In the nine short months since Evalyn died, we have become more aware of the misconceptions about stillbirth and baby loss. In a way, it’s understandable. Society prefers to cover its ears and avoid the subject when the words “dead baby” are thrown into conversation. But that means we don’t talk about it. And it means that people will carry on believeing things that aren’t neccessarily true.
I think it’s fair to say that we knew very little about baby loss before life took our daughter from us. But the more we travel on our own journey and the more parents we speak to who have so cruely travelled along the same path, the more frustrated I become about the way baby loss is treated and perceived.
I don’t believe for one moment that society’s mind-set cannot be changed with regards to baby loss and the taboo subject it so often seems to be. But we need to talk about it. We need to discuss it. I know the world can’t be changed in a day, but an opinion can be altered much quicker. There are so many misconceptions and these are just a few that have been brought to my attention both personally and through talking to other parents.
1. A stillbirth or a miscarriage isn’t like losing a real baby.
People who read this may think, ‘Really? Who would think that?’. Believe me when I tell you, it’s an opinion that loss parents frequently face. Maybe because our babies never came home with us it is easier for people to forget what it is we have actually lost? Maybe because people don’t know how to address the issue when it arises, it is easier for them to not discuss it and therefore pretend it never happened? Maybe people really do just believe this? There are a few comments that stick in my mind from those first weeks after Evalyn died.
Does a stillborn baby still look like a baby?
The weight’s falling off you! Does weight loss happen quicker after a stillbirth?
At least you didn’t have a chance to bond with the baby because otherwise it would’ve been REALLY hard.
I don’t know at what point people perceive the process of a stillbirth to be any different to a live birth. I went to the hospital. I was induced. I spent all of those hours in a birthing suite in labour already knowing Evalyn had died. I pushed my baby from my body. Evalyn was a fully grown baby. We spent time with her. I had check ups in the weeks that followed. My body was the body of a mother who had spent nine, long months growing a life. The whole process was the same. The only difference was that I didn’t bring Evalyn home.
2. Already having another child takes away the pain of losing your baby.
We have a five year old son and he is amazing. He is a medicine for our grief because he provides a brilliant distraction from it. But does having him take away any of the pain of losing Evalyn? Hell, no!
I have found that already having a son has added a new dimension to losing Evalyn. Yes, it has made us open up about Evalyn and talk about her on a daily basis as I believe this is so important in helping him to build a connection with his sister. But it also adds a different level of sadness. My heart breaks for him every day when I think about how excited he was to be a big brother and how upset he was when we couldn’t bring Evalyn home from the hospital. We have also had to deal with an enormous amount of questions from him that no child his age should ever have to ask.
Why did Evalyn have to die?
When babies die, do they sometimes come back?
Why have all my friends got their babies and I don’t have mine?
“At least you have Ieuan,” people tell me. And I nod and I smile and I feel eternally grateful that I have been blessed for this little human who makes my days brighter.
But it doesn’t ‘make up’ for losing Evalyn. Already having one child doesn’t make up for the one you have lost. It doesn’t make it any easier. It doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it fair. There is a quote I read not long ago and I often think about it. I think it pretty much sums up my second point.
3. “At least you can try again.”
Will you have another baby? was probably the most asked question of us in the days that followed Evalyn’s death. I completely understand that this question usually came from a good place, but it was also a question I couldn’t even get my own head around or contemplate.
Think for a moment of a parent who loses their child of a toddler age. We don’t automatically turn around and ask them if they’re thinking about having another child one day. We don’t ask a grieving widow the day after their husband or wife dies when they think they’ll start dating again. But a stillborn or miscarried baby seems to be completely replaceable.
Please remember that this isn’t the case at all.
Yes, some parents may go on to have a sibling for their baby, but many others can’t. It just isn’t that easy. I have met parents who, due to complications through birth, are unable to have more children. I have met parents whose baby died due to genetic complications and are either too scared or unable to try again. I have met parents whose stillborn baby was conceived through IVF and now they are not able to afford another round. I myself was faced with secondary infertility issues when trying for Evalyn. It is not always straight forward.
It is not always black and white.
4. Stillbirth only happens in high risk pregnancies.
“Contrary to common perception, major congenital anomalies (serious birth defects) account for fewer than 10% of stillbirths. Every year, more than 1,000 stillbirths occur when the baby is normally formed, considered low risk and at a time when the baby could survive outside the womb. If these babies could be delivered in time, lives could be saved.”(Hannah Ward: Communications Manager SANDS)
Losing a baby can happen to anyone. Of course there are some factors such as smoking and weight that we are told can increase the risk of stillbirth, but it isn’t picky. It is all too common for people to pressume that a mother didn’t take care of herself or that she must have had a medical problem and that’s why their baby died. But this just isn’t the case. Most of the loss parents I have spoken to since losing Evalyn were also low risk and had smooth pregnancies and no warning signs that the unimaginable was going to happen to them and their baby.
5. Stillbirth can’t be prevented.
Not all stillbirth can be prevented. But there are ways in which you can increase the chance of having the best possible outcome for you and your baby.
- Monitor your baby’s movements. There is a very common misconception that a baby’s movements will slow down nearer the end of pregnancy but this information isn’t true at all. A baby will continue to move right up to and during labour itself. If you notice a change in your baby’s pattern of movement, seek help.
- Don’t pressume you are wasting a medical professional’s time if you are worried about something. If you are worried, ask to be seen.
- Don’t purchase a home doppler! Unless you have been specically trained in how to use one, it is always best to contact your maternity unit if you are ever worried. Unfortunately, what a parent thinks they hear can be wrong and too many babies have been unnecessarily lost due to misdiagnosis.
6. Parents don’t like to talk about their baby loss.
I usually feel that it is the other way around. Society doens’t like to talk about baby loss. I personally love to talk about Evalyn. I don’t necessarily like to continuously go over the process of losing her but I like to talk about her on a day to day basis and get her name into conversations because that is all I have. Evalyn’s story will never change, but the way in which our lives have changed and will continue to change will be forever ongoing.
If parents want to talk about their baby, encourage them. It is their child they have lost, not the memory. The memory stays forever. But talking with them and asking questions and making their baby a part of their lives is so important in helping them to start healing. Of course it is a difficult subject, but for them it is the beginning of a new and difficult journey. Be there for them.
Talk about their babies.
Talk about baby loss.
The only way we can support parents and change misconceptions is to talk. Talking can change opinons.
And opinions can make a difference.