Babywearing and Loss…
… and the gifts that can be given.
(speech at the inaugural Australian Babywearing Conference 2013)
Avery Fox Charles Tatton – July 14 2011
Hi Everyone. I’m Kristie, and my presentation today is about Babywearing in the Event of Child Loss. This will be a difficult session to present and a difficult one for you to listen to. I will be talking candidly about loss, stillbirth, infant death and end of life situations. If you feel you cannot stay, please do not feel you have to.. You can leave at any time and I will not be offended or upset.
Crying is an almost expected side effect of listening to me speak. I will be including some photos as well as some video. Do not be afraid to express your emotions. This is a very difficult session and I do not expect you to hold it all in. I may or may not cry. Do not get worried if you are upset and crying and I am not. I have had over 2 years to practice these situations. Please just look after yourself.
That being said… Welcome.
Please let me invite you into a special place. A place where very few know, and even fewer experience first hand. It is a place no person ever wants to visit, but a place I will forever be thankful to have known.
Let me invite you into the world of loss.
It was magic. The fabric wrapped our two bodies together, chest to chest. His hair, soft and downy smelled of the rich earthy aroma of birth and I whispered to him gently, words of the heart, the way only a mother knows how to speak.
“I love you so much, thank you for being here, you are my baby, forever my boy, I love you”
The weave of the wrap held us together, bonding us and binding us. It became part of us as a unit. A simple rebozo, hand woven in Mexico, had made its way into our story.
Four days prior, On July 14 my beautiful boy Avery Fox Charles Tatton slipped into this world. Silently and still. My wee boy lost his life during labour and my own life was turned upside down in a way that only a nightmare does. How was I meant to bond and love this baby, who was destined to never be in my life beyond a few short days…?
I see him for the first time, and I realise the nightmare is a reality. The room is silent, he is not moving… the final flicker of hope is extinguished.
We were fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Avery compared to many other loss families. He would be sent to The Fridge – as we liked to call it – and would then be to be returned to us whenever we needed or wanted him. This tended to be at night. I was surrounded by doctors and specialists during the day, so as night fell, we brought him into the room as a sacred time.
On one of these nights, the night before his autopsy, the last night before they changed him… Our last night being able to hold him without fear, I pulled out the black and white rebozo I had been sent from overseas and finally wrapped the fibres around the two of us.
The nerds in the room will instantly be wondering what wrap I actually used. It is one of my favourites for newborn squishes: A modified version of The Welsh Shawl Carry.
Modified Welsh Shawl Carry in a traditional woven black and white Mexican Rebozo
Laying the rebozo down on the bed, I lifted Avery from the confines of the sterile hospital bassinet. I gently placed him onto the cloth and began a special dance. A dance that all babywearing mothers will understand.
I tucked the fabric around him gently, before raising him up against my chest. The fabric insulated him slightly from the warmth of my body, an important consideration when holding a baby who had already gone. His cold cheek pressed firm against my breasts and the let down I’d been trying to avoid ached and spasmed. I finished wrapping the shawl and tucked it under him, I finally pulled my arms around him. And I squeezed and held him there.
Close enough to kiss.
The music played in the background – buffy the musical edition – and I swayed my hips and rocked the way a mother instinctively rocks her babe. Singing along to the tunes, I sobbed gently, my tears running down my cheeks, showering Avery in love, in grief, in total sadness and wonder. The pain of my wounds were nothing compared to the pain in my heart, and I held him there for what seemed like and eternity. My boy. Held in place against my heart, by the traditional carry of cultures from way before my time.
The video of us dancing
I took photos, took video, made memories and loved on my boy. It was soul breaking and soul building in a single event. And in those moments, with Avery nestled against my chest, lessons of life rained down on him. As we danced to the Buffy soundtrack I taught him things every boy should learn.
I taught him about attachment theory and babywearing.
I showed him how to glide across a floor and waltz with ease.
I told him that Joss is God, and Buffy is aweseome.
And we are caught in the fire
The point of no return
So we will walk through the fire
And let it burn
Let it burn
Let it burn
I explained that life has a soundtrack, you must treat people kindly, life is full of ups and downs, crying is good for the soul, hold those you love close to you, never fail to say “I love You” to those who matter, seize the moments that are in your hands.
I whispered for him to always love his mama and to close his eyes, dream, and reach for the stars.
Baby wearing in that moment, made me slow down, not rush the grieving process, and enjoy my son for the small time we had.
Baby wearing brought my son to life. For a split second, he was alive and thriving. In my arms. In my dreams. In my rebozo.
In the time after he was gone, I was fortunate enough to bring Avery alive even more through the amazing opportunity of winning a Tinoki Exclusive competition. The Avery Wrap by Girasol was adopted by many of my friends who had heard of our story, who wanted a way to be close to him, and to us. To remember to hold their baby close and warm. The Avery Exclusive is available again through Tinoki in three wefts now – original Purple, aqua and the amazing Black. You can see the original purple in my headband I am wearing today.
And that brings me to now. To two years after I said goodbye to my beautiful boy. I have since had another baby – Caelan – who many of you will have met over the course of this weekend, and through the experience of my blog. And baby wearing has given us so many more gifts since he has arrived. My daughter, Tara, has worn her new brother in her own sling, a sling that I carried her in when she was fresh and new herself. She has used it as a way to bring her closer to the baby she never thought would make it into this world alive.
Sibling Babywearing after loss, if your child is old enough, is a very special way for them to bond.
