A stillbirth is the death of a baby within a pregnant body after twenty weeks of pregnancy. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2.6 million stillbirths occurred in 2015. Those living in the Global South are the most at risk, but in countries around the world the numbers remain too high – 15 babies each day are stillborn or die within a month of birth in the UK, with black and Asian babies being the most at risk, and in 46% of these cases the causes are unknown.
This being said, this phenomenon is still very rarely talked about, and so the grief and suffering of many victims goes unnoticed. I think it’s important to raise awareness, to encourage others not to idealise pregnancy, to highlight the importance of protecting one’s body and mind and to support each other in these painful but ‘part-of-life’ moments.
I am a French Afro-descendant woman living in Berlin where I have been entitled to care and support from the moment I discovered I was pregnant to the funeral of my baby girl. The pro-natalist policies in Germany gave me the choice to keep my child and to plan accordingly. I have had monthly ultrasound scans, extra vitamins, and an incredible community of mothers and expecting mothers to answer my many questions and provide me with mental support. However, even in the best conditions, my baby died inside my womb for unknown reasons except the fact that life is not – as pregnancy is not – a straight forward process.
I have been amazed to see that sharing my personal story has enabled other women to openly talk about their experiences. However, I have also faced insensitive comments and people asking me or other women without a child for the reason of their child’s death. I often wondering about the intention behind these kinds of comments, although I am sure they cannot be intended to help the suffering mothers feel more at peace.
Grieving mothers have to navigate between hormonal changes, body (re)transformation and loss of identity. Victims are often unable to bear the extra pain that comes from others’ inability to deal with the loss, including family and friends. It is important to find a good balance between support and space to let the victim heal in her very personal way from the loss of a part of herself.
Women react in different ways to stillbirth but many feel they have violently lost a part of themselves in the process. Being pregnant can be a traumatic experience – talking from my personal experience, throwing up and being exhausted is a difficult adventure. Worse than the extreme body transformation of pregnancy, though, is the need to deliver a breathless baby’s body. It took me weeks to understand that my daughter was not within me anymore. A grieving mother isn’t just a woman after losing her baby. She is a broken women, and she needs time to heal.
My relatives have been extremely affected by the loss of this child and have been incredibly supportive. They have included YunNan, my first child, in our family. She is daughter, a niece, a granddaughter, and a great-granddaughter, and she alwasy will be.
There is nothing to be ashamed of in losing a child. It is essential to tell women who have experienced stillbirth that they are victims, to tell our blinded society that stillbirth occurs more than we think, and to tell those who want to help that there ways for them bring about positive change for grieving parents.
The number of stillbirths declined by only 19% between 2000 and 2015. Ignoring stillbirth is an issue that leads to shocked, grieving parents and incomprehension among wider society, and so society at large must change. Stillbirth is part of a bigger picture framed by sexism, racism and classism. It is our duty to all, women and men included, to care for each other, to collaborate and to strive together to break the silence that surrounds stillbirth.
The featured image of this post was drawn by my brother in honour and memory of YunNan, my stillbirth baby girl.