October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Kristina Keneally has shared her story to help raise awareness and recognise the importance of support for parents who experience the loss of a child.
Think about slip, slop, slap. We constantly warn people of the risks of getting skin cancer.
Think about pictures on cigarette packets. We constantly warn people of the dangers of smoking.
Think about the advice on alcohol. We constantly warn people about the risks of drinking—including the risks of drinking in pregnancy.
Think about all the advice we get every day on how to lower our cholesterol, stave off dementia, stay heart healthy, and give our child the best start in life.
If you have ever been pregnant, or thought about getting pregnant, how often did someone talk to you about the risk of stillbirth? Did anyone give you practical advice on the risk factors and steps you can take to reduce them?
I’m guessing no.
As a society we don’t like talking about stillbirth. It is tragically sad. It is terrifyingly awful. I know. I am the mother of a stillborn daughter, Caroline.
Unlike almost every other health issue, we don’t warn people about the likelihood of stillbirth and we don’t do enough to help them avoid this tragedy.
We should. Stillbirth is remarkably commonplace. Six babies a day in Australia are stillborn. Six babies a day. That’s one in 135 births. That rate has not changed in decades.
Stillbirth is the number one cause of death of children under 12 months in Australia. In around 40 per cent of cases the cause of the baby’s death will never be known.
Compared with other significant causes of death in Australia, there is a paucity of public attention and government funding focused on stillbirth.
Think of all the advice we give parents about Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI), another tragedy. About 70 babies a year in Australia die of SUDI, a number that has dropped significantly thanks to research and prevention. About 2000 babies will die of stillbirth this year in Australia, and we give very little advice to parents about stillbirth or how to help prevent it. Partly because there is much we don’t know; partly because we just would rather not talk about it.
I wish someone had talked to me about it.
I didn’t fit the risk categories: I was young, non-smoking, fit, and had already given birth to a very healthy baby when I was told that my second child, Caroline, was not going to survive her birth. I was utterly distraught and completely unprepared. There were multiple decisions I had to make, almost immediately, in grief and confusion.
Though my husband and I did the best we could, in hindsight I wish that just once before this happened that a doctor, midwife, pregnancy book, someone had said to us—stillbirth is a real risk in pregnancy, it can happen and here are some things you may want to think about, just in case it does.
As a former patron of Stillbirth Foundation Australia, I have heard stories of women whose babies were stillborn where, possibly, just a little bit of advice or preventative action (like fetal movement monitoring or delivering early in certain risk categories) might have made the crucial difference.
I know that we don’t do anywhere near enough research to give sufficient advice to pregnant women. I know there is so much more we can do if only we had funding.
The dramatic drop in the rate of SUDI is an example of how Australian research, education and prevention saved thousands of children’s lives here and overseas. It gives me hope that one day Australia will put the same focused attention on stillbirth.
In the meantime, my first wish is for every expectant mother in Australia to give birth to a healthy baby. My second wish is that the doctors, midwives and others who care for them talk to them—at least once— about stillbirth.
-The Hon Kristina Keneally, Patron, Stillbirth Foundation Australia, mother of Caroline