Where did you grow up?
I was born at Mount Eliza on the Mornington Peninsula. We lived between there and Brighton until I was about 12 before moving to Adelaide. My mum came from a station near Tarlee and met Dad when she moved to Melbourne as a nurse in the 1970s.
I went back to Melbourne and studied Arts-Law, but it wasn’t for me. So, I decided to go into food which I’d always adored. My dream was to go to Ballymaloe in Ireland – it’s a world-famous cookery school based on an organic farm. I saved up and did the professional course there the year I turned 21. It was an incredible experience. All we did was cook and eat, and eat and cook! You had to learn to do every single skill by hand and from scratch; meringues, sauces, bread and pastry. We also learnt to butcher whole animals and fillet all kinds of fish. Something which has come in very handy as I’m married to an aspiring fisherman!
Afterwards I worked as a private chef and nanny for a Lord and Lady in Gloucestershire, England. They were good friends with Prince Charles and rode the hunt with Prince William – whose old horse was lent to me to ride while I was there. I was in charge of cooking dinner parties on the weekends and wrangling children, dogs and horses during the week. It was an amazing experience, a bird’s eye view into a completely different world. During the week, Lady Mancroft (Emma), and I would have dinner together, watch TV and eat junk food on the sofa, but when Lord Mancroft (Beano) came home from London, I was banished, I would hang out alone and eat with the children.
There were all these rules for interaction which changed depending on the circumstances. If they had friends over for a casual kitchen supper, I could sit with them, but if they had guests in the dining room, I was relegated to kitchen duties only.
The children were gorgeous – Lady Georgianna, Lord Arthur and The Honourable Maximilian. They were just lovely, hilarious children and quite naughty at times! Arthur used to climb out of the third floor window. It was a fabulous experience, a lot like a Jilly Cooper novel, I met many interesting characters! When I came home, I started my catering company Food by Annabel, and did that on and off until I had my first baby.
Where did you get your love of food from?
An Irish grandmother, who was a devoted CWA cook – she loved cooking and loved feeding people. When organising meals for the shearers on her station she was always quoted as saying ‘is there enough meat for the men?’ My parents were big entertainers – growing up there were lots of dinner parties. Throughout school, I was always the one bringing in brownies or cupcakes, but I never saw it as a career. Walford was very academic, which is fabulous, but the career pathways were also very academic. I did one subject, (Food and Hospitality) at Concordia, because they didn’t offer it at all – they now have the most incredible food tech facility, but back then, none of that was available. I love food, I could talk about it all day and love researching new recipes and trying new restaurants – my business is now focused on food styling, photography and recipe-writing. We are so lucky here in South Australia to have so many amazing food producers and places to eat. I can never understand people who say they forgot to eat – I’m always dreaming of what my next meal will be!
Your food business led to meeting your husband?
I met Josh when I decided to renovate my kitchen. I was restarting my catering business, newly divorced and in need of a builder. The boys were two and four, so I wanted to go back to catering from home, but my kitchen wasn’t going to stand up to it. So, I met this really gorgeous builder at a party whose usual projects involved stunning architectural renovations, so I didn’t think he’d do my modest kitchen reno. Mutual friends told me to call him and out of kindness he came and had a look. We started chatting about the design over the phone and I said to my friend, “My builder is so helpful, he’s calling with all these design ideas. He suggested we go for dinner to celebrate the build.” She said, “My builder won’t even return my calls.” We started dating and about 15 months later we were engaged.
Together, we’ve had three babies, Bonnie, who’s four, Miles who was stillborn, and now Tom who's eight months. From my first marriage, I have Alfie – he’s about to turn 11 – and Teddy who is nine. I love being a mum. I have a really noisy, busy, fun household.
It’s fascinating to see their personalities develop; they’re all so different. Alfie is very helpful, logical and thoughtful. He’s becoming a great cook which I’m very proud of. Ted is quick-witted and full of confidence, perhaps he’ll end up a QC. He can argue his way out of everything. Bonnie is a tomboy in tutus. She loves glitter and jewellery, but wants to play football, she’s very rough and tumble and adores her big brothers. Tom is the unicorn baby along for the ride, he is always smiling and happy. He’s super easy-going and low-maintenance – thank goodness! I love the funny stories that come out of motherhood, kids have no filter which can be hilarious. It really does go by so fast and its only when you stop and look back that you see how much they’re growing and developing.
"I love food, I could talk about it all day"
Tell us about Miles.
Josh and I were over the moon when we fell pregnant with Miles. It wasn’t a pregnancy we went into with rose-coloured glasses. We had a very high-risk pregnancy with Bonnie. She spent a month in the NICU at Ashford after she was delivered early due to a condition called in-uterine growth restriction, where your placenta stops working and the baby stops growing.
Miles was growing well but at a routine morphology scan the sonographer saw that something was seriously wrong with his brain, this came as a complete shock as all of the early scans and screening tests had shown a perfectly healthy baby.
