ANABELLE Gilby’s face adorns the walls of her family’s home.
Her delicate face with its perfect features; those ruby red lips and her eyes closed as if asleep.
But she wasn’t asleep when the photos were taken. Her eyes were closed when she was born, and forever will be.
Anabelle Gilby was stillborn.
Her parents Madeleine and Trav knew what was coming, but not all the explanations, not the medical assessments, nor the sympathy has in any way cushioned the shock of the early diagnosis – or softened the blow of her delivery.
“Grief is just so exhausting and you think you’re going okay and then you get slammed back to the start,” Madeleine said.
Despite being the hardest thing she has ever had to do, Madeleine said when Anabelle arrived she just felt pure joy.
“When I gave birth to her, I just felt love. I don’t even remember feeling sad,” she said.
“I felt this massive amount of love and pride for that first split second. Just to have her there and see her. She was beautiful. She had the darkest hair, rosy red lips and a button nose.
“Then it all came crashing down.”
Fortunately, the couple was able to spend two days creating precious memories with their daughter, thanks to a cuddle cot.
A cuddle cot is basically a cooling system that lies beneath a stillborn baby in the bassinet to keep them at a cool, even temperature, allowing families to keep their babies close, rather than being separated every few hours.
“Instead of your baby being sent to the morgue, you get to have that time with your child,” Trav said.
“Without those two nights, I think we’d be fairly broken.”
Madeleine said “that’s the only thing that’s holding us together – those two days we had with her were amazing”.
“Trav’s mum, my parents and my brothers and their partners got to meet her.
“IT WAS nice to know she was in such a beautiful family; our parents have been incredible supports to us.”
Despite that support it has still been four months of hell for the Echuca couple, who are going through different stages of grief.
“It’s something you have to live with and where we’re at at the moment, well my lows I’m finding it just that bit easier to pull myself out of it than it was even four or five weeks ago,” Madeleine explained.
“We know it’s still only so new — four months, but it feels like a lifetime without her.”
Trav said Anabelle’s death and birth “killed both of us for a while there”.
“It has been a pretty long road,” he said. “I guess we’re a few months down the track and we can look back and say ‘we’re past the worst of it’.
“Time does heal, but the length of that time varies.”
Madeleine, who had suffered two miscarriages before conceiving Madeleine, is not so sure.
“We’re on different healing paths. We’ve known that from the start,” she said.
“But we pick each other up when we need to.”
Anabelle was two-and-a-half years in the making, Madeleine discovering she was pregnant in May last year.
“It all seemed so ordinary, all pretty uneventful. I was a bit sick, grumpy and tired, just a normal early pregnancy,” she said.
“The 20-week scan was normal, apart from the placenta being low, but by the 26-week scan, they found something wrong with her brain. It hadn’t developed properly.”
Anabelle and her parents were given no hope.
Something Madeleine, a midwife at Echuca hospital, has struggled to come to terms with.
“I was still getting movements, so it was really hard to believe,” she said.
“I knew that good movements meant a healthy baby. That’s what I kept coming back to.
“I couldn’t stop asking how can she be so sick when she’s moving so much – and I felt so good.”
Eventually, at 31 weeks, Madeleine gave birth to her baby in the Royal Women’s Hospital on November 25.
It was a path sadly well worn by her family; Madeleine’s parents had twin girls stillborn at 38 weeks.
“Looking at them and what they’ve been through, I guess makes us believe we’ll survive,” she said.
She said her parents’ experience was actually part of the reason Madeleine wanted to be a midwife.
“To look after families who need love, support and guidance after the loss of their baby, and to help them create healing memories – something my parents didn’t get,” she said.
“And now it’s happened to us.”
Madeleine has now connected with a couple of the women she cared for when they lost their own babies.
“They’ve actually been great supports to me; which is funny because I looked after them and now they’re looking after me in their own way,” she said.
“I’ve connected with a lot of women and Trav’s touched base with their partners or husbands.
“You get this bond with other women and men who have gone through this.”
Madeleine said the support they had received made it that little bit easier to keep going.
“I feel like we had the whole community rallying around us,” she said.
“We had food coming, coffees dropped off at the front door; the place looked like a florist.
“And just having people talk about her has helped. That’s a point I really want to get across. If anyone knows someone who has lost a baby or child, just say their name.
“Don’t be scared to say something for fear of saying the wrong thing because not saying anything is worse.
“Even just acknowledging that you don’t know what to say is a comfort, because we don’t know what to say either.”
The couple talks about, and to, Anabelle all the time.
“We talk about her daily and we talk to her, just like she’s everywhere,” Madeleine said.
“If the door blows open, we’ll have a laugh that it’s her.”
They also have a special space for Anabelle in the room that would have been hers.
And she holds pride of place in there, her ashes inside a unicorn teddy.
A fitting tribute as Madeleine is pretty certain Anabelle would have been a unicorn fan just like her mother.
“It brings us some comfort to cuddle the teddy,” she said.
While Madeleine plans to return to work at the end of this month, initially for two days a week, Trav, who works as a fitter and turner at Foodmach, went back fulltime at the start of January after three months off.
“It was a bit of a struggle actually,” he said.
“To mentally switch back on to work and to not think about it was the hardest part. I just felt confused and like a zombie.
“It was a real struggle just to get back into the groove of life.
“People say waking up to a baby is pretty tough but we’d rather that. I couldn’t imagine our sleep pattern was much different.”
Madeleine isn’t so sure how she will go returning to work, but she does know she’s going back into a supportive and caring environment.
“I’ve got a really great support network there that will take care of me,” she said.
“It’s certainly going to be a rollercoaster.
“I don’t know. I’ve said that a lot, I don’t know.”
There are still a lot of unknowns for them; their pain is still raw and their grief unrelenting. Yet hope still manages to shines through.
“We would like to try again for a baby,” Madeleine said.
“We don’t know when. It will just be whenever that happens for us.
“We don’t want to put that pressure on us but we’ve always wanted lots of babies.
“It’s just proving hard to get them earth side.”
But in their darkness, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“We had no hope for a long time but slowly hopes been creeping back in,” Madeleine said.
“We just feel better about the future now. I don’t know when that happened.
“Anabelle is part of who we are now and our lives have changed forever. We feel her presence every second of every day and miss her beyond measure.
“There’s no reason for what happened and we’re lucky it wasn’t genetic, but we have to live every day without her in our arms. There was nothing we could do to stop what happened, but we’ve got hope.”