29 Jul 2020

E3: How do you go on?

From The Unthinkable, 7:00 am on 29 July 2020

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Photo: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

Kate Gudsell and Sam Arcus gave birth to their first child, a girl they named Wren, on September 8 2016. She lived for just six days.

As they struggled to come to terms with it all, Kate went back to work.

"I remember Sam drove me in," she said, "Even now I feel anxious thinking about it. It was horrible."

She said some people were amazing, like the bulletins editor who said: "I'm pleased you're back. But I'm really sorry for the reason you're back."

But others were not so good.

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Photo: Supplied

Debbie Watkin is a psychologist who has spent much of her career working in the field of family and child trauma, in Auckland.

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Photo: Supplied

In 1991, her first child, Terrill, was stillborn. "She was tiny. She was beautiful, but she was still and silent."

Debbie wrote the handbook Empty Arms which has been used in Auckland hospital.

Debbie doesn't believe it's time that heals the wounds, but the people around you.

She said today's western society is all about making things better. It's a don't just sit there, do something, culture.

"I think we have to flip it to 'don't just do something, sit there'," she said, "The people who really made a difference were the people who just sat with me, who didn't even often use words, who just showed kindness."

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

This is a Māori whakataukī or proverb which means: What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

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Photo: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

Pania Mitchell said Māori culture is all about connecting to people who have passed away.

Her son Manaia was born on December 30 2007. A nurse picked up a clicking noise in his chest. His heart wasn't pumping correctly. 

Manaia underwent surgery, but it was too much for his little body. He died on January 1, 2008.

She took Manaia home where she could share him with her family. "We did processes, like karakia and I had a kaumatua come to the house." 

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Nicola Bright Photo: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

"When you can't think straight it's very comforting to fallback on those rituals and have people around who know the same things and everything can click into place to help you," said Nicola Bright.

Her boy Te Oriwa was stillborn at 22 weeks, on January 13, 2017. Nicola had been anticipating a C-section, but she gave birth to her son with friends and family around.

"I was surrounded by people who loved me. There was singing. I have some beautiful memories."

Like Pania, Nicola took Te Oriwa home before packing up for a seven-hour convoy to the marae. "He got to stay in our wharenui while we sang to him and said goodbye."

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Photo: Supplied

Pania, Debbie, Nicola and Kate and Sam all do different things to keep their baby's memories alive. Nicola celebrates Te Oriwa's birthday and tends a wee garden of yellow flowers on his grave.

Kate and Sam have Wren's sign in the garden that has weathered and changed over time.


The Unthinkable is a five-part podcast series created and hosted by Susie Ferguson, which opens the door on the topic of losing a baby - an issue that affects hundreds of families every year.

In the next episode, Sam and Kate are pregnant again, but things are quite different this time around.


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