A loss like this changes you indefinitely. It robs you of all that what ifs and a naivety of hope that we all deserve to experience in pregnancy. It’s been nearly four years since we lost my daughter, Charlotte, and processing the trauma of what happened has been relentless and the scars remain. The grief and absence have evolved into a new normal and I have worked hard to accept that life just chose us.
It was a Wednesday morning in January 2017 when my whole world caved in.
Earlier in the day, I'd been running around trying to get my toddler Mia Grace into the car. I was rushing to get to east Melbourne for a routine 20-week pregnancy scan for our second daughter, Charlotte Rose.
It was an important scan so I had normal nerves about it, but I didn't think anything would be wrong.
That changed at the clinic when the doctor scanned my belly. I knew something was wrong when the doctor fell silent and her face went blank. I realised that I couldn't hear a heartbeat.
That's the moment I knew something was horribly, horribly wrong.
Looking more closely at the image on the screen, I could also see that, compared to my previous scans with Mia, what I was seeing this time was different. There were so many problems with Charlotte's heart. I could see it on the screen.
I still have flashbacks to that moment. It was the moment my whole world caved in.
I remember being in the most extreme shock. I never thought something like this would happen to me. Even now, five months later, I still feel shocked that this is my life and that this happened to me, that Charlotte's not here.
When I found out that I was pregnant with Charlotte, I had been ecstatic. Of course I was apprehensive about how I would manage two kids (almost) under two, but I was very excited. I was looking forward to having double the love—and double the trouble.
And when we found out I was having another girl, I was overjoyed. Having grown up with a sister, I had always wanted two daughters. Having two little girls was my happy ending.
Right from the start, my second pregnancy was very different to my first. I joked that pregnancy karma had caught up with me because I'd had a perfect, textbook pregnancy with my first daughter Mia. This time, though, I had morning sickness and the exhaustion of running after a toddler as well.
But no pregnancy is the same, so I just put it down to that.
A few days before that 20-week scan, we were in Noosa on a family holiday. I remember watching Mia playing in the pool with her dad, and feeling my second daughter move inside me, and being so excited. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
To return home from holiday, and lose all of that a few days later was just so extreme.
After that devastating scan, I had to carry Charlotte for another week before I gave birth. It was the worst week of my life. I woke up every day not knowing what was going to happen. It was torture.
After a week of hell, I was induced in the hospital. My body did all the right things and didn't want to go into labour. That was a small bit of comfort at the time because I felt as though it wasn't me. That it wasn't my fault. What had happened had happened at the moment of conception and it wasn't something I had done.
When Charlotte came out, apart from the first moment of shock, I was very calm. I held her and she was perfect.
That's when my husband fell apart. I think, for him, that's when it hit. We were screaming and crying. In that moment, we thought about all of the milestones we would never have with her. When you lose a child, you lose their future.
We were able to take Charlotte home with us and we spent a day with her there. We took her hand prints and some photos of her with Mia. I'm so glad we were able to do that, I know not everybody has that opportunity.
One of the worst moments was when the funeral home took Charlotte away. They came to our house and watching them take her was horrific.
You hear all the cliches about trauma, and it's all true. Grief comes in waves. Some days the waves are a little bit more gentle, but they're always there.
My emotions have been up and down and unpredictable. I have days where I feel okay, and others where I'm not. For two days this week I was in my pyjamas crying. I don't know what triggered it, but I felt so low.
Sometimes I think I didn't deserve this and question why it happened to me. But it did happen and I want it to make us better and feel deeper. I want to make the most of every moment. The world is a sadder place now, but it's also a more beautiful place because I appreciate it so much more. That's the legacy I want for Charlotte.
It's another cliche, but life is too short. It really is.
I want people to remember that everybody has a story. There are women out there who have been trying for a baby for years, women who've lost a baby like me and people who are just having a shit day. We shouldn't be so quick to judge. We need to be patient with people and careful of what we say.
I know this pain will always be here, which makes me sad, but I'm hopeful. This is the new normal for me, and I think it can also be a better normal. At first, I didn't believe things could get better, but I'm getting there. Slowly. You can't rush that.
In the days, weeks and months that followed I made the promise to Charlotte that I would continue her legacy. I would be a voice for others who had experienced this type of loss. I have always asked that those around me say her name, because it doesn’t remind me that she died, it acknowledges that she existed.
I want to thank Chrissy and John for sharing their story with us and taking this dialogue to another level. Their story will help normalise this type of loss and help ease the stigma that so often follows.
I am also very mindful of this timing, as we approach International Pregnancy and Infant Loss day on October 15th. This also happens to be the second birthday of my rainbow baby—Max. The little boy who brought with him a peace that soothed my broken soul. The little boy who brought me back to life.
And to my Charlotte… I think about you every single day. Know that you are deeply loved and missed. I feel your calming presence every time I look into Max’s eyes. We all love you so much.
Rest in peace baby Jack. I have no doubt that your beautiful family will create meaningful change and help so many in their efforts.
For grief support phone 1300 11 HOPE