Lianne and Ronan were happily married and became parents to a beautiful girl, Isla. But in 2020, when Isla was two, the family suffered the stillbirth of their daughter Ailie. Tragically, their third daughter Isobel was also stillborn in 2021 at 25 weeks gestation. Ailie and Isobel will forever remain part of their family. But how do you approach conversations about death and dying with a young child, when you as a parent are steeped in grief?

Perinatal grief support
Lianne and Ronan with their daughter Isla – happily, the family welcomed a baby boy in 2022.

Helping children process pregnancy or baby loss

Every year, around 110,000 families in Australia suffer perinatal bereavement in the shape of miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. The loss of a baby is not only traumatic for parents but for siblings, too.

“It is difficult for parents to function after the death of a child, to say nothing of meeting the demands of their other children,” explains nurse Mary Jo Aumann. “Children’s grief may be compounded when faced with their parents’ vulnerability and grief.”

Grief support charity Possum Portraits received a Community Grant to develop and print a children’s picture book: The House in Ollie’s Tummy. The book has been developed in collaboration with child psychologists, and will provide parents with a child-appropriate communication resource after pregnancy loss – seeking to enable conversations around feelings, normalise grief reactions and help children understand what happened.

Perinatal grief support

“Our picture book facilitates the joint processing of a heartbreaking situation, enabling the child’s entire family unit to bond rather than fall apart over their shared loss,” says Larissa Reinboth from Possum Portraits. “The shared act of reading promotes proactive engagement with the trauma at hand, which is crucial to enable emotional processing.

“The Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre in the UK writes that, ‘bereavement means learning to live with a powerful range of confusing and conflicting emotions. Bottled up, these emotions can have damaging consequences in later life for the individual, their family and society.’

“Our book aims to provide an outlet for sharing difficult thoughts and feelings, preventing these getting bottled up and causing problems later on in a child’s development.”

From the initial print run of 2,000, 500 copies will be donated to and distributed via maternity hospitals.

A mother’s testimonial

Though devastated, Lianne and Ronan decided to approach these difficult topics very openly with their eldest daughter Isla. They felt strongly that this was in her best interest.

“My daughter Isla and I enjoyed reading this book together,” says Lianne. “It brought up some feelings for us both, which we spoke about afterwards. The House in Ollie’s Tummy really reinforced the concept about feeling your feelings, and trying not to ignore them.

“As a grieving parent, I often block my feelings and keep myself busy, so that I don’t need to really feel them. The book reminded me that this is not necessarily the healthiest way of dealing with grief. I could 100% relate to the experiences of the mother’s character in the book.

“My husband Ronan read the book by himself and his first comment was that ‘it was much better than any of the books we got from the hospital’. This refers to the books we received from the hospital after our two stillbirths. We feel like those books were very abstract and didn’t really talk about death or grief. I feel like The House in Ollie’s Tummy will be an excellent tool for grieving families.”

Happily, in 2022 the family welcomed a baby boy. Lianne and Ronan will continue to talk openly about death and dying with their son and daughter.

About the Community Grants Program

Every year the Sisters of Charity Foundation provides grants of up to $15,000 to small not-for-profits across Australia, like Possum Portraits, that use clever ways to fight disadvantage, loneliness, suffering and oppression.

Our grants have been used to support a wide range of people, including those facing poverty and disadvantage, people living with disabilities, at-risk youth, refugees and asylum seekers, First Nations people, those experiencing homelessness or domestic violence, elderly people, and those who have been incarcerated or affected by substance abuse and their families.

Learn more at Community Grants Program.

How We Help

Each year we’re able to make a difference to thousands of people across the country with funds generously donated by compassionate Australians. We support initiatives that focus on benefiting the disadvantaged, marginalised and socially isolated people in our community.

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