When Maryam Habibullah, Safewill’s Head of Product and Design, and her partner lost their infant son Kai, their grief hit them hard. His passing has taught her a lot about how to support people who are navigating loss. Here, she shares her experience and advice.
Warning: This piece discusses infant loss and miscarriage and could be triggering for some people.
Maryam Habibullah and her partner Allison’s baby was almost four years in the making. As a same-sex couple, getting pregnant was an involved and intentional process. They had to go through IVF, spending a lot of time, money and resources on finding a donor and conceiving. So when they saw a positive on their pregnancy test, they were thrilled.
Statistics show that an estimated one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, with most spontaneous miscarriages occurring within the first 12 weeks. Knowing this, Maryam and Allison remained vigilant during their first trimester. “You think miscarriage could happen,” Maryam says. “We were very cautious that we weren’t going to get too excited until after a certain period,” she says. “We got to that period and we were really excited and happy.”
Then in April 2022, just three weeks after their baby shower, their son Kai Omar Mahlberg – named after Maryam’s late brother – was stillborn. “That possibility had not even registered to me,” Maryam says. “The grief hit us really hard. I don’t think people realise how difficult it is, especially at home. His room is all set up but we just can’t go in there. We had two friends who were pregnant at the same time. They had their babies and they were perfectly fine. It seems really unfair and cruel that our son wasn’t.”
The daily realities of living with grief
Navigating and talking about their loss has been difficult in a society that tends to shy away from discussing death, particularly child loss. “It is one of those subjects no one really wants to talk about,” Maryam says. For Maryam and Allison though, the pain of losing Kai is the reality they feel and deal with every day. It’s not just the two of them who are hurting, either. The loss has had a ripple effect across the couple’s support network. “My mother-in-law gets upset. It was going to be her first grandchild. It affects my partner’s family and my family,” says Maryam.
Maryam’s advice for supporting those who are grieving, whether it’s due to infant loss or any other kind of loss, is to understand that everyone has their own way of dealing with death. “It affects people in different ways. Some people want to talk about it and some don’t,” she says. “The way I grieve and the way my partner grieves is totally opposite. She cries a lot; I don’t cry. I have Kai’s picture on my table, but she can’t look at it. We do it differently.”
Normalising death and grief
When it comes to what to say to someone who is grieving, Maryam believes in honest and direct conversations and acknowledgement rather than avoidance. “I’d definitely tell the grieving person that you’re there and happy to talk to them about it,” she says. “If they do want to discuss it, tell them you’ll support them, bring it up and make it feel normal.” That said, it’s important to respect boundaries and follow their lead. “Some people are really private and don’t want to talk about it, or it makes them cry at times when they don’t want to,” Maryam says. “It just depends on the person.”
For child loss specifically, Maryam advocates for seeking professional help through established support networks, including the counselling services available through organisations like Red Nose Australia. “They set up free online and in-person counselling,” she says. “It’s definitely something I’d recommend, and not just for the people who lose a child. If your friend or family member experiences infant loss, it affects you too, so you should definitely talk about it.”
She also believes in normalising the conversation about death with children in an age-appropriate way. They might even surprise you with their reactions. Maryam’s six-year-old niece was confused about what had happened to her cousin. With her sister’s blessing, Maryam explained stillbirth and death to her niece, who asked if Maryam would also die one day. When Maryam said she would eventually, her niece politely asked: “Can I have your Cartier watch then? Because it’s really nice.” (Maryam has since gifted it to her in her Will.)
“It all starts with education, especially from that age,” says Maryam.
Death does happen, and planning for it is important
Along with the sudden passing of her brother Omar in 2020, this experience has highlighted the importance of planning for loss, especially as it’s often unexpected. “It’s not an easy process for some people,” Maryam says. “It does take time and some people avoid it, but I feel like that’s what Safewill is trying to do – make it really easy. I’d encourage everyone to take a look and even just start the process if they can.”
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