Trigger Warnings – Pregnancy, Abortion, Termination.
In 2018 at the age of 31, Sheree fell pregnant with her first child. A boy.
“I looked at the pregnancy stick and saw only a faint line, so I threw it out thinking I wasn’t pregnant, but my partner, Rod, assured me I was,” says Sheree.
At the time, Sheree was busy growing her business, One Roof and dealing with investors. She felt she wasn’t ready for a baby. Until it occurred to her there is no “right time” to be a mother.
“When I realised I was pregnant, I got into the headspace of ‘okay then, let’s do this!’ But, I wasn’t ready to learn about birth or pregnancy,” Sheree explains.
Throughout her first trimester, the only advice Sheree sought was from her sister-in-law, who highly recommended a well-respected Melbourne obstetrician Dr Lionel Steinberg, who shared Sheree and Rod’s values and ideology, centred around minimal intervention (unless medically required) and a natural birth where possible.
At 20-weeks, Sheree had her first scan, and unexpectedly there were medical complications.
“During the scan, it was clear something wasn’t right. I wasn’t prepared for bad news; in fact, I wasn’t prepared for any news.”
“They told us something wasn’t right with his brain. The corpus colosseum, connecting the left and right cerebral hemispheres, was missing.
“We had two options – keep the baby or terminate.”
Keeping the baby meant there could be a wide range of problems from mild learning difficulties to cerebral palsy, severe intellectual or learning disabilities, autism or seizures.
“You never assume something would be wrong with your baby and having to make these types of decisions is so painful,” says Sheree.
At 22 weeks, Sheree and Rod made the difficult decision to terminate.
“We didn’t think it would be fair to keep the baby and have his life, our lives and others’ lives impacted. We have immense gratitude to be given the opportunity to make the decision to terminate. As much as we felt the decision was the right one, I felt a great deal of grief and sadness.
“I mean, I had to give birth to a dead baby,” says Sheree.
The process was made more difficult because Sheree was not mentally or physically prepared. Leaning on the advice from one woman who had been through something similar was her only preparation.
Sheree went to a doctor to have an amniocentesis for genetic testing, and at the same time the doctor terminated the foetus. She was there with her partner, Rod, mother, and mother-in-law.
“That was the first part of a deeply sad, heart wrenching and unexpected turn in our pregnancy. A couple of days later, I started taking medication to bring on the labour. I went into hospital the next morning and continued taking the tablets until the labour started to come on that night. I gave birth the next day,” Sheree explains.
She and Rod stayed with the baby for as long as they needed to say goodbye, and then he was buried in the children’s section of the cemetery.
“We decided to not give the baby a name and we’ve never gone to the cemetery to visit him. We think about the loss, but not like we lost a child as he didn’t come into this world alive, so to have a ceremony didn’t feel like something we wanted to do. Perhaps this is because Rod and I are both logical people and this seemed like a logical choice, or perhaps this was simply our coping mechanism” Sheree says.
Being able to talk openly about their experience to friends, family and strangers, helped Sheree navigate and move through the grief.
“Pregnancy, labour and motherhood is such a selfless act. It is completely life changing – physically, emotionally and mentally, yet it is an experience that we don’t often share as openly and candidly as we could. It often feels like we don’t want to share the really difficult experiences for fear of burdening others,” she says.
Three weeks later, Sheree spoke at a Women in Business event, where she openly shared her pregnancy loss story. She described the experience as therapeutic and cathartic, a moment of authentic connection. And was then approached by multiple women who shared their stories of miscarriage and fertility struggles. The realisation many woman experience fertility struggles in silence was confronting.
“Since having this experience, I am so immersed in women’s health and breaking the taboo that surrounds miscarriages and terminations. These experiences shape us, and I feel so connected to it all. It can be a fucked-up thing for a lot of people, but for me, I find it useful to share my story and I love talking about it.
Traumatic birth experiences still need to be talked about. The conversation needs to be about inclusive fertility, which means the entire experience – the good, the bad and the unexpected.”
*Sheree has gone on to birth her daughter Goldie in 2020, and her son Ace in 2022.