We had further scans, an amniocentesis and an MRI at the Women’s and Children’s, which picked up a blood clot in the centre of his brain. Essentially, like an aneurism in-utero, which had caused a brain haemorrhage and the ventricles of the brain to fill with spinal fluid. Because his condition was so severe, various specialists at the Women’s and Children’s hospital talked us through what this life-limiting diagnosis was likely to entail. They understood that we were in a heartbreaking position no parent ever wants to be faced with. Many parents understandably feel uncomfortable telling people that they made the painful decision to medically interrupt a pregnancy because they’re scared of judgement. It’s the last taboo within the taboo of baby loss. They’re scared people will underestimate how difficult the decision was or just how life limiting, or potentially fatal their baby’s diagnosis was. The choice is sometimes: carry the baby to term and the baby will pass away at birth or in infancy – or elect to medically interrupt the pregnancy. In some cases, there is actually very little choice given the severity of the baby’s diagnosis.
Did you ever feel a pressure to tell people you’d had a miscarriage?
It did occur to me to tell people that but ultimately, I thought by not telling the truth, I was joining the chorus of silence. Miles is considered a stillborn, (this is the term given to all babies delivered without a heartbeat after 20 weeks) so in many ways it would have been easy just to leave it at that and not say any more. I didn’t feel guilty about our situation, it was an agonising scenario, but we knew it was the best thing for our baby, we endured the pain of losing him to spare him from pain and suffering. When I’d sat with my GP, she’d said, “Whatever you do for your baby is the best thing for your baby.” I felt like we’d made the best choice for Miles and I felt no shame in saying we chose to interrupt the pregnancy because I likened it to a person you love being on life support and having to turn off the switch. When you’re pregnant with a baby who has a blood clot in its brain, you are the life support. I can’t imagine the added trauma of going through this without feeling you can openly share your experience, remaining silent robs women of the support and compassion they desperately need. Silence often goes hand in hand with shame and that’s the last thing you need when grieving the loss of a much-wanted baby.
We were delivered by midwives at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and they were divine – true angels. They were gentle and kind. They knew I didn’t want to be there, and they were very respectful of our privacy. We were in hospital for about 24 hours, I delivered Miles fairly quickly – about seven hours in labour.
You still had to go into labour?
Yes, which is something a lot of people don’t know. Until it happened to us, my husband thought I’d be given a caesarean or a procedure. It is exactly the same as any normal labour and delivery, but you know that you’re delivering a child you won’t be taking home. So, it’s a very intense physical and emotional experience.
I said to my husband, we need to name the baby before he’s born because I didn’t want to sit in the hospital with an unnamed child. We didn’t know he was a boy until the night before we went into hospital.
I knew about Heartfelt, an incredible charity who come in to photograph stillborn babies and babies of families who are in palliative care. I went through my older boys’ blankets and picked out my favourites. I knew I had a very limited amount of time to make memories and I didn’t want to regret what I did. I felt there was going to be enough emotional angst afterwards. If I’d named him, had photographs taken and had him in the boys’ blankets, I’d feel I’d done the most I could to give him his place in the family. After going through natural labour, I then had to have surgery because of a complication with the placenta. We got to stay a little longer than anticipated, which gave me more time with Miles.
Your recovery is like any other pregnancy, you just don’t have a baby. You literally walk out of hospital, through the labour ward, past other families with their babies, their visitors, their flowers, with completely empty arms. That’s what absolutely shocked me. You walk out of the hospital into sunshine, trees, birds, cars and you just think, how is the world still turning, because your world has completely stopped.
Did you get to hold Miles?
I held him quite a lot. For me, I knew I had to build a lifetime of memories in this short time and as hard as it may be to imagine holding your lifeless baby – something you wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy – I felt we owed it to him because once we left, that was it. There are no second chances, you never get to see or hold your child again. I would have felt really guilty had I not tried to make those memories.
We had a few weeks from the initial scan through to final diagnosis and delivery, that gave me a chance to think about how I wanted to say goodbye to him in hospital if there was no improvement in his condition.
Miles was born on December 29, 2018. The first scan, which showed the bad news was on my birthday, December 11, and then we had continuous scans up until the end of the month, also navigating our way through Christmas and Josh’s birthday.
Lockdown at home with the kids.
Lockdown at home with the kids.
What was Christmas like that year?
It was almost like I was floating above, watching everybody get on with their life. I was so detached with everyone and everything. I cancelled all social engagements; we didn’t see anyone. I threw all my energy – which was very limited because I was so distressed – into my older kids. I got all the Santa sacks packed, did the shopping for Christmas, I wrapped everything, just so if the worst happened before Christmas, we were ready.
I went to Christmas with my family and said, “I will talk about the baby and what’s happening after Christmas, but if you want me to come to Christmas and sit down, I can’t talk about it today." I was in survival mode and somehow still managed to cook an excellent turkey!
I had the three older children at home on school holidays. I took them to the movies and just sat in the cinema and cried. I avoided everyone, because I couldn’t bear running into people who were quite naturally cooing over my belly.
I love Christmas and birthdays, and I think, thankfully, because we try to celebrate Miles, his birthday fits in. For his first birthday and anniversary we had a cake for him and gnocchi Bolognese, which was my favourite dish when I was pregnant with him. We made it happy and something to celebrate.
