimer is that I have NO DOUBT that ALL parents that have certain opinions about vaccines are acting in the best interest of their child. They love their child/ren, want them to stay safe and healthy, and I respect that. But when your choice not to vaccinate impacts on me, my child, or my unborn baby, then I get cross. Especially when you assume I haven’t done the research and label me ignorant. Especially when you imply that my choice TO be vaccinated played a role in my daughter's stillbirth.

Herd immunity is a very serious issue. Right now, in NSW, herd immunity sits at approximately 83% (total of immunised people at any one time). Rates need to be above 95% for a vaccine to be effective. This is because vaccines themselves are approximately 70-90% effective. If our herd immunity is 95%, then the fact that vaccines don’t offer 100% protection is negligible. The remaining 5% of unvaccinated individuals should only be those who are immune-compromised, newborn, elderly, or cannot be vaccinated for reasons pertaining to anaphylaxis. Therefore, herd immunity protects these people.
Then there is the issue of “free-riding.” The article “Parental Decision-Making in Childhood Vaccination” by Lucy Serpell and John Green states: “If parents feel that others vaccinating reduces the risk of their child being infected, then they may feel that they need not vaccinate their own child as long as local vaccine coverage is good.”
However, local vaccine coverage is getting lower and lower, because of bogus, unsubstantiated claims by anti-vaccine websites. Anti vaccination sites scare me. They terrify me. I read the claims that come from such obscure, tiny studies that make broad, sweeping statements and factually inaccurate declarations and shudder at the ease at which these assertions are swallowed. The worst one so far was that the recent outbreak of Pertussis in California was caused by seasonal pesticides. Bordetella Pertussis is a bacterial infection. Not environmental. That is not an opinion. It is a scientific fact. No dispute.

Then there is the age old MMR and Autism debate. This needs to die. Seriously.

There has been reputable studies disproving the claim that the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) causes Autism. It has been undeniably quashed, both by medical and scientific studies, that state there is no causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and Autism. And let’s not forget Andrew Wakefield, who was stripped of his medical license due to his paper, discredited, for its claims that the MMR vaccine caused Autism.
“But why are there so many Autistic kids now?” the anti-vaxxers cry. The answer: There ARENT. There are the same number as ever before. It is simply that in today's education and social system, Autism is much more salient than ever. Being a teacher, I can tell you that today’s education focuses on hands-on, exploratory, discovery learning. Children work in groups, in a variety of settings, with a variety of strategies. They are encouraged to make student –based decision, utilise autonomy and take responsibility for their learning. Autistic kids DO NOT thrive in this setting. Autistic children thrive on routine, repetition, methodical learning, and teacher-led choices. And so they stand out. However, they did not stand out twenty, thirty or forty years ago, when education consisted of sitting rows, rote learning, copying arithmetic off the chalkboard, reading the same book over and over. Autism is not more prevalent, but it IS more understood and awareness is more developed and advanced. Parents of Autistic children I have taught say the same thing: “My child had something different about him/her from birth.” And that child’s siblings, who grew up with the same parents, breastfed for the same amount of time, in the same environment, with the same vaccine schedule, do not have Autism. This puts the whole causal link debate to rest.

Mercury. Thimerosol. To those who question HOW I can inject my baby with such horrid toxins, I ask you:

Do you eat fish?

If the answer is yes, then you ingest Methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is a neurotoxin, found in fish that are high in the marine food chain. Methyl mercury accumulates in the body and takes a long time to break down and be emitted via waste. Ethyl mercury, however, leaves the body almost immediately. It is NOT a neurotoxin.Which is lucky, because it is Ethyl mercury, not Methyl mercury that is used in SOME flu vaccines…although this argument is negligible too, because Ethyl mercury hasn’t been used in a childhood vaccine in Australia since 2000, anyway.

Okay, so vaccines aren’t perfect. There will be side effects, and protection rates for individual vaccines are not 100%
Dr Paul Offit, an infectious disease and vaccine expert, author, and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote:

"I would make the case that a choice not to get vaccines is not a risk free choice. Rather, it’s a choice to take a different and far more serious risk."

I know I take a risk with immunisation: But it’s a lower risk than contemplating any of these options:
  • My son being permanently sterilized from Mumps.
  • My son suffering Encephalitis from a case of the Measles.
  • My son contracting Septicemia from a Varicella blister.
  • My unborn baby suffering blindness, deafness and brain damage in the case of myself being exposed to Rubella during pregnancy.
  • My newborn attached to tubes and monitors, struggling to breathe because he/she contracted Whooping Cough from an unvaccinated individual who hadn’t had their TDaP booster.
Why am I banging on about vaccines on a stillbirth site, you ask?
One part of Sybella's legacy is my voice. My calm, but firm voice. About matters pertaining to my heart. My courage of conviction. I'm just lucky that when it comes to vaccination, not only can I put forward views form my heart, but also those from science and medicine.

Sybella. What a winner. She's changed me. I'm not afraid anymore.