• Impressions of the lost: Meet the woman making jewellery from the fingerprints of stillborn children
Over the past two decades, six lives have been lost every day to something that is rarely talked about or understood - stillbirth. The Feed meets a women who has been helping grieving familes by making jewellery from the fingerprints of thier stillborn children.
Monday, May 26, 2014 - 19:30

It's one of the worst things that can happen to expectant parents and is rarely talked about or understood - yet stillbirths claim six lives in Australia every day and have done so for the last two decades.

Vanessa Farley Els is an artist who has been creating jewellery from people's fingerprints for close to five years.

About twice a month Vanessa helps grieving families by creating a piece of jewellery from the fingerprints of their stillborn children.

It's unusual but Vanessa says it's important for the families to help them remember their loss.

"When I share that I do this part of my business, people think I'm crazy," says Vanessa. "You can see this kind of, you touch dead bodies [look]."

"That’s what somebody out of the situation thinks that I’m doing."

"When you actually do that though, this isn’t a dead body. This is a baby, this is a child, this is an adult, who is loved by the people you are making this for.

Vanessa has now created keepsakes for around 100 babies - but when she first started making jewellery from fingerprints she had no idea the direction her work would take.

"It came really early in my business," says Vanessa. "I was a bit shocked.... and terrified... terrified because your imagination is far worse than anything you can see."

"I guess I always had an idea that this might happen.... it hadn't been something that everyone did or knew about or anything, so no one knew that you could do this."

Stillbirths are still something which is misunderstood even by the medical profession and can occur in babies older than 20 weeks.

Jennifer Dravage lost her first child to stillbirth when she was 37.5 weeks pregnant. She found out there was a problem after she went in for a routine check.

"On the way in, on the lift there [was] an older couple who I think were there to see a baby who had just been born," says Jennifer. "They said ‘are you here to have the baby?’ and I said ‘oh no, we’ve got a couple more weeks’.

"We went back to a room and I think a more junior midwife... came in first and she couldn’t find a heartbeat but she couldn't find a heartbeat previously... and so I didn't worry."

"And then the head midwife came in and she couldn’t find it.”

"And then they wheeled us down to have an ultrasound and the radiologist came in and said ‘we're sorry, it’s what you hadn’t wanted, your baby has died’."

Jennifer is one of Vanessa's clients and wears the fingerprints of her children around her neck as a reminder.

"Oftentimes people will say, what do you have on your neck? And I’ll say, fingerprints of my daughters," says Jennifer. "And they’ll say, oh that’s nice. And sometimes they’ll say, how old are they now?"

"And I’ll say was our first daughter was stillborn."

Deb De Wilde is an obstetric social worker and midwife who often has the sad task of dealing with stillbirths.

Deb says losing a child before birth is devastating for women because their body is expecting to bring new life into the world.

"A woman, when she’s pregnant with a baby, is literally full of life. Her body is set to nurture this little baby," says Deb. "So it’s the timing of that death that makes it particularly problematic."

"People have to then go through childbirth, and then make all those decisions around what will happen."

"To know that your little baby has died in your body before its birth. That can be a deeply, deeply distressing experience for a woman and her partner."

Deb also says there's a misunderstanding of how people should recover from the loss of a child.

"People in general think that the way through, the way of recovery is forgetting. But that’s not the case at all," says Deb. "The way through is remembering and incorporating, bringing the best of that experience into our lives."

And although it's not something many people talk about, Vanessa says it's important that people feel comfortable talking about the death of a child.

"It is so important to normalise death," says Vanessa. "For some reason, children can talk about it.... So at what age do we go, oh death, Can’t talk about it?"

"Stillborn is something that we don’t talk about, it’s so taboo. And it shouldn’t be."

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