Six months ago Meg Witham and Mathew Rae's world was shaken in ways that can only be understood by the parents of stillborn babies. However in the midst of their tremendous pain and loss, the young couple have managed to support families who will be faced with the same tragedy in years to come.
In late 2013, Meg and Mathew found out they were going to have their first child. And despite the baby being diagnosed with birth defect gastroschisis at 18 weeks, the couple were confident they would soon welcome a happy and healthy child.
On Wednesday 21 May, 2014 (32.5 weeks) their confidence became concern. Harvey (as he had then been named) was no longer kicking, prompting the couple to race to Mercy Hospital for Women where doctors confirmed his heart had stopped beating.
"I knew something was wrong," Meg said. "When we found out we didn't want to believe it, it was the most horrible night of our lives. The loss of our little boy was indescribable pain."
After returning home to come to terms with the devastating news, Meg went into labour and gave birth at the hospital on Saturday 24 May. Unfortunately, due to Harvey's underdeveloped and fragile state, they were only able to spend just over a day with him.
"I was so scared of giving birth to Harvey and not being able to bring him home with me. It was heartbreaking. Yet my time with him in the hospital, I hold very close to my heart,'' she said. "He was the most beautiful baby boy, we just held him for hours, and created as many special memories as we could with him."
Harvey was farewelled at a funeral in Eltham a few days later. In the days and weeks that followed, the couple comforted each other to help deal with the trauma and loss. Meg began sifting through online blogs and websites, reading stories from parents dealing with the same loss.
"After the funeral, reality sunk in and for us that was learning to live on without Harvey. It was crippling'' she said. "But reading about other people's stories, knowing others were going through the same thing, gave me the strength to keep going."
One site discussed how a mother in Queensland had raised money for an item, known as a cuddle cot, which was donated to the hospital where she had given birth. Meg continued researching and found that the cot – which preserves the infant via a cooling system – allowed parents to spend extra time with their stillborn baby after birth.
She instantly created a fundraising page on the Pregnancy Loss Australia website with the aim of donating one to the hospital. And in just over a week, she raised $5,000 – more than enough for a cuddle cot.
"We really needed to do this for the hospital, one of our biggest regrets was not spending enough time with him. I just wish we had more time," she said.
"It was amazing that people cared so much and gave so quickly. We were so overwhelmed with the support and generosity of everyone."
On Tuesday 25 November, the couple presented the cuddle cot, which includes a beautifully engraved plaque with Harvey's name, at Mercy Hospital for Women.
"It was an emotional yet happy day giving the cuddle cot to the Mercy. It felt good knowing we've helped future grieving families have more options, and most importantly more precious time with their baby,'' she said. "It was a way we could honour our Harvey, and that was special for us."
"We've got a long way to go, but this has definitely helped us."
Mercy Hospital for Women Pastoral Care Manager Mary Klasen said the donation will make a significant difference to the lives of bereaved families.
"Their initiative reflects a deep compassion, a kindness and awareness of others, even in their own grief,'' Mary said. "All the staff value greatly that we can offer other families this precious gift of time with their baby. Thank you Meg and Mat."
Mercy Health Fundraising Manager Shannon Gilmore praised the couple for the generous donation, honouring their son while helping others spend precious moments with their children.
"I am completely amazed by the generosity of people who are able to think of others when they are grieving,'' Shannon said. "I'm sure this gift will be treasured by families."
To read more about Meg and Mathew's story go to: placuddlecot.gofundraise.com.au/page/WithamM?fb_action_ids=10154492407380263&fb_action_types=og.comments
The cuddle cot, which includes an engraved plaque honouring Harvey