Welcome to the 'Upset to Set-Up' Series: Interviews with Inspiring Women
This quarterly interview series shines a spotlight on inspiring women and shares their stories of resilience in the face of upset. Here we interview women who have overcome significant tragedy, loss or upset and used that experience to set themselves up in a new and different way. They have turned their upset into a set-up. Each guest generously shares what they have been through to find the joy in life.
Today we meet Ann-Maree Imrie.
Ann-Maree is a social worker and author of the children's picture book, ‘You Could Have Been…’
Ann-Maree used the grief she felt after the stillbirth of her first son to write a book for bereaved parents to read to their child who died, or didn’t survive a pregnancy. It’s filled with a parent's wonder of who their child could have been if they’d had the chance to grow up. The book is written to the child, so a parent can talk to them about their lost hopes and dreams, but most importantly, their love.
Ann-Maree is an inspiring woman and mother, and I know you will love learning more about her in this interview.
1. Please share a bit about yourself and your experience of parenthood
My journey into parenthood started out well. My husband and I fell pregnant easily and I was feeling well as our baby steadily grew. I was in a good place emotionally, and had a firm belief that we would bring home a healthy baby. We were nervous and excited about becoming parents.
But our path took a u-turn on 30th January 2015 when we were told our baby had died. I was booked in the following day to give birth to our lifeless son.
On 31st January 2015 at 2:18pm we became the parents of Xavier Rocket Imrie. A baby boy we could kiss and cuddle, love and hold, but not bring home.
We quickly learned that having a stillborn baby is not just a terrible event that happens; it is a lifelong commitment. Even though our baby is not living with us, we still actively parent him and have an ongoing relationship with him. Parenting Xavier is a mixed bag of struggle and triumph, pain and joy, love and sadness.
On 14th March 2017, also at 2:18pm (exact same birth time as Xavier) we welcomed our second son, Kai Rocket Imrie. He is an absolute delight. But its bittersweet parenting after loss, because as we watch Kai grow, we have daily reminders of everything that Xavier misses out on.
Parenting Kai, we have the same struggles and fears that other parents have, but ours is laced with a familiar reality that death can and does happen to babies. Not to ‘other peoples babies’, but to ours. This is both a hardship and an incredible blessing.
2. What is your parenting approach or philosophy?
To make sure my children are seen (in the emotional sense). The same philosophy applies to both my children but is carried out in different ways.
For Xavier, I make sure he is seen by talking about him, sharing his story, saying his name, and advocating for other babies like him. I also spend time with him and continue to develop my relationship with him, even though he’s not here.
For Kai, it’s making sure he feels seen by the way I interact with him. I want him to internalise a healthy sense of self and a basic grounding of safety and security. A knowledge that home will always be a soft place to fall.
My other philosophy is just love, love, love. I will set boundaries and teach my children right from wrong, but I will always be generous with my love.
3. Has your parenting approach changed due to your experiences?
Due to my experiences as a child, I had formed a strong set of hopes and ideas around how I would parent my own children. I was excited to pave a new way, with my own family. But when Xavier died, all of this was shattered, and I had to construct a whole new parenting philosophy for a baby that is not here.
In some ways, parenting Xavier is similar to parenting a live baby, in that I still have the protective-mum instinct. But it’s his memory I have to protect, instead of his living being. The sense of love and connectedness is also similar but plays out in different ways. I have had the pleasure of giving and receiving love, even beyond death. This is epitome of beauty and pain combined.
I believe that Xavier’s death has led me to appreciate the tiniest of moments with Kai. One night I was holding him as he fell asleep and I said to my husband, “I don’t want to put him to bed yet. I don’t want to let him go”. My husband replied, “You don’t have to”. And this, to me was the most amazing feeling in the world. Any parent who has had to hand their baby back will understand the power of this.
