Warning: This article discusses stillbirth and infant loss, which may be triggering for some.
When Jennifer Stenning is asked how many children she has, it's a question that triggers a number of emotions.
The Sydney mum's fourth child is due in December. However, tragically, her newborn will never know their sibling Alexander, who was delivered stillborn at 38 weeks due to a rare uterine rupture on Christmas eve, 2016.
"We thought [we'd] be delivering in a week's time," the mum told Yahoo News Australia. "But then we came home, obviously without Alex, knowing that he's never going to come home."
Calling it "a club no one wants to be a part of", Ms Stenning is among the 25 per cent of Australian women who have experienced losing a pregnancy.
The brave mum has reflected on her son on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day to "break the silence" on infant loss and miscarriages.
"It's my fourth child but my tenth pregnancy," she explains. "It's been one hell of a journey."
The journey to motherhood hasn't been an easy one
After suffering a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy that left her with one fallopian tube, Jennifer and her husband Michael were ecstatic when they fell pregnant with their eldest daughter Annabelle in 2013.
The pregnancy was relatively smooth until 30 weeks when Ms Stenning was rushed to hospital on the day of her baby shower and diagnosed with preeclampsia.
"Obviously keeping the baby inside me was the best incubator at the time and obviously wanted to keep me pregnant for as long as possible," she said.
"Then about a few days later, the blood test started to show that my kidney and liver were failing. So they pretty much said this baby needs to come out."
Annabelle was delivered via emergency cesarean, spending five weeks in hospital until she was strong enough to come home, with the Stennings knowing they wanted to expand their family.
Sadly, Ms Stenning miscarried three times before falling pregnant with Alex in 2016. Due to her complications with Annabelle, Ms Stenning planned to have a cesarean at 38 weeks. At 36 weeks, she started experiencing "excruciating" pain for two weeks, but doctors were hesitant to move his delivery date forward because nothing was wrong with him.
"Unfortunately on Christmas Eve I had an episode of pain that just didn't go away," she said.
"Because I've never obviously gone into labour or carried that far, I just kind of assumed that I was in labour".
Devastatingly, once they got to the hospital there was no heartbeat.
"So, my uterus actually ruptured. And that just kind of cut the life supply for Alex."
"I just couldn't even believe that it was happening," she recalled.
"Naturally, we were angry to start with, because we thought that, you know, the hospital didn't listen to me but it actually just turns out that it was just one of those rare, rare things.
"Unfortunately, it was something that could not have been fixed."
As well as losing her child, Ms Stenning was also at risk of losing her uterus. Thankfully, doctors were able to save it which she says was a "tiny positive" out of a "catastrophic situation", with the family welcoming another daughter, Eleanor, in 2018.
Remove the stigma
Ms Stenning admitted to feeling guilty when she was first asked how many children she had after she lost Alex.
"The first time after that happened that someone has actually asked me that question and I just sat there and I just, the first thing that came to mind was like, 'yes she's [Annabelle] my only child," she said.
"The guilt that I felt, following that question and answering it the way I did, I was just like, 'oh my gosh'."
"Time does heal [you]," she continued. "It never takes away that loss, you know like, there's never a day that goes by that I don't think of Alex and what we went through."
She also admits to feeling like there's no "safe zone" in a pregnancy.
"I feel like it's almost... it kind of steals your innocence, a little bit because every pregnancy thereafter is just fraught with anxiety and, you know, you're never guaranteed that baby until it's in your arms at the end of the day," she revealed.
Her loss changed the way she looks at families, saying you never know the struggle someone has gone through behind closed doors.
"It also changed how I would approach conversations moving forward [about pregnancy and children] because I know how it made me feel when people would ask those questions and you're not always prepared to be asked," she explained.
Ms Stenning says the most important thing is to allow yourself time to mourn.
"You need to grieve that loss. At the start, the days are very, very dark. There are a lot of tears, you go through all those emotions of grief but, you know, time does heal though it never takes away that loss.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think of Alex and what we went through, but don't be afraid to reach out for support."
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is held on October 15 and is a chance to memorialise those babies lost through miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death.
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