It’s early in the morning on the 24th of January and my wife Felicia wakes me up early to tell me she is going to the hospital to just have a check-up. She hasn’t felt our baby girl Pia, 26 weeks, move in a little while. I think she’s being silly. I go back to sleep. Pia is past the 12-week mark. Everything will be fine.
We had two miscarriages before we had our first son Julian, 2. The body knows how to make a baby now. We chose the name Pia for two reasons. I have a rule that the first name needs to be in the family already, and Felicia just has to like it. I’ve given away some of my prized possessions to make room in her new room. I’m getting more excited by the day to have a “daddy’s little girl.”
A short while later my phone rings and wakes me. It’s Felicia, “We’ve lost Pia.”
In 3 words, I had loss and I was lost. I didn’t cry for what felt like an eternity. In reality, it must have only been 5 or 10 minutes of just laying in bed wondering what just happened. I didn’t comprehend what I heard. I thought everything after 12 weeks was a formality. I was lost and alone.
I then remembered Kristina Keneally, I remembered she was an ambassador for something. I quickly search twitter and all of a sudden, I find out what happened has a name, Stillbirth. I still lay in bed lost, helpless, hopeless. It’s not until I call a close friend who is a better dad and adult than I, Dan, and tell him what happened that I begin to cry. Reality starts to set in.
The rest of the day fucking sucks. I can’t remember much. At some point in time I learn what happens next. I’m sure I would have tried to have been supportive to Felicia.
The next day we go to hospital to give birth to our still baby girl. I guess the process is much like being induced for a healthy baby girl, just with a dark cloud in the room. Our midwife Gemma was amazing, it felt like we could have asked her to juggle in a clown suit and she would have made it happen. My wife gave birth over the toilet, I remember our midwife with a “bluey” making sure Pia didn’t go in the toilet. My first thought is to see if Pia is breathing. I don’t know if this is instinct or hope. I’m quickly heart broken.
The most striking thing is the silence. There’s no baby’s first scream and cry, there’s nothing. Pia looks like a normal baby girl, just tiny. Her lips are bright red. Julian had beautiful lips when he was born. Her eyes are nearly closed. She doesn’t look dead, she looks at peace.
I had hopes of Pia becoming the first in a male dominated field; I hoped she’d become well known for her feats. I need to raise funds in her name, I need to have a goal to focus on or I’ll sink very deep. Gemma takes Pia to make hand and foot prints. She talks us through making a memory box. Gemma helps us pick clothes for our baby girl and helps dress her. The clothes are donated by Angel Gowns. Pia looks beautiful.
It’s just a couple of hours after Pia is stillborn that I’m thinking about what I can do to raise money for the Stillbirth Foundation. I can suffer from depression at the best of times. I know I need to focus on something positive straight away or I’ll sink really low.
Our family comes to visit. There are as many tears as when we had our first born. But this time it’s different. Some hold Pia, some can’t. We can stay with Pia for as long as we want. We stay all day. In the afternoon, in the next room I hear a baby’s first cry. Jealousy, heart break, anger.
Felicia doesn’t want to leave Pia. I want to go home to bed, preferably go to sleep and not wake up for a very long time. Walking out of the hospital empty handed is hard. It’s not how it’s meant to be. I remember the fuss of putting Julian in a car seat for the first time. It’s just Felicia and I on a silent car ride home.
Making funeral arrangements for your baby is hard. We chose to have Pia cremated. We chose not to have a funeral. It felt disingenuous to me to celebrate a life. Instead we chose to have a picnic in her name with friends and family to celebrate the life we still have with each other. I’m truly thankful at having a friend that works for White Lady Funerals. Having our friend Sally talk us through where Pia was, where she was going, saying she was having drivers take care of her meant the world to us. It was our plan to spread her ashes where Felicia and I got married. It’s a special place for us. When we received her ashes it’s abrupt and disturbing at how little her life could be reduced to. Pia arrived in a plastic sterile box, but inside, she was reduced to perhaps just 20 grams of ashes inside a glad bag. Yeah my baby girl, whose hole in my heart feels like a universe, could be reduced to less than what you could sweep up.
