News & Events Janelle and Kate - supporting a friend through the death of a baby Janelle and Kate had already been friends for three years when Janelle went into premature labour when pregnant with her beautiful Max. "Aside from my partner and our midwife, Kate is the only person who ever met Max. As the years pass (it will be ten years this November) I take great comfort from the fact that I don’t have to carry his memory alone" Kate How did you and Janelle become friends? Janelle and I became friends while studying teaching at uni as mature age students. We often joke our friendship was the best thing to come out of that ill-fated degree. And that's proven to be truer than ever as time passes. We are not precisely similar – we have different taste in music, poetry, and film, but we share a world view. On the outside, we both appear 'normal' but I think we're just very good at knowing what to say and do to get by in life, but in fact, we're fantastically and similarly not normal. My clear memories of Janelle and teacher education are bonding over common enemies: we loathed students who cared too much and teachers who cared too little. We were obsessed with staff room talk of splashbacks and knee-high boots and found it endlessly entertaining that we were about to inhabit this grown-up world of mortgages and union fees. Us? Were they mad? They were going to let us loose on real students? We would need to read Domain more closely if we were to hold our own in those staff rooms. Those uni days were not easy or breezy, we were adults, we weren't teenagers in an American movie. We were broke, dissatisfied with our early career choices and fairly sure the second wasn't going to be much better. But we felt somehow like we were in it together. We must have shared 1000 cups of coffee and tea – there wasn't a café we didn't want to try or already have an opinion on based whether or not they used tea bags (for the love of tea!) or would let us sit for hours on a $12 bill. We loved to talk, to wonder why things were the way they were and to plan what we ought to do next. What are the three most important things that make your friendship what it is? Janelle and I have always laughed. Mostly at ourselves. Actually, always at ourselves. We take many things too seriously, like people's opinions of us and the importance of sunscreen. I love Janelle's sense of humour. Even now a midnight text exchange about the perils of remote learning makes me laugh to the point I'm annoyed I need to get out of bed to pee. I think our friendship feels light – which is an odd thing to say when it has survived the death of Janelle's son Max. Our friendship has seen a number of big life events from death, to divorce and even the relentless routine of raising older kids inside and outside of a pandemic. None of these things ever made me wonder if our friendship could survive hardship – they made me incredibly grateful for it. For its constant support that seems to survive without the 'work' that's sometimes required with long standing relationships. We don't need to see each other every week (although it was nice when we could!) to know that we're connected. We have an understanding that some weeks it's two texts and a meme and others it's a three-hour walk where conversation shifts comfortably between politics, the most recent kid struggle, and the Aldi Special Buys. What trait do you most admire in Janelle? I have always admired Janelle's relentless commitment to her people. She's fierce. She's loyal, and she's prepared to see stuff through. She will write a letter to the editor, she will stand up for injustice, and she'll speak up even if it's painful and personally taxing for her to do it. She'll also research a purchase well past the point the good people at Choice Magazine have stopped. What's your favourite memory of Janelle? It's hard to think of a favourite memory – we're not 'let's go to Las Vegas for our 40th!' type friends – but I often think about Janelle and Carlton. I've been to Lygon Street recently and it's not the same but neither am I. Neither is Janelle. We would often go to Readings and gather an arm load of books and sit on the 'deciding bench' to determine which author would get to come home with us today. We always bought something, Janelle was the only one of us who actually read it. If you could give advice to people who want to help a friend through the loss of a baby or child what would it be? Gosh, advice is so fraught isn't it? I would say that you will probably say the wrong thing. You may want offer hope at the point that your friend just wants you to see their pain. You may try to make your friend laugh and you will inadvertently make them cry. You won't know what to say and you will say something awkward or cliched but it will be OK. It will be better than not saying anything or waiting until you've got something 'perfect' to say. I used to think that it was better not to bring up Max's death with Janelle in case it made her sad. Ironically, it wasn't me mentioning it that reminded her that she was grieving. She was heartbroken, even when she seemed OK, she was thinking about Max – me mentioning his name didn't 'bring up' sad feelings in her, it just made it OK for her to talk about them. But that was us, I'd be guided by your friend and just ask them – are you OK talking about this today? Take your lead from your friend, do they want to use their baby's name? How do they want to remember their child's special days? They may not know and it'll probably change over time, like everything else. But you can't talk around it, you sort of have to go through it which is incredibly hard, but ultimately better for both of you. What would you say to a someone who has just experienced the loss of a baby or child about reaching out to Sands (and Red Nose?) I think there's something incredibly important about reaching out to Sands, to speak to someone with lived experience about baby loss or neo natal death. I've seen how lonely grief is, especially when it happens in this way. We don't really explain (or perhaps we do and no listens) the reality that babies die. We announce pregnancies at 12 weeks as if that was the only hurdle between mothers and their healthy babies. If we think that new parents are not prepared for the change a newborn brings, it pales into insignificance when you think about the impact the death of a baby can have. Am I a parent if my baby is no longer here? