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Let's Talk | The legacy of Ottie John Dullard

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Legacy: Amy Wheeler and Nick Dullard tragically lost their son, Ottie John Dullard, to sudden infant death syndrome. Photo by Megan Fisher

When Amy Wheeler and her partner, Nick Dullard, took their son, Ottie John Dullard, home from the hospital, they never imagined they would spend only four precious months together.

On December 27, 2020, Ottie lost his life to sudden infant death syndrome.

A little brother to Annabelle, barely older than two at the time, Ottie is described by Amy as a beautiful little boy — the final piece of the puzzle to the Dullard-Wheeler family.

“He completed our family, he really was just perfect,” she said.

Living with only the memory of Ottie has been a heartache Amy would wish on no mother.

Family: Amy Wheeler and Nick Dullard with Ottie and Annabelle.

In almost 17 months, Amy said she had had to learn and experience many things — how to navigate a life now grieving what could have been, the pain of missing her son and battling with feelings of guilt and joy as she comes into her 38th week of pregnancy.

“I found that since being pregnant, people will just make the assumption that we only have two children, but I say ‘I’ve actually got three, he’s in heaven’,” she said.

“And then it's like the conversation just stops and moves on, and it's — you can ask about some more information. People don’t know how to deal with it so they just choose not to, and I probably was the same before it happened to me.

“We will explain to this baby when it's old enough, that you have a sibling in heaven and we will take this baby to the cemetery — all things I thought I’d never do, but here we are.

“We can't just ignore it so why should everybody else? Because it happens a lot, it’s a lot more common than you’d ever like to think.

“I wish I was one of those people that didn't get it, I wish that I didn't understand how bad this was — I truly wish I was — but that's not life now and for me, I feel like it needs to change — people need to be more open talking about it.”

In the past 17 months, Amy at times felt as though time was standing still.

For others, their lives went on, but for her and her family, they were feeling the loss every day.

She said one of her biggest teachings was that grief had no timeline.

“Lots of people think that a year has passed, like, ‘get on with it’, but you can't just get on with it — that's not how life works,” she said.

“I think it's different when a child dies, because you don't expect it — it's the wrong order.

Memory: “If I don’t talk about Ottie, that’s where it ends, so he has to be spoken about so that his memory does live on.“ Photo by Megan Fisher

“There's always things that come up, he would’ve been this old or I might be at the shops and I see somebody Annabelle's age and they've got a little brother.

“It’s things like that and people just don’t understand, they just think, you know, ‘it’s been a year, pull yourself together’, but I'm grieving for all the things that I don't get to see him do — I didn’t get to see him try his favourite food, I didn’t get to see him walk or roll over once.”

Following Ottie’s passing, Amy said they left the hospital given a booklet of information and resources and an appointment with a support worker for later in the week, which would eventually lead to regular sessions with a grief counsellor.

She was taken aback with the scarcity of supportive resources — specifically support groups.

“I don't know if it's because we're regional but there is a lack of anything to do with baby loss, child loss or any sort of loss, really,” she said.

“We’re not a small regional town, we’re actually fairly large. We've got lots of other support services, like a lactation clinic, you know, all of these things, but we don't have any support for people that probably really need it.

Opening the conversation: Through advocating and raising awareness Amy hopes to support others. Photo by Megan Fisher

“There's no support groups, there's nothing. They're useful because you can talk to people and you can just be honest — the only people that get it are other people that have lost children, have suffered multiple miscarriages or have given birth to a stillborn baby — they get it.”

From a pamphlet the hospital had provided, Amy found Bears of Hope.

The pregnancy and infant loss support service provides counselling, but also gives bereaved mothers the chance to connect with one another.

Each bear purchased is donated in memory of another baby, delivered with the name of the mother and their child they’re honouring.

In a time of need, Amy received her bear, but also gained an understanding ear to listen, to cry with and to support.

With that spark of connection, she endeavoured to raise funds to distribute Ottie bears to other mothers to continue the cycle of support.

She hoped to raise enough for eight bears, but with unexpected community support, Amy and Nick raised $26,000.

The proceeds went towards a cuddle cot at Owen Mohan Funeral Directors for parents to spend more time with their child after their passing, $8000 to the Bears of Hope services and 250 Ottie bears were given for his legacy to continue.

This year Amy also hosted a Bears of Hope Mother’s Day fundraising event for women who had experienced child or infant loss and those wanting to show support.

“Although it breaks my heart every time someone receives one, because it means they’ve lost a child, it is nice to read when they reach out — that it does give them hope,” she said.

From feeling isolated, Amy said she found solace in a place many in grief were warned to stay away from — the internet.

In creating a Facebook page in honour of Ottie, The Legacy of Ottie John Dullard, Amy shares her family’s journey and speaks out about the waves that come with grief, but also tries to show people that it’s okay — it’s encouraged — to open the conversation.

“If you know somebody that's lost a child or had a miscarriage or had a stillborn baby, anything like that, just talk to the person about it, ask them questions,” she said.

“All they want to do is talk so that the memory lives on; if I don’t talk about Ottie, that’s where it ends, so he has to be spoken about so that his memory does live on.

“Lots of people say time heals, but I don't think time heals — I think you just learn to live with it.

“The grief doesn't get smaller, it's exactly the same size but you grow around it and you learn how to walk every day holding that grief.”

If you or someone you know needs support, please contact:

Sands Australia — 1300 308 307

Bears of Hope — 1300 11 HOPE

Beyond Blue — 1300 224 636

∎ Caitlyn Grant and Megan Fisher are opening the conversation with their new weekly column, Let’s Talk. Covering all things from mental health to successful business stories, we want to hear from you. If you or someone you know has a story, contact caitlyn.grant@mmg.com.au or megan.fisher@sheppnews.com.au