Half of bereaved parents lose friends after having a stillborn baby

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Almost half of the parents of stillborn babies say family and friends avoided them after the birth, while nine out of 10 said they felt isolated and alone after the tragedy.

The alarming figures come from a UK survey of 317 bereaved parents of stillborn babies conducted by leading stillbirth charity Tommy's as part of a news report Stillbirth - Still Taboo which aired in the UK this week.

According to the survey, half of the couples say they lost friends and family because others could not understand what the devastated parents were going through.

Stillbirth researcher Danielle Pollock pictured with daughter Zoe. Her first child, Sofia, was stillborn four years ago.
Stillbirth researcher Danielle Pollock pictured with daughter Zoe. Her first child, Sofia, was stillborn four years ago.  Photo: Supplied

Sadly, the experience of the more than 2000 couples who lose babies to stillbirth across Australia each year is very similar.

In fact, University of South Australia researcher and PhD candidate Danielle Pollock says society's unwillingness to discuss stillbirth openly is the biggest obstacle facing bereaved parents after the loss of a child.

Ms Pollock, whose first child, Sofia, was stillborn four years ago, says the wall of silence surrounding stillbirth made the grieving process even harder for herself and her husband.

"Women who experience stillbirth are constantly misunderstood. People avoid you because they don't know what to say and you are made to feel like a leper," says Ms Pollock.

"Society does not encourage us to talk about the child we lost and instead, we are encouraged to put the experience behind us and move on.

"No one asks me my child's name, her birthday, or to see photographs of her. We are completely shut down.


"I got to kiss her, hold her, sing to her and tell her I loved her. I couldn't take her home, but every day I think of her.

"It doesn't get any easier."

Ms Pollock, whose research is exploring the stigma surrounding childbirth, is calling on health providers to provide more information about stillbirth during antenatal classes.

"Babies aren't meant to die – and most in Australia don't – but, unfortunately, six babies are stillborn every day. We are not told about this in antenatal classes ... [nor] are we told how to relate to a bereaved parent who has lost a child at birth," Ms Pollock explains.

"I didn't know if I was a mum. Sofia was my first child, but I wasn't encouraged to acknowledge her," says Ms Pollock, who has since had two more children.

"When people ask how many children you have, what are you supposed to say without making the conversation awkward for other people?"

Ms Pollock's research to date found that more than 80 per cent of bereaved parents and more than 60 per cent of women who had a live birth were not told during pregnancy about the possibility of a stillbirth.

"Healthcare professionals are very comfortable talking about Down syndrome, spina bifida, listeriosis, even domestic violence. But stillbirth is a subject they avoid. It's probably because they don't want to create any anxiety, but it would be more helpful if it was discussed in antenatal care," she says.

Parents of stillborn babies are being asked to share their experiences of stillbirth as part of a federal government inquiry.

The Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education was announced in March and will report on the future of stillbirth research and education in Australia.

Stillbirth Foundation Australia CEO Victoria Bowring encouraged those who feel comfortable discussing their own experiences of stillbirth to make a submission.

"There is nothing more powerful than simply telling your story and communicating the pain that is caused through stillbirth," says Ms Bowring.

"I encourage all who feel comfortable talking about their experience to go onto the committee's website and tell their story and offer their suggestions.

"For too long, families have suffered stillbirth in silence and this inquiry presents the first real opportunity for those families to have their voices heard."

Ms Bowring said it was time our political leaders heard the impact of stillbirth on families.

"This is our best chance to see the federal government take action to properly fund research and education campaigns," she says.

"We can only hope that at the end of this process, real funding will be available for research that can save more babies, and campaigns that will let parents know what they can do to reduce the chance of stillbirth affecting their child."

The closing date for submissions is June 29, 2018. The committee is due report back to the government early next year.