The impact of loss, and the beauty of love

11 Sep 2020

By Amanda Murthy

Like most parents, Ana O’Brien and her husband were over the moon when they found out they were expecting their first child.

“I recall writing an email to my younger sister (all in caps letters) extremely excited about the news that I was pregnant, we broke the news to our loved ones immediately,” Ana said.

However, things would take an unexpected turn in just 22 weeks.
Ana narrates the intimate details from her miscarriage, sharing her journey, recovery process and why she chose to continue with her pregnancy, against the advice of medical practitioners.

Ana also shares about some of the ways she now honours Sarai’s memory, 10 years after her death.

Six weeks into the pregnancy, Ana suffered from a bleed, but upon conducting scans, the baby seemed to be doing fine.

“It was 17 weeks into the pregnancy, my water broke unexpectedly in the wee hours of the morning.”

However, this time, the couple were told that the chances of the baby’s survival were zero.

“With tears in his eyes and genuine sympathy, the doctor broke the news to us,” she said.

“Zero is a very definite number when you hear it from a doctor and I’m certain he wanted to give us realistic expectations, and in his experience, which I’m sure was extensive, he thought it to be true (although since then I have heard of babies surviving in very similar circumstances).

The weeks ahead were an anxious-filled time for the O’Brien’s, with Ana often questioning where things went wrong.

The doctor presented the couple with two options – to continue the pregnancy but risk both mother and daughter’s lives, or to induce the labour, and inevitably lose their child, due to lack of amniotic fluid.

“My initial reaction was – well this pregnancy did not work out and if my daughter is going to die regardless, why not just induce the labour? I can be back at work tomorrow and continue on with my life.

“But in my heart I questioned how I would ever know for sure whether the doctor was right, if I took the situation into my own hands and chose to induce the labour, and in the process, speed up my daughter’s death.

After difficult discussions and surrendering to faith, the O’Brien’s decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, with the hope of a miracle.

On 10 October 2010, after 22 weeks of fighting for her life, Sarai Gabriela O’Brien passed away.

“As heart-breaking as this was, I will always be comforted by the fact that if I hadn’t continued the pregnancy, we would have missed out on amazing moments of feeling her kick, speaking to her, and loving her.

“We gave her a name, and had a beautiful funeral, which was attended by 150 friends and family, and which the funeral directors said was one of the most beautiful they had witnessed.

“To me, this is amazing, considering that generally, even in hospitals a life isn’t considered viable before 24 weeks,” she added.

The aftermath was a long road for the O’Brien’s. Ana recalls spending countless moments in tears, trying to comprehend the situation. Family and community support were a huge strength for Ana during this time.

“The community would go out of their way to give me a call, pray for me or express words of encouragement and people would share their own experiences, which helped bring me great comfort and aid in my process of recovery.

… we would have missed out on amazing moments of feeling her kick, speaking to her, and loving her.

“Ultimately it was my Catholic faith that brought me comfort and knowing that my daughter was now more than a guardian angel – she truly had fought the good fight and I think of her as a Saint in heaven.

“Through my faith in God, I have to see the beauty of this experience, which is that Sarai is already in heaven.

“She is already with Jesus, and knowing that gives me strength to carry on with hope that we can all reunite with her someday when we leave this world.

“I appreciate so much the fact that God has given me more children and I recognise that the moments that I have with my kids are extremely precious, and I don’t take that time with them for granted.”

When she was ready, Ana chose to use her strength to empower other mothers faced with similar situations. She started a website, Hello Bub, with the aim of encouraging parents, particularly mothers, who are in a difficult pregnancy situations to share their experiences and be equipped with support through the available avenues. Through this project, Ana also displayed another talent, using water colour paint and hand-lettering techniques to create beautiful mother and parent-child themed artworks, which are accompanied in this article.

“The experience of having Sarai taught me something which I already knew – That life begins at conception.

“When you hold a 22 week old baby in your arms (as I did), you see their face, hands, fingers, fingernails, feet, toes, a baby that is a combination of you and your partner, that is 100% herself and know that baby is a baby, not just cells -The cells are present from the moment of conception and nothing is added or subtracted from that embryo.

“Sarai was the first to teach me what it is to love as a mother, a love I never knew possible.

“I believe the way I love my children now, is in part owed to her and for that I am blessed.”

Ana recently gave birth to her fifth child.

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From pages 16 to 17 of Issue 25: Crises and Trauma of The Record Magazine