‘He wasn’t alone’: Touching gesture eases mum’s grief


Melissa Whittley emerged from a coma after losing her baby son, and almost her own life, to find a handwritten card from a nurse beside her hospital bed in intensive care.

"Your baby wasn't alone," the card said.

"We cared for him and prayed for him.

"Someone so special can never be forgotten.

"With our deepest sympathy."

Melissa and Jason Whittley had watched as their baby son's heartbeat stopped on an ultrasound before she was wheeled into surgery at the Gold Coast Private Hospital on April 21 last year.


A card left for Melissa Whittley, after her baby son Ari died. Picture: Adam Head.
A card left for Melissa Whittley, after her baby son Ari died. Picture: Adam Head.

The 37-year-old had collapsed at home, haemorrhaging blood and in excruciating pain after her uterus ruptured at 17 weeks gestation.

Ari Alexander Whittley - Ari meaning "Lion of God" - was born during emergency surgery to save his mother's life.

In the grief that followed, Mrs Whittley struggled with thoughts that she was unable to be there for her tiny son when he was born.

"There was so much stuff going through my head," she said.

"Just weird stuff you think about like, I couldn't hug him when they pulled him out of me, even though he had passed away before that."

But the note from the nurse who was in surgery during Ari's birth has helped ease the biggest emotional pain the Gold Coast mother has experienced.

Inside the same card were two tiny red hand-knitted hearts - one for Mrs Whittley and a second that went with Ari to the funeral home and was cremated with him.

"It's such a kind thing to do," she said.

"For a stranger to reach out and say to me that he wasn't alone and that they cared for him was quite unbelievable.

"It meant so much to me to know that everyone in that room cared for him and cared for me and that he was not just tossed aside.

"It just makes things a little more bearable."

Mrs Whittley credits the kindness of strangers, her friends and professional psychological support with helping her cope after Ari's death.

Melissa Whittley with husband Jason and her two eldest children Will, 5, and Halle, 3. Picture: Adam Head.
Melissa Whittley with husband Jason and her two eldest children Will, 5, and Halle, 3. Picture: Adam Head.

For six weeks after his passing, her friends made a roster to provide meals for the family, including son Will, now 5, and Halle, 3.

"It was a huge relief knowing that I didn't have to think about feeding my family," she said. "It was one less thing I had to think about but it's a pretty important thing. There are beautiful people out there and sometimes we forget."

Mrs Whittley first experienced post-natal depression after Will's birth with a rare heart defect, known as an aortopulmonary window, and his subsequent surgery at five weeks old.

She suffered PND again after daughter Halle was born.

But nothing prepared her for the mix of grief and post-natal depression she endured following Ari's death.

"There's so much to try and process," she said. "There's stuff that you don't even think of like my breastmilk came in, so I had all this breastmilk and I couldn't feed a baby.

"I still wake up in the morning and think: 'Why did this happen?'

"I had so much love to give, I was fit and healthy, this shouldn't have happened.

"I think I'm going to feel like that for the rest of my life and my body, I don't know how to describe it, it's like when you see a calf being pulled away from its mum and you can see the aching.

"I feel like that. My body is screaming for this baby that isn't there."

Melissa Whittley with her daughter Halle, 3. Picture: Adam Head
Melissa Whittley with her daughter Halle, 3. Picture: Adam Head

Mrs Whittley hopes her story inspires other women to talk more openly about loss and their mental health struggles.

"When you go to have a baby, they'll tell you all the good things. But it doesn't always go to plan. There are a lot of things that can go wrong," she said.

"Mothers don't often ask for help. We just soldier on. Imagine if we asked for help when we needed it. Life would be a little bit easier.

"Most of my girlfriends have suffered from postnatal depression in one way or another. They have struggled at times, especially early on in becoming a mother.

"I really just want women to get behind other women and talk about their struggles. We just don't do it enough."

Mrs Whittley has started fundraising for the White Cloud Foundation's Meals for Mums program, aimed at providing nutritious meals for new mothers experiencing PND. She's already raised more than $13,000 of her $20,000 goal.

The mother of three hopes telling her story helps other mothers struggling after childbirth.

"I want to inspire people," she said. "I want someone to look at me and think: 'She got through this, I can get through it'."

To donate to the Meals for Mums program: justgiving.com/fundraising/melissa-whittley





Originally published as 'He wasn't alone': Touching gesture eases mum's grief

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