Too many of us have been touched by this devastating experience. There might not be a person who has not been touched by the loss of a little angel, either in their own family or the family of a friend. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. To learn more we have asked Rebekah Anderson, a local certified Birth and Bereavement Doula with personal experience in grief, to answer a few of our questions.
How often does stillbirth happen?
Stillbirth on average makes up for 0.8 percent of births in British Columbia, this equals to an average of 8 in every 1000 births. This includes any baby born from 20-43 weeks gestation or weighing 500g or more. A baby weighing 500g or less or born from 0-19 weeks is considered a miscarriage, but there are many variations.
What increases the risks of stillbirth?
There are many causes or risks that stillbirth can be connected to (or sought out to be), but a whole 25 % of these pregnancies are completely healthy and uneventful, with no reason or known cause to why the baby passed away. Here are the other contributors that can increase the risk.
· Poor placental/cord function – knots in cords, abruptions, prolapsed, compression, lack of blood flow to baby or lack of sufficient placental function (going post dates can effect placental function)
· Infection within the uterus
· Maternal health – Pre-eclampsia, diabetes, blood clotting disorders, age (over 35 or under 15), pre-existing medical condition
· Preterm labor – PRO M (premature rupture of membranes) or incompetent cervix can be a contributing factor to preterm labor.
· Multiples pregnancy
· Previous loss
· Smoking, drug or alcohol use
· Lack of certain vitamins, minerals or nutrients such as folic acid (lack of folic acid can contribute to fatal birth defects)
· Birth trauma
· Genetic defects
· Missing baby’s movement patterns – Counting movements and paying close attention to your baby’s regular patterns are very important as well as calling your midwife or heading into the ER if your baby’s movements have decreased or are very out of the ordinary.
Is it hereditary?
No. There is no evidence proven that stillbirth is hereditary. There are cases where a genetic disorder or translocation could be passed down from a family member, or a maternal health defect, causing there to be a higher risk for your growing baby’s safety, but this is extremely rare. Stillbirth can happen within the same family (close/extended) and may not be connected.
Are my risks increased if I have already had one?
If you have experienced a loss before (miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, SIDS) it is said that there is a small increase in the chances of it happening again (1%). This is for two different reasons, one being that if there was a previous fatal diagnosis there could be a very small chance that the parents carry a gene that could be passed on to a subsequent child. There are many genetic tests that can be done to try and rule out whether the baby’s passing was due to genetics, if they do find something they can help navigate towards ways to prevent this in future pregnancies or give a percentage of likelihood. Unfortunately quite a lot of genetic tests come back inconclusive. Second being that in a case where the reason for the previous loss was unknown, there is a small chance that there could be a maternal or prenatal issue that has gone undiscovered and could cause another fatality, thus why they will do heavy monitoring and extra care (physically and emotionally) during a subsequent pregnancy, also subtracting any factors that could have been a contributor to the previous death. In most cases there was no cause to what happened but if they do find something there is almost always a preventative and your doctors, OB’s, nurses and midwives will do everything in their power to bring forth a positive outcome and a healthy baby.
How can I support a friend or family member who has recently had a stillbirth?
Each and every parent who has lost a child carries their grief differently. I have asked a wide variety of parents who have experienced stillbirth, how their family and friends could support them during the first days, weeks and months of raw grief, but also how they could be there for the long months and years afterward, not just the initial earthquake but for the after-shock as well, and for the harder times in the years to come such as anniversaries, birthdays, due dates or dates in which the baby died.
· Helping out physically with food, cleaning, shopping, and watching other children (remember, she still gave birth) and if you’re not able to offer this, then simply being there, even if you have no words to say, just listen.
· Know that grief is forever changing and giving reassurance that however they are feeling is OKAY and NORMAL. Grief is a lot like an unpredictable ocean. Sometimes the waves are big and unforgiving and knock us down, and we feel like we are back at square one and sometimes the water is calm, and we can navigate clearer.
· Keep in mind that there are absolutely no time limits or guidelines to grief (no matter what a book tells you).
· If the parents have another baby after their loss, keep in mind this subsequent baby is in no way a replacement nor fills that empty space, this is also true if they have a pre existing child who was born prior to their loss. There is NO at least in child loss.
