Paul and Fanoula Anastasopoulos were on seventh heaven while waiting for their second child to arrive, a sibling for little Ari, aged four.
Fanoula’s pregnancy was perfect, just as her previous pregnancy had been, and nothing could foretell of the tragedy which would follow when the couple visited their doctor for their regular 21-week check-up.
“I didn’t feel anything was wrong. Everything was fine until the doctor, following the ultrasound, told me that I needed to be admitted to hospital because I was showing signs of pre-term labour,” Ms Anastasopoulos told Neos Kosmos.
The couple had never before heard the term “incompetent cervix”, a condition which occurs when weak cervical tissue causes or contributes to premature birth. They had no other choice than to follow the directions of their doctors in order to deal with the situation.
“The plan was for me to have strict bed rest for the next four months, with no bathroom privileges. I did not care, at all.
“I just wanted the best for my unborn baby,” the young mother said.
Unfortunately, her water broke after two weeks, and labour could not be put off any longer.
On 29 April, little Luke entered the world earlier than planned, but alive.
Paul and Fanoula only got to hold him for an hour until he grew his wings and became an angel.
“He is the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, except for Ari. He was a fighter. He fought until his last breath,” the grieving mother said.
It was Holy Thursday and so the couple decided to name their child after Evangelist Luke.
The days which followed were particularly painful for the family. “Instead of decorating our child’s nursery, we prepared for a funeral. Ari couldn’t wait to become a big brother,” Ms Anastasopoulos remembered. “He came and saw Luke in hospital and wondered why the baby would not open his eyes.”
An “incompetent cervix” is a reason for miscarriage or preterm delivery and, according to statistics, occurs in one per cent of pregnancies.
“I was afraid that maybe I was to blame, because I worked too hard or generally, because I am a person that doesn’t rest. But my doctor assured me that the pregnancy was going marvellously, and the ultrasound which I had at 14 weeks was absolutely normal and there was no way for us to have foreseen it,” Ms Anastasopoulos said.
Having participated in support groups following the event, she noticed that many women suffered from the same problem, and has also, meanwhile, with the help of doctors, taken the necessary precautions to prevent the condition from repeating itself in a future pregnancy.
A “bear of hope”
There is no greater pain for a mother returning from a maternity ward with empty arms. Ms Anastasopoulos came home holding a bear offered to her by the Bears of Hope organisation which offers support to women traumatised by the loss of their baby. The bear was part of a care package to give the family some hope after such tragedy, and also included information, details of support groups, a poem and some seeds so that the family could plant a flower in memory of little Luke.
“For some, all this may seem inconsequential, but it helped me a lot,” she said. “In turn, I wanted to console another mother. That is why, after a few months, with the support of my husband, Paul, we announced through Facebook that we would be participating in the Melbourne Marathon to raise money for this goal. It is not just about the bear but for all the help and support and love it brings with it.”
The goal was to raise $10,000, but as of Friday morning the family had raised nearly $15,000, a pleasant surprise for Paul and Fanoula who choked with tears, overwhelmed by the support, as she looked at her phone.
“From the moment we put up the Facebook post, you cannot imagine what followed.
“Old friendships which I had not seen for years but also women I did not know sent messages saying ‘thanks for sharing your story because I went through the same thing. You helped me’,” Ms Anastasopoulos said.
Marathon of love
On Saturday, 11 December, Team Luke will run in honour of his memory to raise money for Bears of Hope.
“Through our grief we want to help others, and this, in turn, will help us to somehow heal,” Ms Anastasopoulos said. She will be running with her husband and three other people. “If I could help even one mother, that would be ideal for me.”
She said that the money raised could offer a lot to mothers such as herself. “I have sent all those that helped us a butterfly, which is the symbol of our little Luke. I don’t want my son to be forgotten,” she said.
One thing is certain, Little Luke won’t be forgotten. His brief sojourn in our world will always be tied with offerings of love thanks to the actions of his parents.
To support Team Luke Anastasopoulos, visit the Melbourne Marathon site.