Grace was born at 19+2 weeks on 2nd June 2016, after a tragic diagnosis of various complex heart deformities, including Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (she only had half a heart). She was a very sick little girl and we brought her into the world early so that she no longer had to endure any pain or further illness. She would never survive life outside the womb, or the dreaded words forever imprinted in my mind are “failure to thrive.” It still makes me so sad to hear or write that.
Fast forward to just over a year later and we were cautiously excited to be pregnant again. We had been told that Grace’s congenital heart defects were likely a once-off, a terrible case of “bad luck.” So, we nervously but positively watched this new baby grow, scan after scan. A perfect baby, another girl on the way and this time her heart was perfect. The 20-week scan was without a hitch, so we decided to announce our little rainbow’s impending arrival to the world. We set up her nursery, we bought her clothes to come home from the hospital in and we chose her name – Matilda. I was having regular midwife appointments based on our pregnancy history, so off I went to the hospital one afternoon after work. Another regular midwife appointment, another appointment closer to meeting our littlest baby girl. I had felt Matilda kicking away in my belly that day so I had no anxiety or fears ahead of this appointment. Off I went on my own, assuring my husband I’d call him straight after with any updates.
But as the midwife always did, she checked with the fetal doppler first so I could hear that beautiful heartbeat once again. The doppler was playing up though so they moved me into the sonographer’s office to try a proper scan. Somehow in the moment, I stayed calm. I remained naïve. The worst-case scenario for me was a sick baby, that’s all we knew. I didn’t know my world was about to come crashing down around us instantly – no sick baby. Just a perfect little baby whose heart had stopped. Null and void, no heartbeat, no life left in my belly.
Just like that on Monday 4th December at 4 pm in the afternoon, I heard those words that still put a lump in my throat now – “I am so sorry Bonnie, she has no heartbeat.”
I don’t quite remember much after that. I know I had to somehow call my husband to the hospital immediately. I know I told him that things were not ok but I didn’t tell him she was gone. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to believe it, let alone tell him that. I didn’t want to break his heart all over again.
I howled that entire hospital down after that. I collapsed in his arms when he arrived at the hospital and did not know how I would ever pick myself up off that floor and keep going now. I certainly had no idea why this nightmare was happening to us again.
Matilda was stillborn in the same bed and same room as Grace at the Canberra Hospital on 8th December 2017. She was tiny and perfect, a perfect little sister to keep Grace company in heaven. As we had a few days to prepare for her birth, we had a special angel gown made for Matilda out of my wedding dress and Steve’s wedding tie.
We took our time over those days to say goodbye to her, to pick out some cherished items for her that she could take to heaven with her. It was gut wrenching and earth-shattering going through these motions for Matilda, but at the same time peaceful knowing that Matilda only ever knew the love and warmth of my belly. She was so loved and just too beautiful for earth.
In the weeks and months to come, through tests and autopsy reports, we learned that Matilda had sadly suffered severe intrauterine growth. She had likely stopped growing after our previous 20-week scan and her heart eventually slowed down to a stop in the mere hours just before that midwife appointment.
In the years to come after Grace and Matilda, we also went on to suffer two early miscarriages (blighted ovums).
We are now so grateful to have our precious daughter, our fifth pregnancy, Evelyn in our arms. Our darling rainbow Evie turns 6 months old next week and she is loved beyond words. We know Grace and Matilda were watching over and protecting us to ensure Evie’s safe arrival in 2021.
Matilda and Grace were stillborn, but they were still born.
They still mattered, they still existed, they were two little souls who we held, cuddled and loved so dearly. We want the world to know how loved they are and how important their legacy is to us as their parents. Especially now we have our miracle baby Evelyn in our arms.
We want our friends, family and community to remember Grace and Matilda as our firstborn children, forever our daughters, forever the special big sisters to Evie. If our friends and family can do anything to help us acknowledge Grace and Matilda, it is to say their names, to remember their birthdays, to let us speak of their memory and not shy away from us if the conversation about our experience is too difficult.
As time goes on, the pain is certainly lighter but our love and longing for them remains. We miss Grace and Matilda dearly and we want their little sister to now grow up and know that she has two exceptional big sisters watching over her always.
Grace, Matilda and Evelyn – our daughters, two in our hearts and one in our arms.