Real Life Grieving the death of a child
Newlyweds Yvette and Janis Venter were doting over their newborn daughter Mikayla, when her sudden death turned their whole world upside down, writes Lynn Williams
IT WAS LOVE at first sight for Yvette and Janis from East London when a mutual friend introduced them in 2011. In January 2012 they moved in together and got engaged in February. By November 2012 they tied the knot.
They were overjoyed to learn that they were expecting four months later. When the couple learnt that it was a girl they knew they would call her Mikayla.
“The name means gift from God. I had an easy pregnancy and delivery. On 19 September 2014 she was born.
“She slept in our bedroom and started sleeping through the night very early. We had such a wonderful time with her,” Yvette recalls.
The last thing on their minds was the fact that they would have to cope with the sudden death of their child.
Yet the worst happened. Mikayla died as a result of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, when she was just 16 weeks old. BEING SICK Yvette remembers Mikayla being constipated, not finishing her bottle and crying a lot two weeks before her death. Mikayla was diagnosed with silent reflux and put on Nexium, which helped temporarily.
During this time she started daycare on a Wednesday and a Friday. The Venters enrolled her a week before Yvette was due to go back to work, to give her time to adjust to her new environment.
FATEFUL PHONE CALL On 9 January 2015 Mikayla went to daycare. She was 16 weeks old at the time. Yvette and one of her friends went to a spa to celebrate her friend’s birthday. The pair just arrived home from the spa when the phone rang.
“It was the owner of the daycare. She told me to come because Mikayla had turned blue. Panic-stricken, I had no idea what was going on. I phoned Janis. My friend and I jumped into the car and rushed to the hospital.”
At the hospital Yvette learnt that Mikayla was on her way in an ambulance. She did not have a pulse. Concerned, the family started to gather.
“This was the longest day of our lives. A medical team did CPR on her for three hours and managed to get her heart beating again. She was transferred to NICU,” says Yvette.
DEVASTATING NEWS Mikayla had not been in NICU for very long when the couple were told “it was over”. “In that very moment it felt like we had died as well. How do you now leave the hospital with empty hands? Heartbroken, devastated and traumatised, they had no idea how they would move forward.
CAUSE OF DEATH Yvette and Janis were informed that Mikayla died of cot death. They opted not to do an autopsy and accepted it as such, but later Yvette battled to come to terms with the fact that a healthy child could just stop breathing for no reason.
“I did a lot of research. I could not find much, except for research that shows that babies might have low levels of serotonin in their brains. The serotonin controls their sleep, breathing and heartbeat. I had to make peace with it. It was not until much later, and during a similar experience, that things started to make more sense.”
PICKING UP THE PIECES The couple received counselling from the priest who was at the hospital the day Mikayla died. Afterwards they attended a workshop called Journey of Healing Grace, presented by a licensed psychologist who had also lost a child.
“These sessions truly helped us. It is very true that a person can only really understand what you are going through if they have been through a similar experience themselves.” BUNDLE OF JOY When Mikayla died the couple knew that they wanted another child. Not to fill the void that she left in their lives, but to have another child to love and call their own.
“Four months after she passed away we learnt that I was pregnant. We were both happy and scared. Scared with every scan and terrified around every corner. It was a very stressful pregnancy.
“In November 2015, a month before my due date, I started having contractions and had a terrible bout of flu. Luckily the doctors managed to stop the contractions and I was put on bed rest,” says Yvette. On 28 December 2015 little Jano (meaning God is merciful) was born.
Yvette says the worry crept back in when Jano was ten days old and he developed jaundice. “He was admitted to the same paediatric ward, just down the hall from where Mikayla died. To make matters worse, it was around a year after her death. During that time I hardly slept. I was so scared we would lose our son too.”
REFLUX Jano developed reflux when he was a month old. Yvette says even though he showed all the signs (like struggling to drink his bottle), her paediatrician refused to believe her. Night-times were especially tough because he cried uncontrollably and nothing could settle him down. At the age of three months his reflux got worse.
A nurse advised Yvette to put Jano on a nebuliser before every feed. This, coupled with their decision to start him on Nexium, offered some relief.
“At four months old and during a trip to the grocery store one day Janis noticed that Jano was blue above his eyes and around his mouth. We went to the emergency room. Jano was admitted with apnoea, but this did not sound right to me. It was very scary leaving him in the ICU.
“The following day a different doctor diagnosed him with pneumonia. She said it was caused by the reflux because the milk had gone into his lungs. Putting him on the nebuliser had made matters worse.”
Extensive tests confirmed that Jano had reflux. He was prescribed medicine, had to be kept up straight for 30 minutes after a feed – and he always sleeps with a monitor.
A MOTHER’S INTUITION While Jano was in hospital Yvette wondered if there could be a link between reflux and cot death. She pondered whether milk could end up in a baby’s lungs when reflux happens, causing them to aspirate when they sleep. In her mind she is convinced that this is what happened to Mikayla.
MOVING ON The couple has since learnt how to cope in some ways with their ordeal. They are happy and reassured that Jano is a healthy baby. They take the time out to celebrate Mikayla’s “Angelversary” every year and appreciate every second they are given together as a family.
“We can really just thank God for blessing us during the good times and during times of trouble,” say the Venters. YB
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Jano is a happy and healthy baby who has brought joy to their lives.
New life: The couple learnt that they were expecting again four months after Mikayla passed away.