Stillbirth – the very worst of times at what should be the best of times
The tragic news of the stillbirth of Gary Barlow’s baby, Poppy, highlights an issue all too many of us would rather forget about. There seems to be little written about it in the media, despite 4,000 women a year (11 a day) suffering a stillbirth in the UK. By comparison, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or cot death - equally tragic but affecting 250-300 UK babies a year - attracts a huge amount of media interest.
Perhaps there is a sense that once we get our babies home safely, it’s all down to us – and certainly there are many steps that can reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But all too often parents have done everything right, and tragedy just happens for no apparent reason.
Exactly the same applies to stillbirth. All pregnant women can take steps to reduce the risk of stillbirth by avoiding smoking; by taking steps to avoid food-borne or other infections; by attending regular antenatal check-ups; by avoiding alcohol and by speaking to your GP or midwife if you have any concerns. Women who are over 40 or under 20, who are having twins or have other medical conditions such as diabetes will need extra monitoring, as will women with a condition called pre-eclampsia. But despite all this monitoring, the worst does sometimes happen and even afterwards, there is often no clear cause found.
If you’ve suffered this most cruel of tragedies, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity SANDS can provide invaluable support. If stillbirth has affected someone you know, they will desperately need your support. You may feel you don’t have the words to tell them how sorry you are; you may feel awkward. But imagine how much more intense their grief, and how much worse it must be if they feel isolated. Of course you don’t want to go piling in when they want to be alone to grieve, but an e-mail, letter or phone call in advance is better than no contact at all. If in doubt about whether to see them (for instance if you’re pregnant yourself) get in touch by phone and ask. It doesn’t matter what you say – knowing you’re there for them, will speak for itself.