· Fathers grieve too. Making sure the father is cared for as well.
· Do not compare grief or losses, whatever they are feeling is valid.
· Being genuine. Sometimes saying ‘this is shitty and painful’ is better than phony positive words of encouragement.
· Being observant/respectable of triggers
· Congratulate them on the birth and life of their child and not just focus on the death
· Offering and connecting them to resources
· Acknowledgement – speaking their name, appreciating photos of them, including them in gifts, cards, holidays (recognizing the family as a whole), getting to know them through the parents
· Initiate – Being the ones who reach out and make contact.
Where can families find support?
In person supports include
· Little Spirits Garden is a special place of remembrance for parents, families and the community to acknowledge pregnancy, birth and infant loss. They also hold events for support, love and healing. Within the garden are spirit houses that you can take home to decorate for your baby and bring back to place within the garden surrounded by trees. There are also cedar note wind chimes, and places to freely spread ashes. https://www.facebook.com/LittleSpiritsGardenhttp://www.saanichlegacy.ca/spirits.html
· Empty Arms is a local support group who meet on the first Tuesday of each month. They meet within the Victoria health unit located at 1947 Cook St. Empty arms is a group of woman and men who have experienced pregnancy, birth or a neonatal loss. The group is very welcoming and a great support.https://www.facebook.com/groups/104128666414911/
. Sacred space is a local support group for woman and men who have experienced pregnancy, birth and infant loss. The group is to support parents through their trying to conceive (TTC), pregnancy and parenting (PAL) after loss journeys. They meet once a month within a very welcoming environment. There is practice of mindfulness as well as space held for speaking your mind. Babies in arms are welcome.https://www.facebook.com/groups/384982511688513/?fref=ts
· Sarah Nakatsuka is a counsellor who specializes in loss and griefhttp://sarahnakatsuka.com/transitionspregnancy-infant-loss/
· Linda Lange is a counsellor who specializes in pregnancy and infant loss and art therapy – 250-592-9034
. Healing hearts Foundation is a non-profit organization within Victoria, BC. They offer support through pregnancy and infant loss. They hold fundraisers and events to spread awareness. The founder Charlene Chambers is a holistic doula practitioner who specializes in loss. http://www.healingheartsfoundation.ca/
· Compassionate Friends is a support group who meet the fourth Tuesday of each month at First Memorial Garden Room (4725 Falaise Dr) for all aspects of child losshttp://tcfcanada.net/
. Woman’s Grief Circles A gathering for deep meditation, free movement and yoga, sharing and healing held by Celeste http://celestemorris.com/
. Melissa McIntyre is a certified grief recovery firstname.lastname@example.org.
· Palliative Care – http://www.victoriahospice.org/
** More resources including online and books available here**http://www.neverendingvalley.com/#!loss-ttc-and-pal-resources-/cc0m
My grief journey begun in 2012 when I experienced a miscarriage at the end of my first trimester, I felt very alone and had no idea of where to go for resources and support, so instead of dealing with my grief I buried it deep within. Only a year and a half later I became pregnant again. My entire pregnancy was by the book and healthy as could be. I fell more and more in love with each day my baby and I grew together. I was nearly 42 weeks along awaiting our beautiful birth when I felt that my daughters movements were different, I received a non stress test and ultrasound and she was completely healthy and great, yet the next day she stopped moving and I was told the horrific news that her heart had stopped beating. The cause is unknown to why she passed away. After the birth of my daughter I was inspired like many other parents to be an advocate for pregnancy and infant loss, a subject that is extremely taboo and difficult for many to navigate through and speak about, even though so many of us suffer in silence. Among one other woman who connected with me soon after my loss, a woman named Charlene Chambers (now the founder of Healing Hearts Foundation) came over to my house in the beginning days of my raw grief. She told me of her training, gave me a beautiful white journal and reassured me that I was not alone. It was through her that I heard of the Birth and Bereavement training that Stillbirthday offered. The training is a comprehensive foundation to ably offer physical, emotional and spiritual support to families during pregnancy, birth and postpartum, through any loss outcome within any trimester and beyond. Since then I have expanded my training and knowledge and family (I just welcomed my third daughter healthily into this world) and am offering my support to families in many different ways such as through the Little Spirits Garden.