What do you think might change if governments started to take the issue of stillbirth seriously? Would we see better communication for families and care providers on the risks? What about more research dollars devoted to stillbirth research? If governments knew about the lifelong impact of stillbirth on mothers, fathers, and siblings, would there be better prenatal care? More financial support for bereavement leave?
The Senate Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education
The Australian government is starting to take the issue seriously. Right now, there’s a Senate Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education. Over the past month, there have been public meetings in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Katherine, Brisbane, and Canberra. Over 200 people, including families, nurses, physicians, researchers, and bereavement care organizations have submitted their stories about the impact of stillbirth on their lives.
You can read their stories and recommendations for change on the committee’s website. To many of us, these stories will sound familiar. Whether you’re in Tasmania or Toronto, Tokyo, Taiwan or Texas – stillbirth rips your heart from your body. These are babies we will love and cherish for a lifetime. Our sense of self is damaged by stillbirth too. Stillbirth, unlike many other deaths, gets blamed on the mother. What she ate, what she did, what is wrong with her that she can’t carry a baby. We internalize those feelings of blame at a time we are already wounded from loss.
Indigenous Women Face Higher Risks
I hope the committee recognizes the inequality in health care, the outright racism that means that Indigenous women are more likely to experience stillbirth than non-Indigenous women. That dismisses their concerns when they tell their midwife they aren’t feeling baby move so much, or that tells them they are overreacting. Because the Chair of the Committee is mixed race herself, I’m optimistic that this will be considered. But sadly, this is a problem throughout the world. In Canada, immigrants and indigenous women face a similarly higher risk of stillbirth. In the United States, it is indigenous and African-American women who are more likely to have babies stillborn. This is tragic and unnecessary.
I also hope to see new research dollars dedicated to finding out how best to prevent stillbirth. Too often an autopsy gives the cause as unknown. Because women are not likely to experience a second stillbirth, the pain and tragedy of loss just get passed along to another family. Doctors simply see it as ‘one of those things that sometimes happens’ and not as a preventable loss. Research can help change that.
I’d love to see my own government, in Canada, take a closer look into how we can better coordinate care. Why can’t research dollars be committed to ending stillbirth, or improve communication between doctors and women? I’m doing my part now, by meeting with a parliamentary committee on improving bereavement care (more on that next month!), but it’s still just a small part of making things better. We stillbirth mommas are a powerful voice. Let’s use it to make real change!
Image credit: Jorge Lascar on Flickr.com, used under Creative Commons Licence