It’s been 25 years since Australians first donned bright red noses to raise money for research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But while SIDS deaths have plummeted our support is needed more than ever. EMMA SWAIN reports.
There are photographs then there are photographs. And usually it’s a heartbreaking tragedy that sets them apart.
The framed images on the wall of this particular building in a bustling Hamilton street feature many a little face.
Lilliana Jane Ryan 6.9.07- 22.12.07 - Always Loved, Always Remembered, Beautiful Jye Hughes 4.3.99-16.8.00, Bradley John Hallinan 4.8.81-16.11.81 Lovingly Remembered and Hamish William Middleton 12.8.00-23.10.00.
Impish girls with messy pigtails, cherry-cheeked babes with chubby hands and little freckle-faced boys clad in denim.
But one by one their days ended.
Car accidents, drownings, infant death and disease taking their lives away.
And in 1986 baby James Rochow was one of them. He was just over 10 weeks old and in the April of that year he went to sleep and didn’t wake up.
“The photo on this wall was taken a couple of nights before we lost him. He was a perfectly healthy baby,” James’ mother, Annie Rochow, said.
“We put James to bed and I remember in the morning thinking how well he had slept through the night, and I was quite happy about that, but then we lost him.”
That was 26 years ago and Annie was 27.
“After James died I went to a SIDS support group and it was really confronting . . . I must say,” Annie said. “My mum came with me and here was this group of women with their subsequent babies and I just wanted to leave.
“I went to go but one of the other new mums came up and encouraged me to stay and it helped me realise that I could get on top of it. I think seeing people that were further down the track than I was really encouraging.”
Today the former Maitland woman is one of the faces and voices of the SIDS and Kids Hunter Region.
“I see mothers walk in here and I recognise the look,” Annie said. “And it’s really sad because you know where they are at. But it’s lovely seeing them go from that complete
devastation to seeing them smile and be happy again.
“To bring them back to normalcy, I guess, is our function here. To make them realise that life will go on, it will get better, because in the beginning they can’t see beyond the pain.”
Two years after James’ death, the Hunter embraced the-then controversial Red Nose Day.
“I remember people saying how awful it was to have a fundraiser that was based on humour considering what these families were going through,” Annie said. “But the Hunter CEO at the time (Clara Foster) went ahead with it anyway because she was prepared to do whatever it took to raise the money.
And that first year we sold out of noses by 11am. Soon after everyone got on board.”
In the past 25 years Annie has watched SIDS rates plummet across the country and has seen the role of SIDS and Kids change to become a support service not only for those who have lost a baby to SIDS but also those grieving the loss of a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal deaths, sudden onset illness and accidents.
Each year more than 3500 families still experience the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or child from a range of causes including sleeping accidents, drowning, motor vehicle accidents, sudden onset illness, stillbirth and SIDS.
“I’ve been with this organisation right from the word go and at the time I don’t think we realised how effective it was going to be,” Annie said. “And because I got so much out of the organisation I wanted to give a lot back so to come here and help the new mums and dads through this is a privilege really.”
As part of their service, SIDS and Kids Hunter Region also offers to make casts of the feet and hands of babies who have died.
“I’ve got very few memories of James except for photos but now we do the foot and hand casts and that’s something for the parents to have and it’s a tactile thing,” Annie said. “And we find that the families keep bringing them back to be repainted because they touch them so much they wear the gold off them. And that’s why we still need funds, so we can keep doing this sort of thing.
“We go above and beyond for our families and that’s the sort of thing I love about SIDS and Kids. And because we are all mothers it’s not hard for us to do that.
“I know it sounds trite but time is a great healer and you don’t feel this way forever. When it first happens it’s like all of a sudden you understand what the term gut wrenching means because it’s like someone has ripped your guts out, but you don’t feel like that forever.
“You will laugh again.”
■ The 25th anniversary of Red Nose Day will be celebrated throughout the month of June.