This article deals with loss and may be distressing for some readers
Sarah and her husband Dean Mumm, a former professional rugby player for Australia, have faced the unthinkable.
The Sydney-based couple have six beautiful children, but have only been able to bring two home from hospital. Since 2012, the parents have endured the tragic deaths of daughter Sophie, son Henry, and twin girls Ella and Grace due to complications arising from premature birth.
"It's brutal," Sarah, a lawyer, tells 9Honey Parenting.? "There is nothing more devastating than the sound of silence after you've given birth."
"You have all these hopes and dreams of what motherhood will be like, and those happy images of being handed your baby after delivery. But for us, instead of hearing the baby cry, the room was completely silent. The silence was overwhelming."
"To have to endure the physical pain of labour, knowing there is no baby at the end is pretty horrific," she adds.
Reflecting on their journey, the couple shares that they were thrilled to fall pregnant not long after they married in 2012.
The sort of grief we went through is very lonely
"We had just moved to England and everything was going really well with the pregnancy," Sarah explains. "We had our 20-week scan and we were so excited. Then later that week I started bleeding... so I took myself to hospital."
"It turned out I had begun to dilate, and unfortunately my waters broke. Our beautiful Sophie was born at 21 weeks. She came out too early and didn't survive the labour."
"To be told, 'there is nothing we can do to stop the labour' is hard to comprehend. It was heartbreaking to be left alone and to be met with silence after the birth. It's a pretty dark place."?
According to former Wallaby Dean, the shock was difficult to process.
"I was at training when Sarah rang me and said, 'I think we're going to lose the baby', but it just didn't seem possible," he recalls. "You just think it's going to be a scare."
"I'll never forget the beautiful moment when I first met our perfect little baby Sophie... she really was perfect. Perfectly formed, just incredibly tiny. From the moment you meet your child, you are their parent, even if you don't get to bring them home and raise them. It was difficult to reconcile. It still is."
The heartbroken parents immediately began asking questions about why Sarah had gone into labour early, but unfortunately there weren't a lot of answers.
While the complications around Sophie's birth were caused by 'cervical insufficiency' which meant Sarah's cervix dilated too early, there was no way of identifying her as high-risk.
"It seemed unthinkable that we had just had a scan and yet nothing had shown up", 38-year-old Sarah reflects. "How could no one know this was a risk of happening despite having such a high level of medical care?"
"The sort of grief we went through is very lonely,"? Dean adds. "And when you don't have any answers, that also leads to a lot of anxiety."
After the loss of Sophie, the couple was thrilled to fall pregnant again around six months later with their son Henry. This time, Sarah was closely monitored by obstetricians.
"We put significant measures? in place, knowing that I was at high risk of pre-term birth," Sarah explains. "I had a cervical suture put in which, in theory, dealt with the problem I had with Sophie. And I was on bed rest for 10 weeks."
"We were going quite well and then I started having contractions at 28 weeks... and there was nothing they could do to stop the labour progressing," Sarah recalls. "Once again, it was a very stressful labour. There were 20 people in the room.. specialists from every department. It was very intense and highly medical."
While Henry survived the labour, Sarah was unable to hold or even see her baby.
"He was immediately taken away and assessed by seven people in the corner of the room", Sarah reveals. "I just remember him being pricked and poked and having tubes put into his nose and throat, and I couldn't see him through the crowd of people. And then he was taken up to the NICU."
According to the lawyer and mum-of-six, there is almost a complacency around babies going to NICU because it's become so common.
"When you are actually there, you realise how stressful it is... people are a bit desensitised to it now I think. But when is starting your life in intensive care okay? When is going to intensive care as an adult okay?"
"There was little Henry, inside a box, covered in tubes inserted in every part of his body, so tiny, and you can't even touch or cuddle him. You just see this distressed little baby and there is nothing you can do as a mother to comfort your own child."
"It just breaks your heart."
No one had any answers?
Sadly, Henry died nine days later from an infection.
"Of course, all the doctors did their best but he got an infection and was just too young to fight it," Sarah explains. "We didn't get to hold him until he was passing away. And they just cleared the room.. ?and it was actually a beautiful moment."
"As I held him ?he looked up at me and he really calmed down.. it was almost like he was saying 'where have you been these last nine days?'. He was so peaceful, and despite knowing he was going to die, it was a happy moment. If only all babies could start their life with a cuddle."
