In July last year, Faranaaz Andersen was preparing for her three-week-old baby to come home from the hospital, but he never did, and the Athlone mother was left nursing a gaping hole in her life.
October holds a poignant meaning for Faranaaz and other mothers like her who have lost infants. Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is marked around the world, as is October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.
Faranaaz had fallen pregnant with her son, Fawaaz, in December 2014, but then in June last year, pain gripped her stomach while she was at work. She went to the clinic and a doctor told her she was experiencing turning pains and sent her home.
But when the pain persisted the next day, Faranaaz drove to her mother and told her to take her to Hanover Park Day Hospital.
She was fully dilated at the time and started bleeding. She was rushed to Groote Schuur Hospital, where Fawaaz, who was in a breech position, was born by emergency C-section. A baby in a breech position is born bottom first or feet first instead of head first.
Fawaaz was three months premature, and he developed yellow jaundice. He was placed in an incubator. Faranaaz said he had gained weight nicely for the first week but later started getting sick. Every day she went to the hospital to see her son and breastfeed him.
On July 21, he picked up an infection and was given antibiotics. His condition continued to deteriorate and he was in a lot of pain. Doctors placed him on a ventilator and a drip. Due to the extent of the infection, his gut burst, and on July 27, he died of meningitis.
“After 5pm on that day, something told me to phone the hospital,” said Faranaaz. “I phoned and they said I should come to the hospital; he is deteriorating. When we came into the hospital, he took his last breath.
“I was so angry, in that moment I couldn’t cry. I was hurt and angry and felt like no one understood me. Everything at home was packed and ready for him to come home.”
She became suicidal after her son’s death. On one occasion she overdosed on sleeping tablets and drove around looking for her mother to take her to hospital.
“All that I can remember is me coming into the hospital and I couldn’t focus; I fainted. I remember someone pricking me and a doctor telling me, ‘I am doing this to save your life.’ I thought, ‘Why are you doing this? Why do you want to save me?’
“I still miss him every day. I would visit his grave all the time, but I told myself I can’t let it get me down. I always wonder about how he would have been now, how he would’ve played around and what I would’ve bought him,” she said.
There are no words that can comfort a mother who has lost a child, said Faranaaz.
“Nothing they say is going to help. If you need time to be alone, your family must let you grieve on your own, just don’t do anything stupid.
“There was a time I needed to be alone and a time I needed my family to be around me. I allowed people to ask me questions and I answered them, but don’t go too far.”
Her mother, Shanaaz Tauw, said the family of a mother who has lost a child and is very likely still in denial must be prepared to give her the space she needs, but also support her without suffocating her.
“If they feel they that want to talk then carry on with the conversation but watch their reaction when you ask them questions and don’t push it. You can see when you are pushing it, then change the subject,” said Shanaaz.
“Take them out; they won’t really be there mentally but they need to get out. Go for help at a psychologist and talk about it because they are trained to help you. Family can only do as much as they can.”