My doctor was away when I went to the final check-up, and his partner picked up that there was something wrong with the baby. I had instinctively known that, and during the pregnancy had tried to prepare myself to look after a handicapped child. He explained that my baby had anencephaly, a condition that affects the formation of the baby’s brain and the skull bones that surround the head. He went on to explain that my baby couldn’t survive the birth, and in a way that was a kind of relief compared with what I had been steeling myself for. It didn’t make the birth any easier though, because I had the illogical feeling that I was murdering my baby – while she was inside me she was alive but as soon as she was born she would die. Baby Alice was stillborn on 4th of April, 1967, and they never let me see her; the only memory I have of baby Alice was the back view of the nurse as she whisked her out of sight behind the screen.
I returned home and tried to resume my normal life but within a day or two I developed an unbearable headache and had to return to the hospital. I was too ill to go to the funeral but I looked out the hospital window and saw the hearse with her little white coffin pass by and broke down completely. Having failed so miserably to breastfeed my other babies, I suddenly had the greatest difficulty drying up my painful breasts; the emotional pain lasted even longer – even today I feel a sadness when I think of losing her.
I’m glad that parents get time to mourn their babies now, nothing replaces the child, but it can’t be as gut-wrenching as it was back in the 60s when they discharged you from hospital and you were just supposed to get on with your life as if it hadn’t happened. I was at least fortunate in that, living in a country town at the time, I was able to have my baby buried in a marked grave – something that wouldn’t have been allowed in Perth. We had a scaled down grave made and a heart-shaped headstone with ‘Alice Stillborn’ and the date on it. My mother died on a visit from England, and she is buried in the same cemetery but I’ve never been able to go back, so I make do with photos of the graves.
Written by – Wendy Day, mother of Alice.