A mother who suffered a tragic stillbirth has revealed why she chose to have a photographer with her during labour, her son’s post-mortem and even his funeral.
Heartbroken Sarah Jade, 33, from Melbourne, Australia, gave birth to son Aksel Jude at 33 weeks after he passed away in the womb following severe complications with his brain development.
Jade and her husband Tim, 34, asked photographer Lacey Barratt to capture her son’s birth from the moment she went into labour to his funeral – including his postmortem examination.
Sarah Jade, from Melbourne, pictured with husband Tim, went into labour at 33 weeks knowing her baby son Aksel couldn’t survive outside the womb due to brain complications
The mother-of-two asked photographer Lacey Barratt to photograph her labour, the moments she cradled son Aksel afterwards and his funeral which took several weeks later
Sarah, who has a three-year-old son Arthur, says the photographs have helped herself and Tim heal while also preserving her son’s memory.
She says: ‘I wanted a beautiful birth. But when we knew what the outcome of the birth would be, I still wanted to capture those moments.
‘It was traumatic. The worst part was that I was pushing so hard, and Aksel was halfway out but then went back in, and I had to push all over again.
‘I just burst out in tears at that moment. It was like my body wanted to push but my heart wanted to keep him inside of me.
‘Getting to hold him after he was out was such an amazing feeling. It really helped us all to be able to see him and hold him. I just wanted to soak in those moments with Aksel and embrace him forever.’
The mother says she had ‘never experienced that amount of different emotions at one time. I thought I was going to explode.’
And she adds that she’s ‘never regret’ having those photographs taken, saying: ‘It is something for us to hold onto forever.’
Sarah says that despite knowing her baby would be stillborn, she wanted to capture the memory of her brief time with him
Pushing baby Aksel out was the hardest part for Sarah, who’s seen above during the final stages of labour
‘I wanted to embrace him forever’: Sarah and Tim spent time with their deceased son in the moments after his birth, even dressing him in baby clothes
‘Our whole family saw Aksel and said goodbye. Letting go was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to go through.
The couple’s three-year-old son, Arthur, also joined the family to say goodbye.
‘We had talked about him having a little baby brother for so long, so we needed him to see Aksel.
‘I said “here is your brother”. Arthur looked for a moment and then turned to me and said: “but he’s not talking mummy. Why is he sleeping?'”
‘He still has that pure childhood innocence that meant he couldn’t fully understand the gravity of the situation. Aksel will be in our hearts forever.’
Doctors had become extremely concerned about the development of Aksel’s brain at Sarah’s 20-week scan, and after a series of tests she went for an MRI scan at 31 weeks pregnant.
Sarah Jade during labour with husband Tim by her side: she said she was desperate to keep her little boy in her heart
A 20-week scan had alerted the family that there was a serious problem with the development of her baby’s brain
‘Before I had Aksel I was just happy with just having one child. But now I feel so incomplete’
Her worst fears were confirmed when her son was diagnosed with a brain abnormality called Polymicrogyria, which was so severe he would not have been able to survive or have any quality of life outside the womb.
Tragically, at 33 weeks Aksel’s heart stopped beating and Sarah went into labour before giving birth to her stillborn son early the following morning.
Lacey returned for a second solemn post mortem photoshoot with Sarah and Aksel the following day, before he was laid to rest nearly four weeks later.
We were heartbroken. It was absolutely devastating. It was so hard to have this dream of another child be completely ripped out from underneath you…
Sarah wanted Aksel’s birth to be special and said she is thankful she has the photographs to honour the precious moments with her son.
She said: ‘I hadn’t felt quite right the entire pregnancy – it was a bit like mother’s intuition telling me that something was wrong.’
At the 20-week scan, doctors began noticing something was very wrong with Aksel’s brain. And after an MRI scan at 31 weeks, medics told the couple that their baby would not be able to survive outside the womb.
She says: ‘We were heartbroken. It was absolutely devastating. It was so hard to have this dream of another child be completely ripped out from underneath you.
‘The hardest thing is not knowing why this happened to us. Why we had to go through this nightmare. Before I had Aksel I was just happy with just having one child. But now I feel so incomplete.
‘We are just taking it one day at a time and trying to move forward.’
Support: The family say sharing their photographs on social media has seen people who’ve been through a similar experience get in touch
Sarah says she didn’t want a faint memory of her son and that the photographs offer a way to keep her image of him alive
The couple also showed their three-year-old son Arthur his little brother
Photographer Lacey says she felt honoured to take part in the shoot, which ‘validated’ birth stories like this one
The day after the little boy was stillborn, his parents dressed him in his own clothes for the post-mortem, which photographer Lacey also captured on film
Photographer Lacey, who is also based in Melbourne, said: ‘There are so many hidden stories of pregnancy loss and there are so many women that have never been validated.
‘So by sharing stories and photographs like this, we’re uniting everyone in that validation.
Lacey says the story has prompted an outpouring of support: ‘I’ve had so many messages and comments from women who have lost their babies, and there is just so much solidarity.’
‘I think back to all the friends and family that I’ve lost over the course of my life, and while you know what they look like, you don’t have a very vivid picture in your mind but a faint recollection of what that person was like.
‘But to have a photograph of them you’re getting a hard copy replica of what they looked like.’