A Perth mother who suffered six miscarriages and gave birth to a stillborn baby is using her grief and heartbreak to help break down the stigma surrounding infant loss.
Lea Hiser now has three beautiful daughters, but her motherhood journey is as heartbreaking as it is triumphant.
Mrs Hiser, who is preparing to join thousands of bereaved parents tomorrow for Walks to Remember, ahead of International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on Monday, wants the societal rule of keeping pregnancies secret for 12 weeks abandoned.
Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support [SANDS], the organisation behind the walks, is also tired of the “outdated” rule as well as the commentary around the “just try again attitude,” according to CEO Jacqui Mead.
According to SANDS, a miscarriage is defined as a loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks gestation. A stillbirth refers to the birth of a baby who has died before delivery and after the 20 week gestation period.
Most women wait until after 12 weeks to announce their pregnancies as the risk of miscarriage drops dramatically around this time.
Mrs Hiser was 28 when she first fell pregnant in 2001. Bright eyed and in love, she and her boyfriend Chris found out the unexpected, but exciting news while on holiday in Thailand.
“From the moment I fell pregnant, I felt like a mum,” Mrs Hiser, now 45, told 9NEWS.
But the young couple lost the baby to miscarriage at eight weeks.
“We were devastated, no one I knew had had a miscarriage. I felt like I had done something wrong, like this was my fault,” Mrs Hiser said.
The very same year, the couple fell pregnant and miscarried again, at eight weeks gestation.
In 2003, now married and ready to try again, the couple fell pregnant for a third time only to suffer another miscarriage.
Mrs Hiser said the pain of miscarriage can be isolating.
“I kept thinking, am I a failure?” she said.
In her fourth pregnancy, Mrs Hiser got through the first 12 weeks without any issues. But at 37 weeks, she noticed a decrease in movement, and at 40 weeks her beautiful baby boy Stanley, with his honey red hair, was born stillborn.
“It was one of those life changing moments. There was the you before, and the you after,” says Mrs Hiser.
“I was taking it an hour at a time, sometimes a minute at a time – I mean it literally. I would think how am I going to get through the next 60 seconds,” Mrs Hiser said.
After two more heartbreaking miscarriages, the couple fell pregnant with twins, and that’s when Mrs Hiser met her “hero” a high-risk obstetrician who diagnosed her with methylene-tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) and finally gave her some answers.
The condition causes blood clots in the umbilical cord and placenta and was the reason behind the unbelievable loss she had suffered.
Under the direction of her obstetrician, Mrs Hiser started to take blood thinners with aspirin. But again, more heartbreak was in store for her.
One of their twin girls died in the womb at 19 weeks.
“It became really hard, to try and stay hopeful for one, but mourn the other, I’d already experienced so much loss,” said Mrs Hiser.
Baby Tully was born healthy, without her twin Stephanie in 2007.
Mila was born a year later and Florence followed three years after that.
However Mrs Hiser said the pain of losing her other babies has never left her.
“My 30s we messed up,” Mrs Hiser candidly said as she described to 9NEWS how she got through the heartbreak.
“It has definitely made me an anxious parent, very protective of my girls.”
Along with the support of her husband and family, Mrs Hiser said it was another mother who helped get her through the darkest days.
She sought refuge in a woman called Meg in the US through a chat forum, who had a similar experience with stillbirth. The women spoke every day and continue to do so.
It is for this very reason Mrs Hiser lends her ear, and her story to SANDS, to help other bereaved parents battle grief. She volunteers there two days a week, and said the experience has helped her heal, as much as it has helped others.
In hindsight, she said one of the problems throughout her journey was having to keep her pregnancies secret in the first place.
“Not telling people until 12 weeks is a strange isolating rule, I followed it, but I wouldn’t now,” said Mrs Hiser.
SANDS CEO Jacqui Mead says the three-month rule is “outdated,” and “comes from an era when women didn’t know they were pregnant until further along, and if they were pregnant – it was women’s business.”
“For women who lose their babies before 12 weeks, it’s not any easier”, said Ms Mead.
It is part of the stigma that remains around miscarriage and stillbirth, and our inability to talk openly about the topic as a community.
“In western culture we don’t deal with death well, the strategies we’ve learnt – like a wake – where you talk about the person and share stories and anecdotes, don’t work for a baby that has no stories,” said Ms Mead.
“When we lose a baby there is nothing to attach that too.
Mrs Hiser said her friends and some family backed away over the years and were incapable of helping her deal with her loss.
“Some of those friends I lost forever,” she said.
The Hisers haven’t let others inability to talk about infant death affect their approach. They still celebrate Stanley, who would now be 14, and Tully’s twin Stephanie who would have turned 11.
“We go to the beach on their birthday, we put flowers in the ocean, Tully has an S keyring on her schoolbag – they’re a part of our everyday lives,” Mrs Hiser said.
Keeping those memories alive is an important part of keeping the topic of infant death going.
“It’s still taboo to a degree [to talk about it] but it is changing. When I lost my son in 2004, there was no Facebook and there weren’t many discussions being had,” Mrs Hiser said.
This weekend, Walks to Remember are being held around the country for bereaved parents.
They will be honouring the 106,000 thousand babies, lost to miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death every year.
“Parents consistently tell us that opportunities to acknowledge their baby’s life and to simply say their name are so meaningful to them and their families,” Ms Mead said.
“International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is a powerful opportunity to do so as a community whilst also encouraging more public conversations about what are still taboo topics.”
‘Walks to Remember’ for International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
QLD Sun 14 Oct – 8.00am Townsville
QLD Sun 14 Oct – 8.30am Cairns
QLD Sun 14 Oct – 8.45am Bundaberg
QLD Sun 14 Oct – 9.30am Brisbane
QLD Sun 14 Oct – 10.00am Gold Coast
QLD Sun 14 Oct – 10.00am Mackay
SA Sun 29 Oct – 10.00am Thorndon Park Reservoir, Adelaide
VIC Sun 21 Oct – 10.30am Ruffey Lake Park, Doncaster
WA Sun 14 Oct – 10am Lake Monger
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