Chrissie was an ambassador for Red Nose Day in 2010 - here she is with her mum.

Chrissie was an ambassador for Red Nose Day in 2010 - here she is with her mum.

My parents thought they had finished having their children in their 20s, just as all their friends had. So when, in her 30s, Mum discovered she was pregnant with me, she was, to put it mildly, surprised. My sisters were much older than me and all our family friends had children of similar age, so I spent my childhood really feeling like the odd one out.

It never crossed my mind that someone's mum could be pregnant because I'd never seen it. At primary school my friends' mothers must have finished their families, too, because no one ever welcomed a baby sister or brother. We all dreamt about it, but it never happened – until year 5 when a school mate announced her mum was having a baby.

To find your baby still and silent ... well. Even the thought of it brings tears to my eyes and a little crack across my heart 

I eyed her mother off at school pick-up and watched her belly grow. I was two parts fascinated and one part jealous as hell. Wasn't it every 10-year-old girl's dream to have a real live baby at home to put in a stroller and dress up like Holly Hobbie?

"Red Nose Day is all about making a point. It's about speaking the unspeakable" … Chrissie Swan.

"Red Nose Day is all about making a point. It's about speaking the unspeakable" … Chrissie Swan. Photo: Julian Kingma

At the last school pick-up of the year, I saw my friend's mum in something smocky, heaving her other small kids into the Nissan Prairie, and I knew that by the time we'd covered our maths books in contact paper for the following year, she'd be strapping another little one into the people mover.

But that was not to be. When we returned to school there was no baby.

He had been born. He had been named. He had been shuttled home in a hand-me-down baby suit to the embraces of his eager siblings and awestruck parents. But one morning, a few weeks into his new life, he didn't wake up. He just didn't. No symptoms, no illness, no warning. He was gone.

And that was my first experience with the unfathomable horror that is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). I can imagine nothing knocks you down quite so quickly and permanently as losing a baby.

When my babies were small (and not so small) I would get such a thrill walking into their bedrooms to see them first thing in the morning. To find your baby still and silent when you excitedly go to see their face ... well. Even the thought of it brings tears to my eyes and a little crack across my heart.

A few years after my friend lost her baby brother, Red Nose Day – run by the SIDS and Kids charity – began. Initially, I thought the idea was crass. It was such a serious thing, to lose a baby. How can we clown around about it? But as Red Nose Day became so popular, so visible, so effective, I realised the red nose wasn't about making light of a devastating topic – it was about making a point. It was about speaking about the unspeakable.

Red Nose Day has worked. The research that has been done by SIDS and Kids has been, quite literally, life saving. The fact that we sleep our babies on their backs, keep their cots uncluttered, keep them in the same room as us where possible and breastfeed if we can is reducing cases of sudden infant death syndrome every single day.

We weren't always doing all that before. Plenty of families have cringeworthy recollections, usually with a '60s or '70s soundtrack, of their mother, her mouth with a ciggie hanging out of it, rearranging a toy-infested bassinet and wondering, "If a nightie is highly inflammable, does it mean it's likely or unlikely to go up in flames when placed in front of a molten-lava bar heater?"

We have come so, so far.

Since the first Red Nose Day was held in 1988, cases of infant death by SIDS have decreased by 80 percent. That's thousands of babies who are now growing up and destroying rusks and writing notes to Santa and dragging their parents to Dora the Explorer Live! Thousands. Of. Babies.

We can thank SIDS and Kids for this, but we can thank ourselves, too. By buying that silly red nose and putting it on our faces, or on the front of our car or our office building, we have contributed to life-saving research. I always buy whatever I can from the SIDS and Kids card table outside my supermarket, and when my children were newborn I popped onto their website to make sure I was doing everything I could to reduce the risks.

So if you can spare a few dollars on Red Nose Day this Friday, June 29, I can just see the thousands of tiny hands that will applaud you - or high five you, if you're into that instead.

Buy Red Nose Day products in stores, or donate online now.

Chrissie Swan is the co-host of Mix 101.1's breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally; she's also on Twitter

This article first appeared in Sunday Life.