How did friends and family react?
People were so upset for us but there were also some people who didn’t know what to say. People are worried that if they mention the baby, it will upset you or remind you, but the reality is that you don’t ever not think about it. The greatest fear for any loss parent is that others will forget their baby or that it’ll be as if it never happened, so I found it really helpful to talk about Miles.
I found a lot of comfort in talking to other mothers on Instagram. I found a really supportive network of women who had been through similar things and I guess it’s uninhibited because you know the other person’s been there, so whatever you say won’t shock them.
Going back to school, back to work and interacting with people is really exhausting when you're grieving.
It’s almost like walking around with your heart open. Every time you run into someone, they might say something and that’s really lovely, or they say nothing, and that can be really hard. You think, they know I had a baby, why didn’t they mention the baby?
Why did you write Miles Apart?
I wanted other women to know that they aren’t alone, that their grief is valid, and their feelings are completely natural. If you’ve got no one to turn to, or you don’t know anyone who’s been through baby loss before, then perhaps reading the stories of other mothers and hearing how they navigated their way out of the deepest part of their grief might give them some hope. The book can also be read by a friend or family members to give them an insight into what it feels like. Everyone grieves differently but there is a lot of comfort in hearing about how others have survived similar heartache.
The book began as my own journal to document what I was going through. Then I began writing about the main themes of grief which seemed to universally affect women after the loss of a baby – the fatigue, the loneliness, the guilt, the anger. I interviewed other loss mothers as it was hugely important to me that the book resonated with as many people as possible. I’ve included stories of IVF, miscarriage, and infant loss and a collection of father’s perspectives.
I wanted to publish a heartfelt survival guide so that when people left their doctor or hospital, they had a resource to turn to written from one mother to another. There are few books which talk about things like coping with friends’ newborns and pregnancy announcements or the fear of returning to work after loss, but they are tiny examples of the many challenges you may face after baby loss. I have started the Miles Apart Foundation to distribute donated books to parents leaving hospital.
How important is it to talk about it?
If more people talk about it and are made aware of the huge impact baby loss at any stage of pregnancy has then hopefully those who endure it will feel better supported. If the conversation becomes more mainstream, and easier to raise, baby loss won’t remain shrouded in secrecy and silence. If people feel confident to say, “I’m really sorry” or “we’re thinking of you” rather than falling back on platitudes which begin with “at least”– it’d be a great step forward. There’s no at least or silver lining which will give comfort to a bereaved mother even though these sentiments are often given with the best of intentions! It’s a grief which is very different to the loss of someone who’s lived a full life. You don’t have memories and photographs and anecdotes you can share and bond over. This can make it hard for others to know what to do but so many mothers I spoke to loved being given the opportunity to talk about their baby.
What would you say to someone who knows someone going through something similar?
If someone’s lost a baby and they’ve never mentioned it or never said the baby’s name, then maybe that’s the cue that they wish to remain private but a text just asking how they’re going may be a gentle way to show that they’re in your thoughts. If someone has made a birth announcement, or they talk about their baby, that is an invitation to join the conversation and help them celebrate and remember their baby. It means a lot when people ask how you’re going and mention your baby’s name. A meal or some groceries left on the doorstep with no expectation of a visit is a beautiful gesture during the tough early weeks.
I felt that Miles’ life was tragically never able to begin, and because of that, I wanted to give his little soul some purpose and I thought, if he can’t be here and be part of our family going forward, then it would be lovely for him to have a legacy that helps other people.
It also was important for me to write our story out because it really helped process the trauma and grief. As this softened it became more about helping others and letting them know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s also wanted to show it’s not all doom and gloom, tears and sadness, there’s also a lot of love.
Not long after, Tom was on the way?
Miles was born at the end of 2018, and I then fell pregnant with Tom in April of 2019. I was desperate to have another baby and it wasn’t to replace Miles in any way, I just felt I couldn’t end my motherhood experience in such a sad and devastating way. I had my heart set on having four living children. Especially with the boys being from my first marriage and Bonnie being with Josh. When the boys go to their dad’s, she misses them terribly. I knew she needed a permanent, full time sibling, some children love one-on-one time, but Bonnie loves having her brothers to boss around.
We were very lucky to fall pregnant quickly with Tom and he was delivered 10 days before Miles’ first anniversary.
I found it hard to manage other people's excitement when I didn’t feel excited. I was so happy and grateful to be pregnant, but until I held a living, breathing baby in my arms, I didn’t actually believe he was going to be okay.
It’s a complex situation as I know if we had Miles, we wouldn’t have Tom, we would have had four children and been done. We couldn’t have had them both, so I almost think of them as being joined in some way. Thomas means twin which I didn’t know until after we chose it and I think it’s rather fitting.
But I’m so grateful to have had Tom. He has certainly helped my heart heal in many ways and I realise more than ever what an absolute joy and miracle babies are.
If you have experienced pregnancy or baby loss and need support, contact SIDS & Kids SA.
My South Australian Life is a first-person series, published each Sunday. Read our previous profiles here.