I always thought that medicine was so far advanced. I thought that if I listened to my doctor, I would be told everything I needed to know. So when, out of nowhere, my son suddenly died a few weeks before his due date, to say that I was blindsided was an understatement. How could I be pregnant for 35 weeks and not once have even heard the term stillbirth? How could I be pregnant for 35 weeks and not once be told about the importance of monitoring my baby’s movements? Women are educated about lots of potentially “scary” things when they are pregnant, but for some reason, stillbirth does not make that list. Something needs to change.
Related: Still Taboo. Stillbirth.
In Australia alone 6 babies a day are stillborn. In the UK that number is even higher at 9 and in the US a huge 71 babies a day are stillborn. These are not just statistics. They are lives. They are perfectly formed, little humans. And for each baby that dies, there is a family that gets left behind, a family whose lives are destroyed.
And it doesn’t end there.
These same families have to contend with the lottery that is postnatal care after loss. The same medical system that does not educate our women on the risks of stillbirth has, at best, a sporadic approach to bereavement care. If you are lucky, your hospital might have a bereavement suite with a specially trained midwife. They might be able to guide you through your options and help you to make memories with your baby.
If not, you will fall under the same care as everyone else, on the same maternity ward, with the screams of newborn babies echoing down the corridors. You will be left to try and figure out what to do on your own. Do you see your baby? Do you hold them? Take photos with them? Dress them? Bathe them? Most families who are left unguided are so overwhelmed with grief that basic things like taking a photo of their baby are not done. Many families leave the hospital with a long list of regrets and what-ifs that will stay with them for a lifetime.
Related: 40 Special Ways To Honor Your Child
None of this even covers the economic impact of stillbirth. In many first world countries, parents of stillborn babies are still not entitled to maternity leave. Some with supportive employers may still be given this leave. However, others, including the fathers, are often expected to return to work straight away, or if not, to take unpaid leave. Lost earnings, productivity slumps, and the cost of psychological care can have a significant financial impact on families who are already struggling to stay afloat.
So how do we change all of this?
In Australia, a Senate inquiry into Stillbirth Research and Education has been opened. For a country who hasn’t seen any significant improvements in their stillbirth rates in the last 20 years, this is a huge step forward. It is an opportunity for change. It is an opportunity for our voices to be heard. Norway, New Zealand, Scotland, and The Netherlands all saw decreases of up to 30% in their stillbirth rates following the introduction of various educational initiatives. It can be done, and it needs to be done.
To my fellow Australians, I urge you to use your voice and make a submission to the Senate inquiry. By sharing your experience you will be helping to make a difference for those who come after us. So please, pick up your pens and share your story, for all our stories and all our babies matter.
Australian Readers Only: To make a submission to the Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education Australia, please click here. Submissions close on Friday, 29 June 2018.