Till overcame her own pain to create something beautiful for other parents

Till overcame her own pain to create something beautiful for other parents


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Till Heike has experienced enough loss – of pregnancies, family plans and dreams – to floor many women, but has refused to be defined by what she has lived through, rather she is using it help other parents.

"Like a lot of women, my path to motherhood and fertility is not linear, it's up and down, my losses encompass multiple early miscarriages, a very painful ectopic pregnancy in the fallopian tube … the most astronomical pain I've ever experienced," said Ms Heike, a costume designer.

When she woke to stillness at 32 weeks pregnant with her third child, a much-wanted baby girl named Claudia, Ms Heike hoped her baby was simply asleep. Several hours later she woke again to "the kind of stillness I can't explain, it was soul crushing".

Till Heike and her children Evan (13), Leah (11),Claudia (would have been 6 represented with the penguin) and Lucas (5) at their home near Perth.Credit:Tony McDonough

"Your body actually knows what's going on," said Ms Heike, who had had a good pregnancy with no suspected issues.

She lay awake several hours feeling like she had gone into shock, and trying to process the fact the sibling her children had "bonded with and read stories to" would not arrive safely.

"One of the big things for me was I had two children who had been really looking forward to meeting their sister … they knew her rhythms and were feeling her in the belly, she was a big, big baby," she said. "Claudia was already a big part of the family."

That dreadful loss changed the course of Ms Heike's career; she became so engaged with the national group that supports parents who have lost babies and pregnancies, SANDS Australia, she took on a role as WA state co-ordinator with the organisation. But her art continued.

Six years on, with her eldest child, Evan, now 13, her daughter Leah, 11 and her subsequent, healthy, baby Luca, now 5, Ms Heike was commissioned to create a Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria memorial certificate by which Victorian parents can remember their own longed-for family members.

Until now pregnancy loss before 20 weeks was not formally registered as a birth, or a death, in Victoria and the new certificate, featuring Victorian flora and fauna including the Victorian state bird, the helmeted honeyeater, will "commemorate" the loss for grieving parents.

The new Births, Deaths and Marriages early pregnancy loss memorial certificate, by artist and mother Till Heike, goes online from Monday.

Victorian Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy, said the certificates were "a meaningful way to recognise this significant event" and thanked Ms Heike for "sharing her art and her experience in a way that will give so much comfort to others." In NSW and Queensland similar certificates already exist.

According to the Royal Women's Hospital, up to one in five women who know they are pregnant will have a miscarriage before 20 weeks but the rate is believed to be higher. The new certificate was a collaboration between SANDS Victoria and the registry.

Ms Heike hopes her mixed-media artwork will help parents-to-be who lost pregnancies feel "recognised": "This is what women go through [she says of early pregnancy loss], and then not to have recognition you were pregnant in the first place is so hard.

"You're ushered out the [hospital] door and can think, 'What was that experience?' without having anything tangible."

Ms Heike said her art, including the creation of the new certificate had been "almost like therapy"and she hopes parents who receive it will feel it helps to actualise their loss. "I want them to feel warmth, and sense of compassion; something beautiful," she said.

"What I wanted was a beautiful piece of art they will look at and really feel a connection to their child." The new certificates are available from Births, Deaths and Marriages online from Monday.

Victorians can register their interest in applying for the early pregnancy loss commemorative certificate ahead of its release by visiting bdm.vic.gov.au. The certificate will be free of charge. For support with pregnancy or infant loss contact SANDS Australia.

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