The month of June is SANDS awareness month, where we remember all of the babies born sleeping or who died a neonatal death. And although raising awareness is always a good thing, it saddens me that for only one month out of twelve do we try to break down the taboos of stillbirth.
Nine years ago when I had Joseph, stillbirth was even more of a taboo than it is now. Due to the number of celebrities who have since sadly suffered this tragedy – Amanda Holden, Lilly Allen, Gary Barlow – there has been a spate of articles, interviews and awareness raised over recent years. And yet as with most subjects which people find too difficult to discuss, when it all dies down you find that people stop talking about it, stop writing about it and stop raising awareness for it. I find it really sad that in 2015 it is still a subject that people not only don’t like to talk about, but they don’t want to hear about either.
And I think, as with all taboos, people don’t like to hear about it because it confirms their worst fears. It reminds them that bad things DO happen to normal, decent people. It’s like when someone tells you about their friend or their relative who has suddenly died of x, y or z and you sympathise and think how utterly tragic and then it plays on your mind and you find yourself faced with the thought of, that could have been me? That could have been my dad, my sister, my child. And its so unbearable, so unthinkable that it’s just so much easier to put it to the back of your mind and tell yourself that it wont happen to you.
Well the harsh reality is, it COULD happen to you.
I remember when I was pregnant with Lewis and a friend told me, just as I approached my due date, how someone she knew had lost their baby as they had been tragically strangled by the umbilical cord during labour. And I had been absolutely distraught!! At the age of 24, I had no idea that these things could happen! It wasn’t something that the midwives had ever prepared me for or the doctors had mentioned as a risk factor. No one had ever told me that there was a possibility that this baby who I had carried for nine months could potentially die before he was born. And yet, thank God he was born and he was perfect, and I put that story to the back of my mind, in the memory box marked “Things far too painful to consider” and when I was pregnant with Joseph, it genuinely never crossed my mind.
And I think that anyone who has lost a child will live with the eternal regret that they couldn’t save them, regardless of the circumstances of the child’s death. I have met so many incredible women along the way, all of whom have lost a baby to stillbirth or neonatal death, and the common phrase that I hear again and again is, I should have known.
And obviously the logical part of our brains tells us that there is no way you could ever have known, that you did everything you could to keep the baby safe, that it was just an absolute tragedy and the outcome would have been the same regardless. But no matter how many times I tell myself that, I also know that somehow, on some kind of subconscious level….I knew.
There were many occasions that looking back felt very much like signs that something was wrong. Some so small that they didn’t even register until much later when Joseph was lying still in my arms. Silly things, like how every single day during my pregnancy I craved crumpets. Not just two or even three, but eight crumpets smothered in butter. And every single day without fail I got up and the first thing on my mind was those crumpets! Until one morning I got up, put my crumpets in the toaster and as I went to push down the lever I realised that I just didn’t want them anymore. So much so that I took them back out, stuffed them back into the cellophane wrapper and chose something else entirely. I had no idea that the following morning I would discover that Joseph had died.
Again, every night I would take raspberry leaf tea capsules, convinced that they had contributed to my speedy labour with Lewis. And as I took the last two capsules of the jar and noticed the new jar sitting beside it on the bedside table, a fleeting thought popped into my head, just for a fraction of a second, that told me, you wont need those tomorrow, the baby will have died. And at the time I barely even registered the thought, too ridiculous and too terrifying to even consider, and so the following day when I went to the hospital for my check up I was totally unaware that somehow, somebody, somewhere, had been trying to warn me of what was to come.
And actually, so many of the women who I know who lost their precious babies also, say the same thing. They just knew. And it’s so hard to put into words because it is only afterwards, when you are told that heartbreaking news that you realise, you already knew. On some kind of subliminal level that you never even allowed yourself to believe, you already knew.
It’s inevitable that with hindsight I wish that I had listened more to these signs. And not just these trivial fleeting moments and random thoughts. I wish that when the midwives had told me that everything was going well that I had trusted my gut instinct and pushed for a second opinion. I wish that when they had discussed inducing me the week earlier and then changed their minds, that I had insisted on it, told them that I wanted him out there and then while he was still safe. I wish that when they had assured me that he was fine that I had been able to tell them that somehow I knew he wasn’t.
And I wish that I had been more aware of the dangers of still birth. I wish that I had been more educated on the risks and that I had been clued up enough to know what to look out for. There is a fine line between raising awareness and causing panic and paranoia, and yet it is SO important that pregnant women are given the right information.
The common misconception that babies movements slow down towards the end is still believed by many. I hear it all the time amongst pregnant women, discussing how the movements have slowed which is perceived as a sign that labour is imminent. This is absolutely not true. A baby should continue to kick, albeit slightly different movements to that of earlier months, right up until labour. They should be active just as before and any change to those movements should be immediately reported to a midwife.
Weeks earlier, before Joseph had died, I had mentioned to the midwives that Josephs movements had slowed down. I was repeatedly told by several midwives that reduction of movement was entirely normal, that he had less room to move, that he was getting ready for the birth and it was nothing to worry about. And although I know I can never change things, I just wish that I had known more about this, that I had been given the correct information and had been able to say to them that actually, this isn’t normal at all.
It’s absolutely disgraceful that the UK still has the highest rate of stillbirth out of every other developed country in the world. ONE HUNDRED babies a week are stillborn in the UK. One hundred beautiful babies who never got a chance to open their eyes, take a breath and experience the privilege of growing old. One hundred mums and dads who have to endure that utter heartache of saying goodbye to their babies just as soon as they’ve said hello.
And whilst it is completely unbearable to think about, especially to those of you who perhaps cradle your bumps as you read, I wish that more was made of trusting your instinct, of tuning in to those fleeting moments that pass as quickly as they came and of just being AWARE. Not frightened, not paranoid, not a nervous wreck. Just being aware.
Because if we don’t talk about it, if we don’t share our stories and if we don’t raise awareness then all of these beautiful babies will have died in vain. As the saying goes, there is no footprint too small to leave an imprint on this earth and I intend on making sure that my Josephs footprints leave the almightiest footprints of all.