From the darkness and despair of one couple's devastating journey after the loss of their son and multiple miscarriages comes a new retreat to help other families grieving a child. Hayden and Sheree Ballinger's heartache began when the couple was trying to grow their family which they said involved more heartache than they had ever anticipated. The couple is launching the Forever Held Foundation this month which has its own retreat to support bereaved families, providing short-term accommodation at no cost. The launch has been timed to coincide with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month which is held annually in October. They said whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, medical termination, infant death, illness or accident, they understood the social, emotional and financial impact could be significant. "The Forever Held retreat is a safe, peaceful place where the busyness and distractions of life are far away. It has been designed to give space to be still and allow yourself the time to grieve the loss of your child," Mrs Ballinger said. Its name Forever Held symbolises that while parents may have only held their children for a short time they will hold them forever in their hearts. The Naringal couple live on a dairy farm with their five children and said their journey had taken them into the joys of parenthood as well as the depths of grief. They experienced the heartache of five miscarriages, their most recent in May 2018, when they lost their "beautiful baby boy" Jamin after 18 weeks of pregnancy. The devastating loss propelled them into a place of deep grief as they tried to come to terms with losing their precious son. It also brought back previous traumas from their earlier miscarriages as they each grieved in "vastly different ways", making it challenging to know how to connect and support each other. "It brought up so much trauma," Mrs Ballinger said. "Every part of Jamin's story captured another story of one of our other babies we had lost and we were revisiting it layer upon layer. "We grappled with how to process our grief in the middle of the everyday demands of life." Their journey led to a vision of providing the peaceful retreat to help parents grieve the loss of a child. It was while on her daily walk or run alongside their family's dairy farm that Mrs Ballinger came up with the idea for the new space. The Forever Held retreat is built in natural surrounds, offering grieving parents a place of refuge and rest. "That was just over four years ago and it seemed like an impossible dream. We had no idea how it would happen but we thought 'let's just take one step after another' to get to this point. "There's this tension when you experience loss, that your whole world is changed and in some ways it feels like time's stopped but life just keeps racing around you. "We wanted to create a space for people to come, slow down, be still, rest and grieve..." The fully-furnished cabin is suitable for couples and families with up to two children. The couple said within their circle of family and friends there were a number of people "journeying through loss at the same time". "We were seeing it all around us," Mr Ballinger said. "It wasn't just our own experience. There were so many people around us journeying through it. We have great empathy for others who have experienced the loss of a child." Mrs Ballinger said the different circumstances and various losses their loved ones experienced was another reason they wanted to support all families, regardless of the child's age. "Loss seemed to be everywhere," she said. "That's why Forever Held is for child loss from conception to the age of 18. Whatever the story is we wanted to be able to support parents who have gone through that experience." Mr Ballinger said the couple grieved differently and it could be difficult on relationships. "We are all aware of couples who have experienced loss and it's been really hard on them. I think to provide a space like this can provide couples with a space to be and reconnect," Mr Ballinger said. Mrs Ballinger said over the years and after experiencing multiple losses she tried a lot of strategies. "I tried to hide the grief," she said. "I tried to ignore it. I tried to suppress it and even compartmentalise my life, which I think you need to be able to do just to be able to cope in the moments following. "But it got to the point I needed to get comfortable sitting with that grief. No matter how raw and painful that was, because that was how I was going to heal, was to actually embrace it and feel it." She said as time passed she started to see that grief was intertwined with beauty and she could see "these glimpses of beauty in our story". "There's nothing beautiful about the loss itself, grief is really hard but there can be glimpses of light and beauty and after a while I started to see those. "We know there's no answers or quick fixes and that's not the intent of this space because losing a child, no matter what age, you carry that for the rest of your life." Mr Ballinger said despite the foundation being in its infancy they'd already received an overwhelming level of support and encouragement as people heard about it. "It's really nice to have that community support," he said. "People have only known about it for a week and we've had four or five enquiries." The Forever Held Foundation is overseen by a board of directors, including its founder Mrs Ballinger, and directors Jacinta Lenehan and Fiona Smith, who each have their own personal experience of pregnancy or infant loss that has influenced their decision to support south-west families in this way. Mrs Lenehan and husband Scott lost their baby boy Teddy at 16 weeks pregnancy. Mrs Lenehan said miscarriage was devastating regardless of when in the pregnancy it occurred and each grieving couple had their own story. The Warrnambool resident said each individual experience was as valid as anyone else's. "People say to me, because we lost Teddy at 16 weeks, 'we had a miscarriage too but it was only so many weeks'," Mrs Lenehan said. "I said 'it doesn't matter how many weeks you were, as soon as you find out you're pregnant you plan a whole life with your baby'. "Scott and I have been very open with our story because grief is normal and this is something that is happening to people all of the time. "Whether you talk about it or not you have to deal with it in some way. Somewhere like Forever Held will be able to provide that space for a couple to try and get through it and survive it because there's no alternative." Mr Ballinger said as a registered charity, Forever Held relied on donations and corporate partnerships. Donations of $2 and over are tax deductible. A $150 donation provides two nights' accommodation. To donate or for more information go to foreverheld.org.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org Now just one tap with our new app: Digital subscribers now have the convenience of faster news, right at your fingertips with The Standard: Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.