Like many people I have suffered “awareness day fatigue”. There is red ribbon day, white ribbon day, pink ribbon day and teal ribbon day; all important in their own right, but the list of awareness colours does go on and on. I have sometimes pondered whether there might be enough to be able to wear a different one every single day of the year. Wikipedia lists forty-four different ribbons, and if you added in all the other awareness raising days, with jeans and bandanas and daffodils, you would probably get the 365 quota.
My partner and I were ambivalent to most of these days. We would support some of the big ones but would let the rest pass without a thought. Red Nose Day was one of the latter for us. We had no connection to it. No one we knew had lost a child to SIDS and we are not the type of effervescent people who can pull off walking around with a red nose on their face. But in the space of a year that has all changed. Now it is a day we will never forget.
June 2012 was tragic in our world. On the first of June old school friends of mine lost their 11 day old baby girl to a sudden illness. Watching my classmate walk into the church bearing the tiny coffin of his baby daughter was the saddest thing I had ever witnessed. Home for only a handful of precious days, happiness turned suddenly into days shrouded in grief. Their baby, Arielle, would be forever in their hearts but they would never hold her in their arms again.
I was 36 weeks pregnant when Arielle died. I walked through the last weeks of my pregnancy with a heavy heart. For the first time I understood so keenly the fragility of life. But the lessons about life and death had not finished. On the 19th of June my best friend’s son, Walter, was stillborn. We had shared the journey of pregnancy together and never doubted we would both be embracing our bundles of joy. Instead, her hopes and dreams for the future were shattered. The baby boy that she had longed for, and had already grown to love, was gone. My partner and I went to the funeral, 38 weeks pregnant, hearts literally aching for our friend. How could so much tragedy occur? Why her?
Three days after Walter’s funeral our daughter, Aowyn, was born. It was Red Nose Day.
I did not really understand the true scope of Red Nose Day before June last year. I knew that raising awareness about SIDS had been crucial in reducing cot deaths. I did not understand, however, the role the group SIDS and Kids played in supporting research into stillbirth and neonatal deaths (which unlike SIDS have actually increased in the past decade) and supporting families dealing with the grief of those deaths.
When two of my friends had lost their babies it felt unfair to be embracing my own newborn. Holding my daughter I was sometimes overwhelmed knowing how much pain my friends would be going through. I also struggled with wanting to support them in their grief, yet wondering if I would only add to it with the newborn that I held in my arms.
I took comfort, though, from my daughter being born on a day that is about supporting people in their situation. Since that time I too have tried to support my friends and all those treading such a difficult path. In return I have learnt more about life and love and friendship in the past year from both Walter and Arielle and their families than in the preceding 33 years of my life.
A year has now passed and my daughter’s first birthday is just around the corner and Red Nose Day has become a day I can never overlook again. Once so naive to the tragedy of stillbirth and neonatal death I am now so very conscious that many parents – my dear friends included – never get to witness so many ‘firsts’ with their babies. I am reminded of this daily as my daughter grows.
Now I understand the red noses but I also think I understand the daffodils and the ribbons in every imaginable colour. The grief of stillbirth, the loss of a loved one from cancer, or the magnitude of problems like domestic violence are confronting in their reality. It is often easier to let awareness days pass by in blissful ignorance. They are things that happen to other people. But once you have been touched – once stillbirth, or cancer, or domestic violence, or the myriad of other causes have breached your inner circle – you will never be the person you once were. Every ribbon worn, every daffodil bought, every red nose donned becomes a way of showing others that you stand with them. This June we stand with our friends and with all who have experienced such heart-wrenching loss. Our hearts, and our noses, go out to you.
If you would like to make a donation to SIDS and Kids we’re running a ‘Red’memberance appeal during June. You can donate online at http://www.everydayhero.com.au/redmemberance