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Big love for little life lost

Rhiannon Jones with her son Valentine, aged six months.

Big love for little life lost

NINE precious minutes. That's how long Rhiannon Jones and her husband Miles spent with their first-born child, Leo.

The Murwillumbah mother carried her son for nearly six months when she went into unexpected labour. Her husband cradled him in his palms for his whole life.

"Miles held Leo while I looked on," 24-year-old Rhiannon recalls.

"Miles was crying, he was inconsolable. As a first-time parent I was so proud to see what Miles and I had created, initially I smiled of pride, but once the significance of the situation hit me I joined in with Miles. Our boy took his last breath and in that moment a part of us died with Leo."

Rhiannon Jones and husband Miles awaiting the arrival of their second child.
Rhiannon Jones and husband Miles awaiting the arrival of their second child.

At their home in northern New South Wales a large print of baby Leo hangs on the wall of their living room. It is a black and white photo of Leo lying in the palms of his dad's hands. It is one of many dotted through the house.

"After Leo was born we were asked by midwives if we wanted a professional photographer from Heartfelt to take photos of our little family. We spent some beautiful time holding our angel to capture photos that we will treasure forever," Rhiannon says.

Leo was born 15 weeks early, weighing only 630g, in January 2013.

Rhiannon Jones pregnant with Valentine.
Rhiannon Jones pregnant with Valentine. contributed

"I fell pregnant without any dramas. I found out I was pregnant at five weeks, and I had a totally normal pregnancy," Rhiannon says.

"I was completely unaware that I had an incompetent cervix until I began bleeding at 23 weeks and was admitted to hospital where I was told my cervix was fully dilated. Doctors told me my cervix was incompetent (meaning it cannot hold a baby through to full term) and that I'd be delivering our son naturally within 24 hours."

What unfolded next was something no parent ever wants to experience.

"I had contractions for roughly 24 hours.

Through the night I lay awake, feeling my son kick for the last time, knowing that when he was born he wouldn't live for long.

"Labour was awful. My body was not ready to give birth, and my son wasn't ready to be born, so I struggled both physically and emotionally to cope. Miles never left my side.

"He was reminded by midwives to eat as he had hardly eaten in a day. We cried a lot of tears through the labour process. By the end, I was drained.

"I birthed our beautiful boy Leo. Leo let out a huge cry, stretched all of his limbs, and was passed to Miles."

Leo was born on the cusp of survival. If he had been born at 26 weeks then doctors would have been obliged to attempt to keep him alive. Babies born before 23 weeks generally have a low chance of survival. In most cases at 24 weeks they are admitted into intensive care and parents have the decision to resuscitate or not.

"We were told Leo's likelihood of surviving after resuscitation would be highly unlikely, and that his quality of life would be poor," Rhiannon says.

In the end we decided to follow the doctor's professional opinion. We would not resuscitate our son."

Rhiannon Jones delivered her son Valentine by Maternal Assisted Caesarean.
Rhiannon Jones delivered her son Valentine by Maternal Assisted Caesarean. contributed

Rhiannon finds strength in dealing with her son's death by speaking openly about pregnancy and infant loss. She shares her story through blogging and social media under the handle @themamachronicles.

"Leo has certainly left his footprint on the world. Within a year of his passing we raised over $5000 in his memory for Bears of Hope," Rhiannon says.

"I wanted Leo's life to be recognised and remembered, but I also wanted couples who'd faced the loss of a child to be comforted by the fact that they are not alone on this awful journey. I feel as though speaking about pregnancy and infant loss is taboo. And that needs to change."

Rhiannon knew little about her condition prior to Leo. And although losing a baby due to an incompetent cervix is always on the cards, having surgery limits the possibility of it reoccurring.

This procedure involves the placement of a stitch high in the cervix prior to falling pregnant again.

Within six months of losing Leo, Rhiannon and Miles began trying for baby number two. In March this year, the couple welcomed baby Valentine into the world.

"It has taken years to be content with our lives," Rhiannon says. "It wasn't until our son Valentine was born that we felt complete again.

Valentine Jones.
Valentine Jones. contributed

"I lie awake at night watching him sleep, pinching myself because I never thought I'd finally be where we are today. Valentine looks very much like Leo, which is beautiful."

Today (October 15) is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

If you are affected by the loss of a baby, SANDS Australia offers support through local support groups, a 24-hour phone line on 1300 072 367, and Or contact Bears of Hope on their grief line on 1300 11 HOPE, or