The rebozo I wore Avery in, became my security blanket, surrounding me in comfort when the days seemed too dark and to terrible. I wrapped myself up to inhale his scent, to bring me closer to the memories. It was less about babywearing, and more about reconnecting – something many babywearers will know all too well – the ability to use a wrap and be transported to a place of calm and peace.
When Caelan came along, emerging from a place of fear and trepidation, into a life blanketed in the shadows of loss, I was unsure if I could connect the way I wanted. I knew I loved him. I knew I wanted him. But I did not know if he would make it, and I did not know how I would cope. And I certainly did not know how my heart would feel having him here, when Avery was not. I packed my rebozo into my hospital bag, knowing I wanted my security blanket, but the juxtaposition of having a piece of fabric and not Avery felt wrong, and for days after he was born, I was scared to have my two sons collide – I could not bring myself to wrap Caelan in Avery’s rebozo. Have him flavour the wrap with his fresh new scent, erasing the last of Avery.
But the truth was, Avery’s scent had become mine a long time before Caelan arrive and in one moment I decided that the brother’s needed to share, and so Caelan wore his brother’s first hand-me-down.
Through tears, I gently laid the rebozo on the bed, and carefully placed this tiny, breathing, mewing little being onto the black and white tapestry. And began the dance to thread him against my body. Using the very wrap that brought his brother to my chest less than two years prior.
When Avery was with us, I carried him in a special sling using the Welsh Shawl Carry. The shawl became a security blanket for me and part of me felt very torn using it for Caelan.. While it does not smell of him anymore, it remains Avery’s in my mind, but on the spur of the moment I used it last night… And I used the same Welsh Shawl Carry as with Avery. It brought back many many memories, especially when the photo taken of Caelan and I looked so similar to the one of Avery.
Once again, the tears rained down on the newborn on my chest, but this time it was of joy, relief, longing and wistfulness.
And so began Caelan’s babywearing journey, following in the footsteps of his beautiful big sister, and of his silent big brother.
My first ever back ruck with Caelan in the Avery. 2 months old.
Through this experience I have spoken many times about the joy that wearing Avery brought me in those silent nights at the hospital. And it has made me try and formulate answers to questions I think need to be asked.
How can babywearing aid others in their hours of grief and sadness, the way it did me? Can other parents feel that wonderful connection where simple fabric removes some of the clinical terror around loss?
In Australia, every day, 6 babies die due to Stillbirth or Neonatal loss. That is one in every 100 births – give or take. Every day a mother, a father, a sister or brother kisses their baby farewell. Usually surrounded by bright lights, bleached blankets and a holiday to the “special room”. They are poked and prodded, conflicted by medical professionals who wish to know more, to do more, to say more. While they just want that day to last forever. To hold their baby and never let go.
He belonged here, in my arms. He fit perfectly and I never wanted to let him go. Photo by Fe at Lumsdaine Photography
Those parents want a chance to make memories and let go of their dreams.
What if we, as a community, could help them do that?
I dream of parents being afforded a chance to wrap their baby close to their heart, removed from all of the death and despair, and go for a walk in the sunshine. Taking their baby and introducing them to fresh air, and warmth. To be able to sit alone in the grounds of the hospital and just simply be.
I dream of a mothers being offered the chance to take their child from the machines supporting life, and rather than waiting for time to pass by, they are able to experience the feeling of warm breath across their breast, and a steadfast wrap instead of shaking hands. A gentler way for their child to leave this earth.
Not every situation would call for a wrap or a shawl. Some babies are, unfortunately, too fragile after stillbirth to be held. But many of these could be wrapped, carefully and conscientiously by helpers to minimise any damage that may occur. A wrap would then reduce the risk of further damage and maceration of skin because direct handling of the baby would be reduced. This in fact could allow for a longer time for the parents with their baby.
A baby – or child – who is coming to the end of their life, still attached to life sustaining medical equiptment, can be hugged tight to a parent to experience love and comfort from chest to chest exposure. It is well documented that kangaroo care lowers stress levels in babies – imagine how much of a gift it would be to that child, to die without the stress of being poked and prodded with people watching and waiting. Instead they could just be in the moment, held by the love of the parents.
At the moment, it seems like a bit of a dream. But it is a dream that we as a community could make reality. With home made stretchy wraps, cheap rebozos, donated jersey wraps, pre-sewn carriers, simple wovens or glorious shawls. Donated to hospitals so that in dire situations, a parent can be afforded the chance to bond while carrying their baby. For the first time, or the last time. We as a community effort could see lives changed by the hobby and lifestyle that we adore.
In anticipation of getting this off the ground, some dear friends and I have joined together to create The Toastie Fox. A Facebook endeavour to collect carriers for hospitals. We plan to start with Sydney hospitals, and slowly engage others as we get our feet off the ground. Literally born through the writing of this speech, The Toastie Fox is in its infancy, but we invite you to join our page and follow and become involved.
In such infancy we only have a sketched out logo. Official one to come.
As a community we can do this for the bereaved parents, for the babies already gone, and the babies yet to grow their wings.
So finally, when the child is no longer in their parents’ arms, the mother or father is left with a lasting memento. A gift from a community that holds them through their grief, and a chance to be reminded of the time they danced with their baby, taught them life lessons, and finally said goodbye.
To us, they may be simple wraps, and something we have grown to know and love. But to a grieving family it could be a simple tie to a lifetime with their baby.
One of my most favourite photos of Tara and Caelan, by Nicole at Seed Photography