My mum paid for the cremation. As soon as it happened she sprang into action to help with costs, timing and the emotional impact. I wanted to pay my mum back the money, she refused, “I’ll never be able to buy her a birthday present, I at least want to buy her this.”
I wanted to raise money for the Stillbirth Foundation. I desperately wanted to make the best of a horrible situation. I wanted to save one life. I want to make a difference. I chose to raise money by doing something hard, something worthy of friends, family and strangers giving money to a charity that they may not have known existed. I chose to enter myself into a half marathon. I named my runners team Team Pia. My cousin Mel joined, a stranger I have never met joined, and we raised money.
I set the team goal to $1,000. I thought that would be something to work towards. Within an hour we hit that goal and I was overwhelmed with the support of my immediate friends and family. Throughout the next couple of months I kept advancing the goal and achieving it. All that was left was the training.
I was 108kg and not very fit. My first training run was 1.8km, I was walking before I left my street. I knew I was going to finish the half marathon, I knew my emotion would fuel my body enough to get me across the line. Surely enough I would increase the distance I ran each time and eventually I would set myself a goal of 2 hours to finish the half marathon. Apart from shin splints forcing me onto an elliptical, my training was adequate enough to give me a little more confidence.
Race day came and I awoke nervous. I cannot remember the last time I was that nervous. I feel like vomiting. I put on my Stillbirth Foundation singlet and I walk to the race, I’m proud. Team Pia raised nearly $10,000 and for the majority of the lead up we were high on the leader boards. Anyone who looked at the leader board would read her name. People would know my daughter’s name, not the way I planned but in a small way, she impacted people’s lives, even for just a second.
Anyone who has been to a big race knows the amount of standing around and waiting that’s involved. For those who don’t, the real athletes that finish the course in literally half the time as Joe blow, go first. 15 minutes later, incredible runners are allowed to go, then another 15 minutes, good runners can go, and then finally, myself. Lots of time to just be nervous.
I started strong, I overtook a lot of people. I overtook the 2-hour pacer I was planning to run with. I couldn’t breathe. There was a lump in my throat the size of a broken heart. The whole first 5km I couldn’t get a full breath of air, I kept going. At about the 5km mark I saw my wife. I tried not to cry, as all my emotions, grief and heartache flooded up my body I tried really hard not to cry. I cry. Not a lot, but enough to remind me why I am here. I slow down a little but I keep moving.
At about the 16.5km mark, across the Cahill Expressway my tank is nearly empty and I start to walk and take in the unique view of Sydney. It’s beautiful. There’s a little bit left in the tank so I plod along until the 18th km where you see the finish line for the first time, and emotions hit me again. I’m so close to achieving what I set out for. Three months of hard work. Running in the dark. Asking for donations, selling raffle tickets, lots of crying on public transport (my personal most hated part of grieving).
I have nothing left. The last 3 kilometres is walking and what could only be described as the world’s worst jog. As I cross the finish line I break down in tears. I hobble forward. I see my mum, my wife and my son, Julian, and I’m inconsolable. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m happy, I’m tired, I’m jubilant, I’m sore. I cry for what feels like half an hour. I went from couch to 21.1km in 3 months.
I feel honoured, and I feel like I’ve honoured Pia. I’m a half marathon finisher, 2 hours 15 minutes and 27 seconds. I wore my finishers medal all day. I put it in my daughter’s memory box when I got home. It feels like the best contribution to her life I can ever make. I remembered a long time ago I wrote a bucket list. I crossed off half marathon and saw marathon just below it. I decided there and then I would finish a marathon. I would do that for Julian. It’s a perfect life lesson I figure. Things in life are hard, very hard. But with family and inner strength you can achieve any goal you set for yourself, and overcome any obstacle in your road if you really want to.