It was my husband Adam who first voiced his thoughts about taking our peaceful girl home, so we could see and feel her with us always. He wanted as many firsts with our firstborn as possible. That meant getting away from the hospital where we had spent dark days before her birth wishing it all wasn’t true. Adam wanted photos with our beautiful girl to reflect us as a family, in our home.
Blair Ann Bisset was born at 9.34pm on Wednesday, 26 June 2019. I have the most precious photo of her on the baby scales just a few minutes old. Her eyes tightly shut, lips stained red and the most delicate little hands. I had grown this baby girl, with such features – some from me and some from her Daddy. And wow a baby girl! We hadn’t found out the gender before she was born, which was simply excruciating after being told those words no parent ever wants to hear – “I can’t find a heartbeat”. We had felt so close to the “finish line” at 36 weeks. We didn’t imagine anything could go wrong and honestly, it felt like the cruellest blow.
We spent two days in hospital before Blair was born. My body took forever to realise it didn’t need to protect this baby anymore and could give in to labour. While we waited, Adam and I were handed pamphlets about grief after baby loss, local support groups we could join, post-mortem options, and birth registration and death arrangements with the funeral home. Honestly, it felt like too many decisions about a little person whose face we hadn’t yet seen and cheeks we hadn’t yet kissed.
Through all these conversations, my mind was elsewhere. How was it possible that I would never see my baby smile, giggle, have a first Christmas or birthday? How were we going to tell family, friends or potential siblings? How was I ever going to be me in the future—I was a Mummy but not in the same way; the energetic old me that was carefree and joyful about life seemed like a stranger. At the same time, I was obsessing over whether I had somehow done this, that I had missed the chance to save my baby.
Adam was amazing. One of the many reasons I married him was because of how he centres me, and during the most traumatic time of my life he was my shining light. I can still hear him saying “give me a moment” when I wanted to make a decision as quickly as possible to make the pain of processing what was happening just go away.
I could barely communicate what I wanted. But Adam was considered and thoughtful about how we should meet, treasure, say goodbye and wrap all our love around our first-born.
I was crippled by the thought we were going to walk out of the hospital without our baby and drive home with a car seat hauntingly empty. I didn’t even think to ask about other options. I just accepted that I would have to walk out with empty arms. But all I could picture in my mind was standing frozen at the hospital door, unwilling and unable to take that first step outside. As if that step made Blair’s death more real than before.
I will be forever grateful Adam spoke up about taking Blair home, even if just for a few hours. After speaking to the nurses about borrowing the Bears of Hope crib, we checked with our obstetrician that it wouldn’t affect any tests being undertaken and then firmly decided taking Blair home was right for our family.
When the time came, Adam carried our sweet girl out to the car via a back entrance to the hospital. The arrangements made sure we didn’t have to walk past rooms where newborns were screaming and there were a stream of excited visitors. All the nurses came out to give us a hug and wave us off. I sat in the backseat with our baby, as Adam drove our family of three past all the Canberra monuments that make our city feel like home. And Blair saw it all.
Walking into our house, I heaved a huge sigh. That our baby would never take a breath still didn’t seem fair, but I was so happy to have Blair home I almost forgot we wouldn’t be able to keep her. We got ready for our Heartfelt photoshoot as a family, and those few hours we spent together at home will stay with me forever. Our photos are incredible. There’s pain but there’s also peace. And I truly believe that’s because we didn’t stay in hospital and we had a “newborn session” like any other family. You are robbed of so much when your child dies. During our short time with Blair, all I could think about was that I didn’t want my daughter to be treated differently because she was stillborn. Of course much had to be different, but not everything.
I have looked at our photos every day, and several are on our wall, at our workplaces, and on our phones because we are like every other parent—convinced our little girl is the most photogenic child going around. At the end of our session, our photographer Hilary Wardhaugh had tears in her eyes. It was the first time she had been invited to take photos at a home—the nearly 60 sessions she had done prior with stillborn parents had been in hospitals. What a special few hours.
Unfortunately, the last few minutes with Blair in our home was a blur. We had organised for the funeral worker came to our home to take Blair for the post-mortem and other tests. He brought a little sleep baby carrier (like those ones for dolls) and placed it on the bed so Adam and I could lay her in it. The funeral worker then zipped it up so gently that little by little we couldn’t see Blair anymore which broke me. I dropped and couldn’t move. I couldn’t watch Blair being carried out of our home. Adam, with his sister, accompanied the funeral worker out to the car and watched as Blair was driven away. I can’t breathe even thinking of Adam and Blair in that moment, it’s so heartbreaking. This must be parents what parents feel when they leave the hospital with empty arms. Saying goodbye is unbearable at any point but I was thankful to already be home crying like I never have before.
Taking a baby home is not possible for all parents, but if you have the option, please consider it. The next morning, I may not have been woken by our baby girl crying, but I felt Blair with me, and it made me smile.
Ellena Bisset is mother to Blair Bisset.