Steve and Bonnie Carter have been through heartbreak. Now they are helping others

Steve and Bonnie Carter have experienced miscarriages. Now the couple is raising money for charities which help people in their plight. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Steve and Bonnie Carter have experienced miscarriages. Now the couple is raising money for charities which help people in their plight. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Grace and Matilda are with their parents in spirit every living moment.

Steve and Bonnie Carter see their two daughters who died in the womb all around them as they go about their daily lives.

Steve took a picture of a sunset and two small sparkles of light shine in the image. Mr and Mrs Carter think the two gleams are the spirits of the daughters they lost.

"If the lights flicker in the house, we say 'Grace. Tilly. Don't be naughty'," Bonnie says.

"I feel their spirit every day. They are around. They will forever be our firstborn. They will forever be part of our family."

She has just been given an award by Lifeline, the organisation which helps people in the most severe distress.

Lifeline's citation said: "Only an extraordinary person could respond with kindness and generosity after such heartbreak."

In 2016, Bonnie became pregnant. They named the as-yet unborn daughter Grace, but Grace had a heart defect and died after 19 weeks, before emerging into the world.

In 2017, Matilda was conceived and everything seemed to be going well until a routine visit to a midwife. Tests were done and it turned out that Matilda, too, had died.

The grief was intense, because Matilda had seemed healthy in the womb.

"With both Grace and Matilda, I had a natural birth," Bonnie says.

"It was awful but a most beautiful experience of giving birth to our daughters. They were still our daughters."

She and her husband have nothing but praise for the hospital and its staff.

"They were second to none. They met the girls. They held the girls. They put me in a special room and the girls were with me."

Since then she has lost two more pregnancies through miscarriage.

Even though our daughters aren't here, we still want to honour them to keep their spirit alive.

Bonnie Carter

Mr and Mrs Carter talk about Grace and Matilda in the present tense, as though they are physically there.

Apart from remembering them in their daily lives, they have also devoted themselves to helping couples in similar situations.

They have, for example, raised money and, with the help of others, improved the room in the Canberra Hospital where bereaved mothers go to grieve.

They felt that the Fetal Medicine Unit Bereavement Suite needed cheering up, so they have ensured it has bright colours and comfortable homely furnishing.

They have campaigned, addressing last year's Senate inquiry into stillbirth research and education. The subsequent report saw the government commit funding to reducing stillbirth levels in Australia for the first time.

They have also created a street library outside their home in memory of the girls. Reading would have been important to them, their mother feels.

Steve and Bonnie Carter. Behind them is the street library in memory of Matilda and Grace. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Steve and Bonnie Carter. Behind them is the street library in memory of Matilda and Grace. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

"I used to read to the girls," Bonnie says. "I hoped they would hear from my belly."

"Even though our daughters aren't here, we still want to honour them to keep their spirit alive."

"We can't take them to sports", Steve says. "So we do proactive things to help others. Perhaps it's a parental defence mechanism."

None of this undoes the pain of parting with daughters before they've even been born.

The couple think of their ways of dealing with the children they nearly had like a rainbow - beautiful, but it doesn't undo the storm before.

We have been through hell and it's thanks to the girls that we have this resilience.

Bonnie Carter

The two of them have also done a lot of thinking about the way others deal with friends who have lost children in stillbirth.

"It was just the most obvious thing: the deafening silence," Bonnie says, referring to the uneasy way some colleagues and friends reacted after she had lost her daughters.

People didn't know what to say, she says. "I expected people to console me and be there for me."

She now urges people to be open with people who have lost children as she did. There is no stigma. Do not be silent.

"We had friends who didn't talk to us. They feared that 'pushing their own children in our face' would hurt us, but that is not the case," she says.

Others rallied around. They made new friends.

And striving for children - more children - has not ended. They will adopt if it doesn't happen naturally.

"We have been through hell and it's thanks to the girls that we have this resilience," Bonnie says.

"We will never give up."

The Canberra Times