Silver lining in tragic circumstances
For nine months, Hopetoun couple Anna Heath and Leighton Hateley prepared to bring a baby into the world.
They attended doctors’ appointments, Anna underwent the regular gamut of ante-natal tests and they heard their baby’s heartbeat.
They discovered they were having a baby girl – and she kicked like a ninja.
It was as close to perfect a pregnancy can be. Until it wasn’t. About 1am on July 25 last year, Anna awoke in a state of panic.
When Leighton turned on the bedroom light, they discovered what Anna had thought was her waters breaking was actually a large pool of blood. They had never felt fear like it. Paramedics took Anna to Wimmera Base Hospital in Horsham and by the time Leighton arrived, she had learnt their daughter, Raleigh, no longer had a heartbeat.
Leighton said the pair had to prepare themselves for the inevitable.
“We were going to have our baby,” he said.
“We had looked forward to this moment with such excitement and happiness, but we didn’t know it would be the exact opposite.
“There’s no such empty feeling as knowing you will be having a baby you can’t keep. You can’t hear her cry or feed her, bath her, dress her or just feel her warmth against your skin.”
Raleigh Cathryn Hateley was born at 5.25am on July 25, 2017, weighing four pounds, three ounces and measuring 44 centimetres.
“She had the most beautiful face, long piano-player fingers and beautiful dark hair,” Leighton said.
“She was perfect in every way, except she was asleep.”
Anna’s placenta had become detached, cutting off the blood supply that fed Raleigh and helped her grow.
Anna said once a baby was starved of oxygen and nutrients, it did not take long to pass.
“It was, is and always will be very hard to accept – to know that we were just ‘unlucky’,” she said.
She said despite the trauma of having a stillborn child, there was a silver lining.
The hospital had a ‘cuddle cot’, donated by Melbourne couple Connie and Sam Brown in honour of their son Edward, who was also delivered stillborn.
A cuddle cot cooling system allows babies ‘born sleeping’ to remain with their families, rather than being cooled in a mortuary.
“We were the first ones to use it in Horsham and we had no idea what it was until we experienced it,” Anna said.
“When you go into labour you go to hospital thinking you’re going to bring your baby home, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
“Being able to have the cuddle cot meant we were able to have some time with our daughter. We were able to create some little memories over the four days.”
Raleigh was Anna and Leighton’s first child together.
Anna has two children from a previous relationship, Belle, 11, and Ava, 8.
“When it all happened my mum and sister picked them up and brought them to Horsham,” Anna said.
“Leighton met them outside to give them the heads up. It was horrible. The girls were beautiful though. They cuddled and kissed their little sister and took photos with her. It was very hard to see and explain but we are lucky they got to spend time with her.
“We were lucky to have Raleigh for four days. Without the cuddle cot, without that time we had, getting photos, casts of her perfect hands and feet, getting her baptised and time with family, the grief would have been too much to bear.
“We are grateful to the Brown family for their generosity and we wanted to be able to do the same thing for other families, in honour of our little girl.”
In December last year, Anna and Leighton donated a cuddle cot to Naracoorte Hospital with money they raised through an online campaign.
“We set out to raise $4500 and we reached the goal in a day,” Anna said.
“I also make and sell candles and I made a batch of special candles in Raleigh’s name, which I sold to coincide with International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.”
Leftover donations and money raised from the candles will go towards a second cuddle cot purchased in Raleigh’s name at a later date.
The family chose Naracoorte Hospital for the first donation because that was where Anna was due to give birth.
“It was an incredibly difficult and emotional thing to do but we take solace from the fact the cuddle cot will not only help families like ours, but our daughter will be remembered,” Anna said.
Anna said she and her family were overwhelmed by the support of the Hopetoun and wider Wimmera communities.
She said she understood most people found the idea of stillbirth confronting and uncomfortable.
“Some people don’t like to be around you because they don’t know what to say,” she said.
“Others simply cuddle you. They cry, you cry. We found a lot of people were concerned about our privacy, but were still there for us.”
Anna said she and Leighton wanted to share their experience for two reasons: So people would know their daughter’s name and to encourage people to speak more openly about stillbirth.
“It’s one of those things people don’t really talk about,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s not until you’ve experienced something tragic yourself that people will open up to you about their experience.”
Stillbirth occurs when a baby dies before or during birth.
It can happen at any time from 20 weeks until full term – 40 weeks – or later.
Every day, there are babies in Australia.
The main causes are congenital anomalies, premature birth or problems with the placenta or cord.
“Placenta abruption, like what happened to us, can happen to any mum,” Anna said.
“There is no necessary reason as to why it happened to us and we live with the unknown every day.
“The fact is you go through your pregnancy thinking everything is fine but you’re not safe until your baby is in your arms and breathing.
“Stillbirth is more common than we think and it is important to acknowledge these babies and the role they play in their lives.
“We are still a family of five, we just don’t have her here. I look at photos of Raleigh every day. She’s beautiful, like a baby sleeping.
“If love could have saved her she would have lived forever.” six stillborn
REMEMBERING RALEIGH: The Hateley-heath family, from left, Ava Heath, 8, Anna Heath, Leighton Hateley and Belle Heath, 11, have donated a Cuddle Cot to Naracoorte Hospital in honour of their daughter and sister, Raleigh.
PRECIOUS MEMORIES: Having a cuddle cot meant the family had time to take photos with Raleigh.