Couple devastated after son's stillbirth
NATALIJA Clifford begged her son to wake up; to take a breath.
"I just remember screaming and crying and begging Phoenix again to wake up," she said
Mrs Clifford thought childbirth would be the most painful thing she would go through but now she knows something more painful.
Phoenix Rain Clifford was born purple and lifeless.
"He was so still," Mrs Clifford said.
After 50 minutes of active labour, Phoenix was born at 12.57am on June 25 but he didn't survive.
"I remember talking to Phoenix and saying 'baby open your eyes, mummy needs to feed you and you will be okay'," Mrs Clifford said.
Now almost 12 weeks on, Mrs Clifford and her husband Jason are openly talking about stillbirth and are organising an event to raise awareness and funds for Stillbirth Foundation Australia.
"I honestly thought that the labour was going to be the worst pain I would experience, but that I would get over it, just as we are all programmed to do, that's why we keep going back I suppose," Mrs Clifford said.
"I was so wrong, this heartache is so much more painful."
Mrs Clifford described her pregnancy as "textbook" but never thought stillbirth would affect her family.
"I read so many stories about stillbirth, but it never crossed my mind that I would have delivered my son still," she said.
"Even after a friend of ours lost her beautiful son after half way through her pregnancy, I honestly didn't think we would too."
Mr Clifford said he was confident too.
"You always worry that something might go wrong during the labour with both baby and mum, but with such a perfect pregnancy, I was confident that we were bringing Phoenix home to complete our family," he said.
Mr Clifford turned Phoenix's life support off at 12.30pm.
"Phoenix's heart kept beating for a little while longer. I know it wasn't really his heartbeat because he was given adrenaline to get his heart going, but it stopped beating at exactly 12.57pm," Mrs Clifford said.
"Our son was pronounced technically dead exactly 12 hours after he was stillborn."
The couple spent two and a half days with Phoenix.
"When it was time to hand him over so he could be sent to the morgue, I wasn't ready," Mrs Clifford said.
"I contemplated locking the door to our room thinking the staff wouldn't be able to break in.
"I thought about taking Phoenix and sneaking out of the hospital and running away with him. I just wanted to be with my son.
"It was my job to protect him and give him an amazing life and that was taken from us. Jason took him from me, said his goodbyes and handing him over to the social worker who helped us throughout our ordeal."
The couple watched as their son was walked down the hallway to the morgue.
"We both cried and fell to the ground screaming and holding each other tight. I'll never forget that moment and that pain," Mrs Clifford said.
Afterwards the mum admits she walked out of the hospital after wrapping one of Phoenix's teddy bears in his blue blanket and pretended it was her son.
"I just didn't want to be empty handed. Coming home was devastating," she said.
The Cliffords had to tell their other two children, Aliki, 10, and Amani, 3, that their brother wasn't coming home.
"Jason told them initially; I only added that Phoenix had to go to heaven to be with other angels," Mrs Clifford said.
"Aliki is old enough to understand but Amani is too young. After Phoenix's funeral, she keeps asking why other babies aren't in the ground in a special bed like her baby brother. It's so hard to explain to her."
The family has received support every day since their loss.
"It has been 11 weeks since Phoenix was born and we still haven't had one day to ourselves. Initially we had our families come from Victoria to be with us," Mrs Clifford said.
"We then went to Melbourne to have the funeral. Mackay is no longer going to be our forever home. It's just too hard to be here and drive around thinking 'what could've been'.
The family plans to go back to Victoria to be with family and closer to Phoenix. But all the support in the world can't take away the pain, Mrs Clifford said she feels like screaming.
"I'm struggling a lot - I'm so sick and tired of pretending I'm okay. I put on a facade that I am strong, but I really want to scream," she said.
"I'm so sad, depressed, tired and angry and I can't sleep, I lay awake for a long time, usually only getting a few hours a night. My mind just won't stop reliving that day."
Organising a fundraiser in their son's honour has kept the couple busy.
"But I'm worried about my mental health after everything goes quiet again," Mrs Clifford admitted.
The look of pity is something the Cliffords have come to hate, they said silence and a hug were more comforting than words and they want to think of their son being born not dying.
The grieving couple are coping with the rawness of their son's stillbirth by organising a fundraiser. All proceeds will be donated to Stillbirth Foundation Australia.
The event will be held on October 8 at Iluka Park, Town Beach, from 11am-3pm.
It will include a balloon release for 'angel babies', raffles, a sausage sizzle, children's activities, music and food.
Mrs Clifford said she wanted more research into stillbirth and awareness - it will be in loving memory of her son.
"We hope the fundraiser will raise enough funds to make a difference, even if it's just for one family," she said.
"More research is needed, more awareness too. The Australian Government does not fund research for stillbirths, this needs to change. Every life is important, no matter how small their footprints are."
The couple has set up a tribute page on Facebook called Remembering Phoenix Rain Clifford.
"We will share lots of our feeling and information on there as time goes on. Hopefully it will be a support page for other bereaved families down the track," Mrs Clifford said.
Anyone wishing to attend the fundraiser can RSVP on the page.
The Cliffords have also organised a donation page for Stillbirth Foundation Australia via Everyday Hero.