"But then just like Sophie, we had to give him back. We didn't get to bring him home... And that's not fair."
The quest for answers grew stronger and Sarah spoke to at least six different obstetricians and medical specialists both here in Australia and in England.
"No one knew. No one had an answer as to why I went into labour and why they couldn't stop it."
The couple's anxiety also grew, and even though every doctor told them they could fall pregnant again, the sense of fear was enormous. ?
In 2015, Sarah fell pregnant with Alfie. And while she made it to 36 weeks and the couple were finally able to take their baby home, the experience was "incredibly stressful".
"I didn't buy a single thing for the baby until after he was born," she admits. "I just couldn't. And while Alfie spent a week in NICU, we were able to take him home. We were so grateful and fortunate?."
?In a remarkable turn of events, Sarah then fell pregnant again with twins Ella and Grace two years later.
With the added complication of twins, plus Sarah's medical history, she describes herself as being "riddled with crippling fear."
"I was barely functioning... I was a ball of stress and anxiety, which of course doesn't help but it was a tough gig. Multiples are so high risk even without any other issues."?
'It was gut wrenching'?
Sadly, the baby girls were born at just 20 weeks after developing twin-to-twin syndrome - a condition where there is an imbalance of blood flow between each twin.
Sarah's waters broke and she started to haemorrhage; almost losing her own life.
"The labour was horrific.. I lost four litres of blood. Then Ella came out first and survived for just 21 minutes," she recalls. "It was devastating she didn't survive but she had the great joy of being held by her dad for her whole life."
Grace was more challenging to deliver, and didn't survive the birth.
"There we were holding our two girls and neither of them got to come home again. It was gut-wrenching," Sarah recalls through tears.
Dean pauses before sharing just how hard the experience was.
"That was a tough one," he reveals. "We had already been through the ringer, but with Ella and Grace it was just so traumatic.
"The risk to Sarah's life was huge... I can never forget it. There were at least 20 people in the room. And I remember looking into the senior obstetrician's eyes to see if he looks stressed. Over 40 years, he had trained himself to never look stressed, no matter what the situation."
While the grief was overwhelming, Dean said he knew they would be okay and get through it.
"There is a weird mental toughness that comes from losing that many children," Dean says.
"We had trained ourselves to manage grief, we had a certain set of tools we relied on.. we meditated, we exercised, we set aside time every Monday at 5pm to go for a walk together and ?grieve," Sarah chimes in. "We relied on those tools and each other."
In 2019, Sarah and Dean welcomed their sixth baby into the world, a boy called Rupert who Sarah describes as "absolutely delightful" and a cheeky little brother for Alfie, now six.
Sarah and Dean's mission?
While their journey has been difficult, they are not alone. ?
One in 10 babies are born preterm in Australia every year - and the problem is only getting worse across the globe.
"We were shocked to learn there has not been a single new treatment to prevent premature birth in 50 years," Sarah reveals. "It is the number one cause of infant death and disability worldwide in children under five years of age."
?Soon after Alfie was born, Sarah and Dean began digging deeper into the causes of pre-term birth. They decided to start a charity called Borne and Hunter Medical Research Institute(HMRI)which supports pioneering research into the prevention of preterm birth.
"Our mission is to have a world where no baby is born too soon, but in the meantime, we are raising funds for vital and underfunded medical research," Sarah explains. "And we want people to know preterm birth is costing Australia billions of dollars every year and that small changes could make big savings."
A mammoth effort which saw Dean trek to the North Pole in 2018?, and will see the couple race against each other over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival on Sunday 18 September.
Along with raising funds and awareness, Dean and Sarah also try to help other families who may be going through loss?.
"The number one thing is to just remember you are not alone.. and you will get through it", Dean urges. "And for the people around you that don't know what to do or say.. send a text message. Do it in that moment when you are thinking about them, no matter how uncomfortable you might feel."
Sarah and Dean feel they are giving their six children a voice and creating a legacy for good out of a devastating situation.
"When people ask us how many kids we have, we say we have two beautiful boys we get to raise, and four that we don't," Dean concludes. "We don't want to burden people with the fact we have four dead children, but it's the reality."
To find out more and donate to Borne HMRI go to hmri.org.au/bornehmri?
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