4. What have you learned along the way?
People won’t always understand why you share your baby… Share them anyway. People may misinterpret your intentions; thinking you are looking for sympathy or you are ‘stuck in your grief’. You cannot make everyone understand. You can only do what feels right for you. If sharing is not for you, this is okay. Your baby, your heart, your call.
Do not try to validate your pain through others. Pain is pain. If you feel it, its real. People simply cannot understand the intensity of your grief unless they have walked in your shoes. If you try to get people to feel your feelings in the same way you do (and I tried pretty hard) you will be left disheartened. This is not their fault. You can only hope people lend their ear and open their heart.
Your love for your baby is not measured by your level of sadness. I read this somewhere and breathed a huge sigh of relief. For a long time I thought I had to be sad to demonstrate my love. But I’ve discovered my love can be demonstrated in many beautiful ways.
Protect your broken heart. I didn’t do this very well in the beginning. I was far too polite to people who were reckless with my broken heart. I do believe in grieving with grace, that is, your pain is not a free ticket to treat others badly. But I also think it’s crucial to protect your heart from anyone who is not treating it with absolute kindness.
Know your limits and try your best to stick to them. You will know what you are capable of, and how your heart will hold up in different situations. Try your best to listen to your heart and make decisions accordingly. You have to get pretty comfortable with saying no.
You will grieve differently to your partner, but try to turn towards them, rather than away. I am lucky that my husband does not judge me for how I handle my grief, and vice versa. Listen to each other. Share your pain. Heal together.
Keep holding on. A bad moment/day will pass and you will be able to breathe again. Don’t try to fight against the bad days. Just surrender and let it pass.
5. What is the most important thing you need to do each day to maintain your well-being?
For me, there are three key things:
Check in with myself each morning: How am I feeling today? How is my heart holding up? Whatever the answer, I handle my day accordingly.
Follow rituals: In the morning I make my bed (so I feel organised); and I put on a touch of eye makeup (because it gives me a little lift). And every evening, my husband and I quote a little saying as we close the blinds. It’s a great marker to say goodbye to the day and the outside world. It helps me to feel safe and loved inside our home.
Counselling: This is not a daily thing. I go every few weeks. And cannot recommend it highly enough! If you find yourself the right counsellor (and mine is wonderful), it can totally change your life.
6. Complete these sentences:
Love is… worth it. Love can bring immense pain, and a yearning that feels like your soul is being torn from your body. But it is always worth it. Be generous with your love.
A life of joy looks like… a bit of a mess. Imperfect and upside down, but with noticeable light shining through the cracks. More so, you can have a life of joy if you allow yourself to appreciate the light shining through the cracks.
My wish for my children is… to have a healthy sense of self, to give and receive kindness, and to experience great love (in the form of a person or a passion, but hopefully both). I also wish them to experience the smallest of struggles, so they can learn and grow through the imperfection of life.
7. If you could travel back in time and give yourself once piece of advice before you commenced this journey, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to show your authentic self. Take all the time you need. The important people will wait for you. Protect your broken heart the same way you would protect your precious child.
More about Ann-Maree
Ann-Maree Imrie lives in Sydney with her husband and their second-born son. She practised as a Social Worker for 10 years with children, young people and families, including grief and bereavement work.
Ann-Maree always had a passion for writing, and the stillbirth of her first son propelled her to not only write, but to actually share it with other people.
Morrie Schwartz's quote, “Death ends a life, not a relationship” resonates with her experience, which she poured out in her first book, You Could Have Been… This book is a special way for bereaved parents, including those who suffer early pregnancy loss, to continue a relationship with their child that they are unable to hold in their arms.
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If you are a parent who has lost a child, you like to consider getting in touch with Rowena. She supports parents move from experiencing the pain of loss, unwanted change, anxiety, challenge and imbalance, to living a life of balance and happiness. A life full of joy, hope and love.
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If you have an amazing story of resilience and would like to share it, please get in touch. I'd love to connect and share your story.