Grieving our stillborn baby: "You experience everything ... but there are no memories"

Kinderling News & Features

Anne-Maree Polimeni and husband Alan have experienced a loss like no other.

At the end of 2015, the couple’s third son Rafael died as a result of stillbirth when Anne-Maree was just 28 weeks pregnant.

The couple’s loss was exacerbated by the fact that in their own home state of Victoria, today's International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is not recognised.

At the current time in Australia, it's only legally recognised in Western Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania. Though just this afternoon, a motion was passed in the Federal Government Senate to have the day acknowledged on a national level:

"I was shocked that stillbirth was not uncommon in Australia and shocked by the stigma attached to it," Anne-Maree told Kinderling Conversation. "Not recognising the loss silences people who have experienced it, and the silence makes bereaved parents feel that much more isolated.

"Acknowledging the family's experience of loss when a baby dies does a lot  for the community, because it starts a conversation."

The best way to show support to a family who've lost a child

The enormity of Anne-Maree’s family’s loss was helped by the support of family and friends. But she acknowledges many people found it difficult to know what to do after the loss of a child. 

“In Australia and the Western world we are not good talking about death, and even more so when it’s the death of a child. In order to help, you need get beyond your own uncomfortable feelings and reach out.”

Anne-Maree said the most important questions were the simplest gestures.

"The things that stood out in the early days ... the people reaching out and saying they are thinking of me, and [asking] if there was anything they could do," says Anne-Maree.

Listen to Anne-Maree's story on Kinderling Conversation:

Handling grief as a family

Anne-Maree and Alan have two other sons, Louis and Jude. Anne-Maree told Kinderling Conversation that coming to terms with their grief together was hard, but also very healing.

“It was very hard. My priority at the time and always was: are the boys okay? It also helped that we have been as honest as possible in our discussions with them and even now I ask them, 'Do you need to talk with me about Rafael?'”

The family also treasure a photo shoot they had in the hospital with Rafael, just after he died.

“The photo shoot was extraordinarily important because that’s all I have. That’s the thing about the stillbirth, you experience everything in your body, but there are no memories. My greatest fear is that he will disappear and no one will remember him,” says Anne-Maree.

“We mark his death on the 27th of each month and light and candle to think of him. He is very much alive in our family.” 

Lobbying the Victorian government in Rafael’s memory

Anne-Maree and Alan’s loss has inspired them to help others, and they’ve spent months lobbying the Victorian government to recognise International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

“We have been lobbying the government, finding ministers who will sit down and listen to understand the importance of having your loss acknowledged. And while sharing our story has been emotional and it does raise the feelings of grief,  we feel like it’s important to continue to talk about it.”

Anne-Maree's story can be followed on her Facebook page for her son, Rafael's Reach.

If you or someone you know needs support through pregnancy loss, stillbirth or infant loss, Sands Australia are here to help.