Talina Gabrielle Azri (13/08/2002 – 13/08/2002)
Ten years ago, I discovered a world I knew nothing about when I happily went for my nineteen week scan, pregnant with my third child. That day, my daughter Talina was diagnosed with Potter’s Sequence in utero; a fatal form of Kidney disease. I remember being told by the three doctors I saw within minutes of receiving the bombshell that my baby had a very slim chance of survival after birth and that I would have to make a decision as to whether to terminate the pregnancy or not. Needless to say, such a decision could not be taken within a couple of days and my husband and I decided to cling onto the 10% chance of survival that our baby had and hoped for a miracle. Talina was carried to term. However, the doctors were right and she died peacefully in my arms shortly after.
As a Social Worker then, I did not specialize in infant loss; yet, I knew there would be processes and policies somewhere allowing mothers to take their deceased baby home before the funeral. As a mother of a four and two year old, I strongly felt it would traumatic for my living children to attend a cold room in a strange hospital, to watch their parents and other relatives weep over a new sibling. I was concerned for their ability to comprehend, to normalize and to appreciate the events, and the special life, that would unravel before us. I began to read about women who had taken their baby home after death and learnt from their experiences. I noticed that most of those stories happened in the States or in different cultures. I did not find any information about taking a deceased baby home in Australia. However, I didn’t find any policy or legal document forbidding it either.
At about thirty weeks pregnant, I contacted my treating team and told them of my plan. I wanted to take my baby home. The rationale was that I wanted to make it a celebration; I wanted to allow my living children time to soak in Talina’s birth and death in a safe, non-threatening and loving environment. And selfishly, I wanted to grant myself the time to tell my daughter all that I needed to, and to say goodbye in my terms. The response from the treating team was great. My case manager may have wondered whether I was normal, however certainly didn’t voice it. She admitted that she had no idea as to whether this could be done nor where to start. I was introduced to the Social Worker. I continued to push for what I knew I wanted, despite many concerns raised by staff, relatives and friends. “She’ll look scary”, “The kids will be more traumatized”, and even the “that’s pretty creepy” type of comments.
I pressed on and within a couple of weeks, the fantastic ward social worker rang me to tell me the news; Talina could come home! The process was fairly straight forward. It required a pre-organized funeral and a funeral director happy to pick up Talina from home. It required a small amount of paperwork and the support of family and friends. We drove home with Talina and spent the next two days as a family. What did we do, you may ask? We sang songs, we held her, we told stories, and we just sat and stared at our daughter. We cried without worrying about the over-involvement of clinical hospital staff or without hearing the sound of newborns down the hall. We were able to organize and facilitate memory creation which could not have happened in a few hours at the hospital. We took many photos, recorded family movies, enjoyed visits from friends and family and had a professional artist come to the house to sketch Talina in the comfort of her home.
The concerns that many had raised such as body changes, temperature issues and psychological trauma existed on some deep internal level, yet never transpired as ‘issues’. No, Talina did not transform after midnight, nor did she start melting with the sunrise. The care we took of Talina was very simple. We remained aware of her fragile peaceful body, handled it with love and accepted the changes without anxiety. Many asked me whether I feared it would be harder to let her go after bonding with her for a few days. The truth is, it was easier to let her go as I came to accept those small body changes as nature’s way to nudge me. It was easier to wave her goodbye as she left ‘us’ than it would have been for us to leave ‘her’ in a cold hospital room before we had the chance to surrender to the inevitable.
As the volunteer coordinator of Prenatal Diagnosis Support Australia I am privileged to support women who receive adverse prenatal diagnoses and I have noticed an increase in women desperately wanting to take their baby home. However, the pressure from their community, the resistance from friends and family as well as the unclear policy around the taking of a body home has made it difficult for women to pursue this alternative. It’s with great excitement that I welcome the ‘taking your baby home’ initiative as long overdue and support it, both as a professional and as a bereaved mother.
Bringing Talina home came with some difficulty in terms of administrative steps and the initial friends and family’s response. However I will never regret it. The peace, the warmth, the family time and the privacy it gave us was priceless. I feel that taking Talina home has allowed me, my children and our family to celebrate her life and her death in a way that will forever set Talina as a special part in our lives. Talina was, and will forever remain, my special little one and I will not forget.