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? What on earth do I do now? While no one can answer those questions satisfactorily, speaking with people who have walked this path before you or supported others along it, makes a genuine and ongoing difference. Janelle How did you and Kate become friends? We met at Melbourne Uni, where we were both doing a DipEd – back in....2008?! We had different subject areas but shared a couple of theory/pedagogy classes. I’d say we both feel uncomfortable in forced social situations, so it’s likely one of us said something funny to the other as a way of managing the awkwardness of having to do a terrifying amount of group work. Kate is the kind of person you feel like you’ve known your whole life because she is good at putting people at ease. Everyone wants to be her friend, and somehow, I made it to the inner circle, which I thank my lucky stars for all the time. In some ways, we aren’t very much alike at all. She is much cooler than me, and we both hang in entirely different sections of a bookshop. You’ll find me in new release fiction and Kate in self-help. I don’t know what this means about our personalities, but it’s always been this way. I’m always learning something from Kate – she’s always trying to be a better version of herself, and she has a lot of practical and valuable skills. She can put together trampolines and flatpack furniture and is an organisational queen. She taught me to love lists and to set goals. Kate’s at the centre of some of my happiest and saddest memories. That treasury of shared experience and deep understanding is such a rare and special thing, and I try never to take it for granted. What are the three most important things that make your friendship what it is? Firstly, laughter. Kate can always make me laugh and is incredibly witty and clever. We enjoy entertaining each other with ridiculous banter and have never yet ran out of conversation. Secondly, acceptance. I feel so known and safe with Kate. There’s never been any pretence. She is the most honest, genuine, and forgiving person I know and always the first to think of others before herself. On a surface level, I never need to clean up before she comes over. Speaking more deeply, she’s seen me at my very worst and kept turning up for me, even when I had nothing in the tank to give her in return. Thirdly, a shared outlook on life. We’re both always looking for that elusive something ‘more’ from ourselves and our environment. We each value sincerity, (black) humour and good grammar. What trait do you most admire in each other? I admire Kate’s unwavering loyalty and forgiveness. At times I think I’ve asked a lot more from Kate than she has ever expected from me. During my first pregnancy in 2011, I went into premature labour at 23 weeks gestation. There was nothing that could be done to stop it. There was nothing that could be done to save my son. In the hours before he was born, it was Kate who dropped everything to visit me, bring me things I needed from home, make me laugh, and tell me everything would be OK when we both knew it wasn’t. And then, as it became clear my baby would be born that night, it was Kate who stayed to witness his birth and his death. Aside from my partner and our midwife, Kate is the only person who ever met Max. As the years pass (it will be ten years this November) I take great comfort from the fact that I don’t have to carry his memory alone. During the times Max has felt like a figment of my imagination, I can turn to Kate, and she can tell me he was here – that I really did have a son, once. I also admire her optimism. I remember her saying at Max’s funeral that one day we would laugh and have fun again. It didn’t feel like that at the time, but she was right. We did have fun again, and we still do. And it has never felt disrespectful to Max’s memory or dismissive of the enormity of his loss because I know she understands that grief is not an either or prospect. She accepts and understands that it’s always there even on the most sunshine-filled day. What’s your favourite memory of Kate? The funny thing about our friendship is that we don’t have any ‘big ticket’ memories with Kate. We’ve never travelled together, shared a flat, and I think may have only ever been to the movies together once or twice! My favourite memories of Kate have been the ones that don’t even stand out as particularly memorable. But, I count them as some of the best hours of my life – the cafes we haunted every Saturday morning to debrief on our awful work weeks, drinking countless cups of tea at each other’s houses. Now the ones we make with our kids, where someone is carrying a kid, the bike they insisted on bringing but will not ride, a week’s worth of snacks and a thermos of sweet, milky tea. If you could give advice to people who want to help a friend through the loss of a baby or child what would it be? When I think of how Kate has helped me, I think for a long time it must have been a very thankless task, as it would have taken me a long time to even think of the impact that Max’s death must have had on her. All the times she coaxed me out of the house. Her patience as I rebuilt myself from a pile of rubble, never to be the same again. I’m not sure there’s any magic advice on how to help a friend, but what mattered most to me was probably just the simple act of turning up. And then turning up again. There’s nothing you could do or say that will lessen the pain, so just being willing to turn up and tolerate the deep discomfort of grief is a gift of great value you can give. I recognise now that this is not something everyone can provide, and to cherish it closely when those who can do. I’d also say, don’t treat a grieving person like damaged goods and tiptoe around them. Your grieving friend is looking to you to show them that somewhere inside they are still the same person they were before, not this person they no longer recognise. What would you say to a someone who has just experienced the loss of a baby or child about reaching out to Sands (and Red Nose?) My friendship with Kate shows that you don’t have to meet another bereaved parent to find the support and companionship you need to cope with your grief, but not everyone gets a Kate, so reaching out to Sands or Red Nose for grief support can be a good way to find your tribe. I remember the first time I met someone in real life who had also lost a baby, and just wanting to write down everything she said, as if I could create from her experience some kind of authorised roadmap for what to do now, instead of flailing along as I had been for months. I never accessed Sands or Red Nose grief support, but I did become a volunteer, which I found less confronting because it had the practical purpose of helping others as a way to honour my son. It enabled me to feel held and understood whilst not being the centre of attention, which was perfect for an introvert like me. I’d also say it’s never too late. One of the most painful feelings after loss is the recognition that it’s too late to go back and change things you wish you’d done differently. I’ve always found that a very hard truth to accept. But the grief? There’s no statute of limitations on that and it’s never too late to talk to someone about what happened to you. If you have a special friend like Kate you can order a Friendship Day tile to help celebrate and thank them for supporting you through your darkest moments.