Grieving Mother's Advice On How To Talk About Stillbirth Trauma
Ann-Maree Imrie was sailing through her pregnancy, happy, healthy and excited to meet her little bub. But with just weeks to go, she heard the words no mother-to-be wants to hear: 'I'm sorry, there is no fetal heartbeat'.
Imrie was six-and-a-half months pregnant with Xavier when she noticed reduced movement in her belly.
“I thought that because the baby was getting bigger it was running out of room to move," she told 10 daily.
The following morning, there was still no movement and so Imrie booked an appointment with her GP who sent her straight to hospital for scans.
They confirmed her worst fear. Xavier didn't have a heart a beat.
"It was a big shock," she said, explaining that there were no prior warning signs. "Even though I knew it was true, that night I felt some movement and thought 'maybe they got it wrong'."
They didn't. The following day, Imrie gave birth to a stillborn baby boy.
Xavier Rocket was born at 2.18 pm on Saturday, January 31 2015, weighing 1.14 kilograms.
Unfortunately, Imrie's story is alarmingly common.
Currently, six babies are stillborn every day in Australia, a rate that has remained largely unchanged since the 1990s.
Despite technological advancements, Australia's stillbirth rate after 28 weeks' gestation is 30 percent higher than that of the best-performing countries such as Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, according to The Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth.
There are a number of major causes of stillbirths, but up to half of parents will never know why their child never took their first breath.
Research, perhaps obviously, shows that having a stillborn baby can result in anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. It is heartbreaking and can ruin lives.
For Imrie and her husband, there were a lot of dark days.
"Early on, I couldn't leave the house, I couldn't go to work so I quit my job as a social worker," she said. "The grief is so strong and so raw".
"It's a life long journey but for me over a period of time, the days of darkness have started to become less and less".
Imrie is speaking out on International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
It's also a day that Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced a national rollout of the Safer Baby Bundle, a package of resources for midwives, doctors and mothers-to-be, developed in consultation with medical professionals and bereaved parents around the country.
The information is part of the government's response to the 2018 senate inquiry into stillbirths. It will help medical experts identify women at risk of fetal growth restriction earlier and allow closer monitoring. It will also give advice to women about safe sleeping positions and the risks and dangers that are associated with smoking while pregnant.
A similar initiative has also been successfully rolled out in the U.K. and has proven to significantly reduce the rate of stillbirths.
Stillbirth Foundation Australia CEO Leigh Brezler said there is proof that proper education and monitoring works.
“We believe that with current information available on stillbirth prevention, we can reduce the rate of stillbirth by 30 percent,” Brezler said.
"This is all about getting accurate and consistent information to expectant mothers, ensuring they are aware of the risks and what can be done to mitigate them,” she continued.
Imrie is among a long list of bereaved mothers who is telling her story to help raise awareness and break the stigma around stillbirths.
Up to 50 percent of bereaved parents in Australia admit to feeling uncomfortable talking about their stillborn baby because it makes others feel uncomfortable.
"Don’t wait for the bereaved parents to bring up [the conversation]," Imrie encouraged.
"People feel quite frightened that they will say the wrong thing and so they get trapped and don't say anything.
"But it's just about acknowledgement. Acknowledge what has happened, acknowledge the baby's name and acknowledge that they are a real person.
"Don't worry about bringing up memories because we think about [the baby] all the time, you're not reminding us of anything," she said.
She's called on people around the country, who know someone who has lost a baby so young, to help bereaved parents in raising awareness, especially on days like today.