Nadine Abou Naccoul experienced the physical and emotional heartbreak associated with the stillbirth of her second child three years ago. It’s a tragedy that is often brushed over due to cultural taboos.
Ms Abou Naccoul decided to voice her experiences for the first time in order to highlight the anguish and pain that affects up to six women in Australia every day.
She has been married to her husband Michael for more than 15 years and the couple had always yearned for a large family.
- Nadine Abou Naccoul opens up about her experiences of stillbirth during the later stages of her pregnancy.
- She describes the psychological pain while waiting four days with her deceased daughter inside her womb before going through all the stages of labour.
- October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a time to remind Australia that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage including stillbirth.
Their longing was crowned with the birth of their two children, Angelo, 13, and their 18-month-old daughter, Mia.
Though in between, Ms Abou Naccoul gave birth to a stillborn following a full-term pregnancy.
"Since my childhood, I have been dreaming of the big family,” she says.
“Unfortunately, the pregnancies stumbled more than once and I had several miscarriages at different stages, some at an early stage and one at 12 weeks, but the most difficult was the loss of my baby, Mary, in a late stage of pregnancy.”
She recalls that her pregnancy with Mary was proceeding normally and without complication until her daughter’s heart stopped beating during the 35th week.
“The pregnancy was normal, and I was in my ninth month, and suddenly her heart stopped beating and with it, the life inside me stopped.”
Having been told to return home and wait for an induced delivery, Ms Abou Naccoul lived the longest four days of her life with a child whose heartbeat stopped in her womb.
She asked for a caesarean delivery on the same day to be able to contain the loss, but her request was not granted.
She endured through the labour pain of childbirth that would not end, this time, with tears of joy.
“I had to go through all the stages of labour and delivery, and I was aware that my daughter would not open her eyes after giving birth.
“I don't think there are words that can ever describe this feeling.”
Ms Abou Naccoul vowed to name her daughter after the Virgin Mary and did so even in death.
Choosing to name her daughter gave her an entity and a living memory despite the separation.
My daughter is a gift in my life even though I couldn't hear her crying or see her eyes. Mary is a part of me that will stay forever.
The couple gave consent for a full autopsy to be performed to find the cause of their daughter's death, but Ms Abou Naccoul says the 10-page report didn’t provide any definitive answers.
She explains that the grief was very difficult because the loss was exacerbated by the avoidance of the topic that is often considered taboo within Arab communities.
The pain of stillbirth is often silenced by the dynamism of life, the cultural taboo and the need to move forward despite the pain of separation.
“The community asks you indirectly to be silent, which increases the wound within you. Some people consider that talking about this subject is a shame as if sharing the grief may transmit a contagious experience to others.”
The bereaved mother returned home empty-handed, and she says that every cell in her body still calls out to her daughter.
“The hardest thing I've been through is leaving my baby in the hospital and going home alone. Every feeling in my body was telling me to go back to the hospital and bring it with me.”
She adds that, at home, “silence was fatal”.
Ms Abou Naccoul says she pretended to be strong for her teenage son who was anxiously awaiting the birth of his sister.
She respected his right to view his sister and tried to answer his questions and yet was not afraid to tell him that she did not have all the answers.
Not to intensify his pain, she collapsed silently near her daughter's empty bed, while her body reminded her at every moment that she was a mother.
Her breastfeeding glands were secreting milk for her child, and the birth wound was hurting.
Yet, within her a psychological wound was growing – one that she says may never be completely healed.
Ms Abou Naccoul spoke about the moment of farewell.
“As I approached my child in the small coffin during the funeral ceremony, breast milk began to flow because the mother's instinct cannot understand that the child was gone.”
She explains that each family member lives the pain of separation in their own way, and her husband embraced the pain of his wife and supported their son.
Despite the cultural pressures, Ms Abou Naccoul chose to keep her child’s memory alive and celebrates her birthday each passing year.
"Mary is our daughter, she is part of our family even if her presence was short and painful.
“We celebrate her birthday just like her brother and sister, we pray and light candles for her and cut a cake. I want her siblings to know that she is important."
Today, she feels that not being able to share anything about Mary makes her feel like she's lost her twice.
"For a mother, the birth of a new child does not compensate for the loss of another. I thank God for my child, Mia, but no one can compensate for the loss of Mary."
“That is why we urge every mother and father who experienced the loss to break their deadly silence.
“The loss of any family member is met with condolences and an opportunity to weep and grieve. Why, then, is the loss of the stillborn not met with such consolation, too?”
October 15 marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day that unveils the silent grief and pain that parents and siblings go through with the loss of an awaited child or sibling.
Ms Abou Naccoul says the day is a reminder that in Australia every day, six women arrive home empty-handed and that number hasn't decreased in twenty years.
She’s calling for greater research into this area, so other families don’t have to endure the pain that her family has.