I feel very strongly about breaking down the taboo that exists with respect to talking about stillbirth. It is so unnecessary and unhelpful and compounds the grief process. In my view, it even contributes to the status quo in this country that allows 3000-4000 babies to die each year.
When I was told that my baby had died inside me, I actually did not know the word for this event. Stillbirth. It’s a horrible word isn’t it? So cold. I don’t like using it about my daughter and that’s one of the reasons I resist. What also troubles me about the word, is that it seems designed to make us all collude with the pretence that stillbirth is not death. Which it is. I believe Liberty died on the worst possible day of anyone’s life that you can die. The day before she was born. She didn’t get to be in the world with us for even one day. A stillborn child is a newborn baby. One who died just before you met them.
Frequently, when people talk to me about my children or about being a mother, they seem to forget that Liberty was a real full term baby to whom I gave birth and held in my arms. A baby who we cremated at a funeral in London. Just this morning someone who knows me well asked me if I would ‘have a third child’. ‘Fourth’, I replied. If your ten year old son died or your husband died, I don’t think anyone would forget that they ever existed. Of course the difference is that, often, no one meets your stillborn baby. However, in my view, the term ‘stillbirth’ promotes the misconception that the baby never happened.
From a mother’s point of view, what does it mean to cope with a Stillbirth? It is terrifying. Utterly terrifying. Not only are you going into your (often), first birth, totally unsure how you and your body will cope. You also go into it with every single question to be handled in the context of knowing that your child has died. Most mother’s have enough pressure and guilt heaped upon them with respect to delivery, epidurals and goodness know what else. Imagine adding to that the feeling of utter failure and loss, shock pending ‘grief’ and the terror of not knowing how it will feel to ‘meet’ your baby and hold them for the first time. The question of what they are likely to look like is certainly a different scenario. I was so scared that Liberty would look awful. In actual fact, Liberty was gorgeous, she looked exactly like a mini version of her Italian Daddy with soft curly black hair.
My description of stillbirth is that it is to experience and try to cope with both birth and death at the same time in one go. Birth is exactly like death – just the opposite. One moment no one is there and then there is your child. I think that is why many mothers experience so much emotional and mental difficulty after birth – it is a ridiculously challenging thing to take in, and confronting about mortality in exactly the same way as death.
With Stillbirth, we have to try to process both – my child was not here and now they exist. Also, my child, the most important human I will ever meet, is dead. Little wonder that more than 50% of women who have a stillborn child will experience mental health challenges. What could help? Being better emotionally prepared. Knowing what you are dealing with and having those around you a little better able to understand as well. Let’s talk about stillbirth.