That was the reason Walkerden called the Red Nose Grief and Loss support line (1300 308 307, available 24 hours a day).
Between July 2021 and June 2022, volunteers who have experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of a child have received 5,238 calls – a 20 per cent rise compared to the previous year.
Red Nose chief executive Keren Ludski said the protracted COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns had eroded normal support structures for grieving families, creating an even greater need for the service.
“We’ve had parents who haven’t been able to see their families or attend their support groups,” she said.
Ludski said anyone affected by the death of a child or by pregnancy loss can call the helpline knowing that the person on the other end understands their grief.
“They don’t have to justify their feelings,” Ludski said. “They can tell us about their experience without worrying they’re being a burden.”
Walkerden’s daughter Leila lived for 12 days, and each day, her mother and father, Jake, would take turns holding their baby skin-to-skin.
“She caught what would have just been a common cold for us, but her little body couldn’t cope with it,” Walkerden said.
It took several days for Leila’s death to sink in.
“It was when my milk dried up. All my hormones were protesting the fact that there was no baby to feed any more. That’s when it hit me that she was gone,” she said.
Walkerden retreated into herself after Leila’s funeral. She barely left the house and stopped eating.
“I knew I needed to talk to someone,” she said. “Being able to call Red Nose to talk to other bereaved parents, and having a support worker, Rachel, come to the house made it easier to open up.”
Her support worker helped her through the tangle of emotions when – around Leila’s due date – she and husband Jake realized she was pregnant again.
The program offers support to parents in the immediate aftermath of stillbirth, neonatal death or the unexpected death of a baby.
“It was bittersweet, exciting and scary,” Walkerden said of her pregnancy with her son Lachlan, now six-and-a-half months old.
“We were very fortunate that we knew exactly where to go for support,” she said.
About 3000 babies and young children die suddenly and unexpectedly in Australia every year.
Ludski urged people supporting grieving parents to get used to “sitting in discomfort”.
“Instead of trying to make them feel better, give them room to feel the sadness and anger and guilt, which is very difficult to talk about,” she said.
“Avoid any sentence that starts with ‘at least’,” she said. “’At least you know you can get pregnant’, ‘at least you’re young’. It minimizes their experience.”
“Instead, try saying, ‘I don’t know what to say’, ‘I’m so, so sad this has happened to you’, ‘I want to try to make you feel better, but I know I can’t ‘” she said.
“Talk about their baby. Remember their anniversaries and birthdays and make room for those conversations,” she said.
Red Nose recently received federal government funding for four years, with the aim of expanding its hospital-to-home pilot nationally to support parents in the immediate aftermath of stillbirth, neonatal death or sudden unexpected death.
“The program offers aggrieved parents the support of someone with lived experience who can say, ‘These are some of the things you can think about if you are planning a funeral’ or ‘Do you need help filling out Centrelink forms, or with your workplace ?’”
Red Nose currently provides one-on-one support to 1070 people dealing with infant or pregnancy loss. The support service aims to raise $800,000 in the lead-up to Red Nose Day on August 12 to fund research, education and initiatives towards the goal of zero babies dying unexpectedly in Australia.
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