the LOST ones


Maria Grace Ramsay - our precious daughter

On 8 June 2005, life as I knew it changed. On a routine visit to my midwife, I was informed that my baby had died and I would have to give birth to her the next day.

Maria Grace Ramsay was born at 7.30pm on 9 June after a 3 hour induced labour. She had lived inside me for 24 weeks and her heart had stopped at least a week beforehand. When she entered the world, she did not take a breath. I did not hear her cry, like I had with my son Joel 2 years before. There was just deafening silence. I had been in the delivery suite at North Shore Hospital since 9.00 that morning, staring in shock and disbelief at the bassinette with the warmer inside it, waiting to receive a live new baby, and at the poster of a breastfeeding mother on the wall. Never in my 30 years of life, had I ever thought I would be there, on that day, giving birth to my dead daughter.

Maria weighed 200 grams which was half of the weight that she should have been for her age. Physically she was perfect. She had 10 fingers and 10 toes, all her limbs, a tiny head, face and torso. The midwives dressed her in a little white gown and hat and laid her in a moses basket. Because she was so tiny and frail, we had to hold her in the basket. We held her and looked at her for about 6 hours. Hospital staff took photos of her and tiny hand and footprints for us to take home and treasure. I had to stay overnight in the hospital delivery suite which was a difficult place to spend a night without a live baby. The next morning, Maria's body had already begun to deteriorate and so we made the difficult decision not to take her home with us. We felt that it would be hard to watch her deteriorate further, and we would rather say goodbye at the hospital and remember her as she was on that day.

We decided to have her cremated as that is the tradition in my family. We couldn't face the thought of having to arrange a funeral so we left the hospital to make the arrangements with the funeral director.

In the 4 months that have followed, Angus and I have wrestled with many questions and feelings. Was it our fault that she didn't survive? Didn't she realise how much she was loved and wanted? Why did this happen to us when there are thousands of unwanted babies born into the world each year? Was it something that I ate? Should I have been more careful and not lifted Joel up so much? Was it the medication that Angus takes to keep his condition under control? Was it genetic?

In this day and age, medical technology is advanced and we expect to get answers. But all of the tests have come back negative or inconclusive. They say that a high percentage of parents never find out the reasons why their babies die. So now we are left with trying to come to terms with our grief, loss of dreams and getting our heads around having no answers.

Our friends and acquaintances who showered us with so much love in the first weeks after Maria's death has transitioned into a group of people who doesn't know how to treat us. Some people try to give us theological answers like God must have a better plan. But I don't think it's God's plan for babies to die. Others use it as an excuse to tell us about their experience my wife had two miscarriages, but since then we've had 3 healthy children, so don't worry, things will turn out alright for you too. Some think that after 3 months, we should have gotten over it and shouldn't talk about it any more. Some label it as just a miscarriage which does not warrant the depth of grief that we feel. Some try to turn our attention to the other things that we should be thankful for, like the fact that we have our son Joel. And still others just avoid us, perhaps afraid of not knowing what to say, or of upsetting us. We've become tired of being honest when people ask us how we are, because people don't seem to be

I have given up striving for answers because I don't think I am going to get them in this lifetime.

There is a well known poem about footprints, where a man walks along the beach, looking at the two sets of footprints along his lifetime, and realises that there was only one set of footprints during the hard times when God was carrying him. That has been a great analogy of my life in the past 4 months. I have learned to stop striving and planning, and to just be. I have learned that I can be honest with God, I can shout at him in anger and tell him that it's not fair. I can ask him if he is taking care of Maria now that she is in heaven with him. And he's big enough to handle it. He won't answer me with easy platitudes, punish me for being honest or tell me to get over it.

The Auckland branch of SANDS has been a fantastic support to us. This group of volunteers provide phone support, books and a monthly support group for parents like us. The people we have met in this group have accepted us as we are, in our pain, without judgement, and allowed us to tell our story again and again without trying to give us answers. It's been an amazing experience sharing with others, all of them have been through similar situations.

I attended a workshop on grief a few weeks ago. One of the statistics that was quoted was that the average NZer thinks that the grief process will be completed in 3-6 months. In fact, it can take up to 3 years for a person to feel like they come out the other side of it.

Clara Hinton writes in her book Silent Grief: Child loss is not new. It has been going on since the beginning of time. But it hurts so badly that sometimes only the tears will fall. Life loses all meaning, all purpose. Our joy is gone. We wonder if we will ever feel the same again. Only sad, empty tears will fall when a child is taken away. When our child dies, part of us dies too. Only a parent can understand that concept. So many are reluctant to share our pain, and many others are so fearful to even hear our pain, that parents are left with only silence where once there was life. And silent grief begins. Clara Hinton,

On the first of October, we went with a few close family members and friends to our family land at Huia in West Auckland. We climbed a hill in the blustery wind, and at the top we read a letter which we had written to Maria. Other people shared what this experience had meant for them and the hope that we all have, knowing that we will be able to get to know and enjoy Maria when we arrive in heaven, where there will be no more tears and no more pain. Then we scattered her ashes to the wind. This was the day she was due to have been born and we felt thankful that we had survived up to this point, and that we could let go of her remains and look towards the future.

There have been many theories on the process of grief and I have learned that it really is an individual experience and nobody can tell us how we should experience it. The grief of losing a loved one is not something that anyone gets over I prefer to think of it as something that we learn to live alongside. Angus and I will certainly never get over or forget Maria, even though we have only small memories of her she will always be our second child. We will celebrate her birthdays and remember her at Christmas and family events, and Joel will grow up knowing that he had a baby sister. Although right now he is too young to understand what has happened, his is somehow aware and expresses it by telling me that he has a baby in his tummy and asking me if I have a baby in mine.

By Alana Ramsay

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