Lying on the lounge, I had one hand resting on my tiny bump. With the other, I scrolled through Facebook on my phone. Just then, I came across a page called Remembering Jacob. It had been created by a lady called Janene in memory of her baby son, who was stillborn at 24 weeks.
The only way I get through is to share my story, she’d written.
My heart broke for her. At nine weeks pregnant myself, my husband Michael, 22, and I already had so much hope for our bub’s future. We knew our little one would be best friends with big sister, Scarlet, 14 months.
We’d go fishing, spend happy days at the beach, and eventually watch our child get married. I couldn’t imagine all that being cruelly snatched away. Pulling Scarlet into my arms, I smothered her in kisses.
‘I love you so much,’ I said, feeling lucky and sad for the stranger at the same time.
Janene was in my thoughts when we found out we were having a boy, just like her. And again in October, when I was 24 weeks along and went shopping for some baby shower party decorations.
That afternoon I had a routine antenatal appointment. I was looking forward to hearing his heartbeat. But when the doctor placed a Doppler on my tummy, there was silence.
He called a colleague into the room, then a midwife. By now I was sobbing. I knew what it meant. Michael was by my side when an ultrasound confirmed it. Our baby was gone.
Inconsolable, I prayed for the world to stop and give me time to grieve. Instead, we went home, made Scarlet’s dinner and fed the dog. It felt so normal, yet so unfair.
In bed, Michael and I clung to each other and said goodbye to our prince. The following morning we returned to Gawler Hospital where I was induced.
When the contractions started, the pain was nothing compared to the agony in my heart. After a full day in labour, I didn’t want Michael to see me become hysterical, so I insisted he go home and be with Scarlet.
‘I’m going to need you more when our boy arrives,’ I said.
Alone, my mind raced. How would I cope with giving birth to an angel? Not hearing him cry? Suddenly I remembered Janene’s Facebook page.
I’m here as a resource for you should you need it, she’d written.
So at 10pm I sent her a message.
I’m alone, I’m getting ready to have my son and I’m scared, I wrote.
She replied almost immediately asking where I was.
I’ll be 20 minutes, came her response.
When Janene arrived, she pulled me into a big cuddle – a complete stranger, but also a mum who knew my pain.
‘How did you get through it?’ I asked her.
‘The first few weeks were a blur,’ Janene said.
Like me, she had other children to think of – Riley, then five, Caleb, four, and Madeline, one.
‘Don’t bottle it up,’ she advised. ‘Scream, cry, talk about him.’
‘What if he looks scary?’ I said, breaking down. ‘What if I don’t love him?’
‘You will, I guarantee it,’ Janene said.
It had been two years since she’d lost Jacob. Looking at her, I could see there was life after loss. At 2am she left and Michael rushed back. I told him all about the angel who had come in the night.
‘She’s helped me come to terms with the fact I’m going to give birth to our baby sleeping,’ I said.
‘What an amazing thing for a stranger to do,’ he replied.
The next day Janene returned, and she was there when my boy came into the world after a 32-hour labour. We chose the name Vincent.
‘He’s absolutely perfect,’ I said as all my previous fears melted away.
‘He looks so peaceful,’ Michael wept.
Once he’d had a cuddle, Janene held him too.
‘I couldn’t have done it without you,’ I said.
Afterwards, she left us to grieve as a family and we held Vincent for 17 hours. Being back home without him was torture. There was the cot he’d never sleep in and the pram I’d never push him in.
Janene was a constant support to me. When we buried Vincent a week later, she held my hand as Michael held me up.
I can’t thank her enough. People often don’t know what to say when someone has a stillborn child. But these babies are someone’s children, grandchildren and siblings. All we want is to talk about them and for them to be acknowledged.
Now when people ask me how many children I have, I say two. ‘One on earth and one in heaven.’
Vincent will never be forgotten. After helping me through this, Janene will always be in my life. She’s not just a stranger who came to me in the night, she’s a true friend.
Janene Fulcher, 31, says:
I can’t describe the feeling of holding an angel from a woman I barely knew. I hold so much love for Vincent. One of the hardest things I’ve battled with is pinpointing a reason for Jacob’s existence. In a way I feel like I need to justify my intense grief for him. Why is he so special? This is why – to answer Sandra’s questions and put her mind at ease.
This story was originally published in that's life! Issue 3, 19 January 2017.