Born still but stillborn

Back in August, I found out that the baby of one of my closest friends was stillborn just a few weeks before the due date.  On the day I found out, I left work at lunch time as I was so sad and couldn't concentrate.  I wrote a short blog post and then started learning all I could about stillbirth.

My friend's story isn't mine to tell here - but at the time of writing, no one knows why the baby was stillborn.  A low risk pregnancy that ended so abruptly and so tragically.  The parents have only a few photos and hand and foot prints to remember their first child by.  Instead of enjoying their last few weeks as a couple before maternity leave started, my friends have organised and attended their baby's funeral.   Being in our early thirties, so many of our friends are having children - I see friends putting photos of their babies on social media and I feel so sad for my friend, knowing that her baby won't ever be seen like this.

The day I found out what had happened, I researched stillbirth.  I knew what stillbirth was, but not really much more than that - and to be a support to my friend, I wanted to know more.  My first place to visit was the website of Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity.  I read pretty much the entire site, downloading all the support documents and crying whilst reading the donations page, all the people who have donated money in memory of babies who died.

According to Sands, in 2014 in the UK there were around 100 babies a week who died just before, during, or soon after birth.  One hundred.  One hundred sets of parents who were told their baby had died, and for many of these parents, there won't be a reason why.  Even a post-mortem may not show a reason for why the baby died, it 'just happened'.  This is incredibly hard to understand - given all that we know scientifically, how can we not know why a baby died?  Even if we can't yet entirely prevent stillbirth, how can the 'reason' be 'it just happened'?

I also learned that the UK has quite a high level of stillbirth and neonatal death.  Research reported by Tommy's shows that out of the 35 wealthiest countries, the UK is 21st in terms of stillbirth rate.  Why are so many babies dying?

Working for a university, I have access to a lot of academic journals - many charity websites refer to research they are funding or participating in, often summarising results, and I've read a lot of the articles published by the researchers working on these studies.  I just wanted to know more than the brief summaries presented on the website, and my friend wanted to know what's being done too.  Research is being done, but it is a very lengthy process, and an expensive one too.

Sands has been an amazing charity - my friends have been in touch with local families who have also experienced stillbirth.  She said that whilst friends, like me, have been incredible, ultimately we don't understand what they're going through, so Sands has been brilliant at putting them in touch with support groups and basically being there for them.  They have also had support from their local maternity unit.

I've always known October as breast cancer awareness month, and I will continue to support cancer charities.  But fewer people know that October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month.  From the 9th to 15th of October, baby loss awareness week attempts to raise awareness of pregnancy and infant loss, which isn't really ever talked about.

I'm never going to have children, so I'll never have decisions to make such as when to tell people about a pregnancy.  I appreciate this is an entirely personal choice and most women leave it until after their 12 week scan has showed the baby is developing appropriately.  But what about the women who miscarry before then? Having spoken to a number of people about my friend's stillbirth, I am genuinely surprised at the number of women who have said that they've had a miscarriage, or a close family member has.  We as a society just don't seem to talk about it.  And again, I understand that this is entirely personal and up to the individual, but there just needs to be more awareness and knowledge out there - why are so many pregnancies unsuccessful, especially when the baby has been utterly healthy until just before they died?

I have a few friends who, for reasons I won't go into, are more than likely going to need fertility treatment if they want to have children.  Fertility treatment doesn't come with any guarantees and I sadly fear there will be more heartbreak ahead (although I desperately hope not!).  I think people need to be more sensitive towards people's feelings about (not) having children.  When I get asked when I'm going to have children, I'm more than comfortable with saying something along the lines of "never" and then making a comment about how it shouldn't be assumed anyone wants children at all.  But other people don't have such an easy answer to give.

My fingers are tightly crossed that my friend and her husband go on to have successful pregnancies - and hopefully they will be treated sensitively along the way.  I asked her the other day what she might say in the future when someone inevitably asks if she has children, or if she has any other children if she's, say, playing at the park with a toddler.  She had a reply - she's already thought about this.  Which made me sad all over again.

I know everyone has charities they support for personal reasons, and there are thousands of worthwhile charities out there, but this month, I would urge you to consider donating to Sands.  They have been a fantastic support to my friends and they also need funding to carry on with their research.

I started drafting this a week ago: between then and publishing this, another 100 babies have died.  One hundred.  That's one hundred sets of parents, families and friends who are planning funerals.

Tonight, I will remember my friend's baby, a baby I never met, a baby who I've only seen in one photo.  I will think about the parents, and how Christmas this year is not going to be their baby's first Christmas as they were planning.  They've packed up the baby items they bought into storage bags and I hope, so very much, that it won't be long before they can be unpacked.


  1. This year is the first time I've been aware of baby loss awareness week. And it is hard to read the stories, even then, most don't go into full detail of experience and feelings that come with it. Or how long the feelings last. I suppose I hadn't considered it much before but now it is more on my radar. I am grateful to not have to go through myself right now but it is more likely than not that someone I know will, or has already. I think it will make me much more aware of the children-related questions that pop up at my age and to avoid asking without knowing a person's situation.

  2. This is such a good post. People don't talk about baby loss enough, and this is something I've become increasingly aware of as 2 friends had miscarriages this year.


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