When birth and death are so closely intertwined, how do you celebrate a birthday?
Our baby girl, Clementine, was stillborn on 29 July 2013, two weeks before her due date.
As a mum, I have many strengths, but birthday party planning is not one of them. Our first child, Eleanor, once attended a friend's birthday party on the weekend of her own birthday and declared her friend's cake the highlight of her birthday weekend (it was a great cake).
However, planning a birthday celebration for Eleanor is a piece of cake (ha!) when compared to surviving the anniversary of Clementine's birth and death.
In early July, Clem's first anniversary - 29 July - could not have loomed larger. For me, it was like a dark shadow of fear, loss and self-blame that was cast over my days.
One Saturday afternoon, Ben took Eleanor out to give me some quality time with my To Do list. "A big cry" must have been somewhere on that list because that is what I ended up doing. The uncontrollable, can't-really-speak sobbing is always a sign for me that I might need help.
I called Sands.
The parent supporter listened... and listened. And I listened. And she helped me:
This day is between you and your baby
You don't need to do anything for other people
Do what you need to do
And I survived a bit more of July.
But then, about a week before Clem's anniversary, my grief decided to hit me with a bit of anger.
I say "a bit of anger" but let's be honest, it was a lot. I was enraged. My baby died. What do you do with anger?
I called Sands again.
We talked about anger and grief. When people picture a bereaved mother, they probably don't picture anger but, it can be there. Alongside the sobbing and self-blame and emotional eating. We don't often talk about anger. It helped me to talk about it.
I am a part of a wonderful Pregnancy Loss Australia group on Facebook. After speaking with the Sands parent supporter, I shared my anger surrounding Clementine's anniversary with the group and asked if anyone else felt anger. I shared our plans for Clementine's day - to go to the park opposite the hospital where Clem was born and blow bubbles to her.
Members of this supportive group offered to blow bubbles to Clem too. They knew I needed others to recognise my baby on this important day. My anger dissolved as their compassion and understanding reached me.
I decided then to share our plans for Clem's day with all of my friends via Facebook. And I invited them to blow bubbles to Clem too. On Clem's day I just wanted to blow bubbles with Ben and Eleanor but I wanted others to know it was Clem's day - a special day. I needed others to remember Clem on her birthday.
I was scared to ask others to remember - what if no one replied and everyone felt awkward? But, that didn't happen. People did respond. They wanted a way to support us and I had given it to them. And on Clem's birthday, people sent me beautiful photos of their bubbles for Clem. It made my day.
And, with a friend's help, I even baked a cake. A Clementine cake, no less. It wasn't perfect, but I thought... If I can bake this cake, if I can ask for help, if I can find ways to be Clem's mum even when I can't see her, then... anything is possible.
Happy first birthday Clementine. Thank you for all you give me.
Susannah lives in Melbourne with her husband, Ben, and daughter, Eleanor. Her youngest child, Clementine, was stillborn in July 2013 at 38 weeks gestation. Susannah is passionate about raising awareness to encourage research into stillbirth.