Ruth Rodgers, a midwifery student at City, talks about her involvement in the recent Stillbirth Stories project
Unlike most midwifery students, the idea of supporting a woman through a stillbirth (defined in the UK as a baby born without signs of life after 24 weeks) or other baby loss is something that has provided a constant drive throughout my training.
I appreciate that makes me a little unusual, but when my own daughter, Scarlett, was stillborn at 32 weeks six years ago, I knew I needed to make a change. I received the most phenomenal care from healthcare professionals around me, but through meeting other families who had suffered loss, I learnt this was sadly not the case everywhere, findings confirmed by Mills et al (2016). I knew I wanted to be able to help support these families at their saddest time, so that with time they could look back fondly on the time they spent with their babies, helping them through the first few days and weeks of overwhelming grief, and importantly supporting them through their subsequent pregnancies. I left my job as a stockbroker and came to City to study Midwifery.
In 2016, one in every 224 babies delivered in the UK was stillborn (ONS, 2016). It can therefore conservatively be estimated that more than a third of a million women living in the UK today have experienced a stillbirth, with bereaved fathers, family members and friends all additionally affected by the experience. In 2015, stillbirth rates in the UK were in the top half of all developed countries (Tommys, nd). In response, the UK government has set a target to halve the rate of stillbirth by 2030 (UK Government, 2015). Despite this, when ex-BBC film makers, Emma Beck and Nicola Gibson approached mainstream media to with a plan to produce a film to help break the taboo, with viewing figures paramount, commissioners were concerned that stillbirth was too difficult a topic for the general public to want to watch, and the film was never made.
After a stillbirth or neonatal loss, the “go to” resource for bereaved parents and their families is SANDS, who provide peer support through forums, their telephone helpline or at local group meetings. However countless smaller charities also exist to support bereaved women. One such charity is 4Louis, CULSC Midwifery Society’s charity for the current academic year, who help bereaved families create lasting memories of their babies through providing equipment for hospitals such as cuddle cots, photographic equipment and equipment for making hand and footprints.
I first met Gibson and Beck back in 2012 when they approached me to be involved in their film project. Fast forward five years, they approached me with a new idea: they wanted to create an alternative form of peer support through an audio archive of interviews with bereaved parents and clinicians, and the idea of Stillbirth Stories was launched. To date, there are 21 interviews in the archive, and I was interviewed in my capacity as a student midwife. The interviewees’ experiences span five decades, allowing the listener to understand how much has changed in bereavement care over time, and gives some insight into the short-term and long-lasting effects of both excellent and poor care. Incorporating interviews with both families and clinicians means both the personal and professional impact of stillbirth has been discussed.
The archive is not just for bereaved families however. While one can listen to interviews in full, sections of interviews are collected under specific themes, such as “showing emotion” and “attitudes towards stillbirth”. Clinicians can also learn much from parents’ experiences. Excerpts on themes such as “being told your baby has died” and “deciding about a post mortem” give thoughtful insights into bereaved families’ experiences and thought processes, and allow clinicians to develop their empathetic skills. As a result, the archive provides a useful learning and teaching tool for all those involved in midwifery, obstetrics and education within the disciplines.
Stillbirth Stories was formally launched on Monday 9th October to coincide with National Baby Loss Awareness Week and can be found at http://www.stillbirthstories.org. Nicola Gibson and Emma Beck will be coming to City on Wednesday 25th October at 4-5.30pm to discuss the archive, the inspiration behind it, its creation, and how they hope it will benefit all those who access it. The talk will be in room C304 (free for society members, £2 for non-members). Please come along and help us to break the silence. Still born. Still loved.
ONS (2016) Office for National Statistics: death registrations summary data 2016. [online] available at <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/datasets/deathregistrationssummarytablesenglandandwalesreferencetables> [accessed 17 October 2017]
Mills, T.A., Ricklesford, C., Heazell, A.E.P., Cooke, A., and Lavender, T. (2016) Marvellous to mediocre: findings of national survey of UK practice and provision of care in pregnancies after stillbirth or neonatal death, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16(101), pp.1-10
Tommys, nd, Stillbirth Statistics, [online] available at <https://www.tommys.org/our-organisation/charity-research/pregnancy-statistics/stillbirth> [accessed 18 October 2017]
UK Government (2015), “New ambition to halve rate of stillbirth and infant death”, gov.uk [online] available at <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-ambition-to-halve-rate-of-stillbirths-and-infant-deaths> [accessed 17 October 2017]