Stillbirth is part of our family now: Part 1
I would like to share with you my story as I watched the cruellest of circumstance unfold when I stood in the delivery suite to witness my eldest daughter give birth to her first child, a stillborn but perfectly healthy baby boy we named ‘Beau’.
Stillbirth affects the whole family, not just the parents of the stillborn baby; Stillbirth is part of our family now:
My name is Susan Bruyn, I am a 57-year-old mother of 4 children. I am, and always will be the grandmother of a stillborn baby ‘Beau’. I was uneducated about stillbirth; and I believed if I didn’t talk about it and ask questions about it, I would be safe from it.
I had 4 healthy children with no complications. I knew of only one friend who suffered stillbirth 32 years ago. I honestly thought stillbirth must now be a relic from the past, or stillborn babies now must have had something terribly wrong with them. You never hear anyone talk about it, which makes you feel that the chance of stillbirth must be very small.
My daughter and her husband are happily married, fit and healthy. Their pregnancy was planned, and their baby was very much wanted and loved from the day he was conceived. A perfect pregnancy plan had been put in place – private health fund, private hospital, and an obstetrician with a wonderful reputation. All tests that were required during pregnancy had been done. Mum and baby healthy; all was good.
But was I WRONG?
On April the 24th 2017 I received a phone call from my 26-week pregnant daughter that changed our family forever. “Mum the baby died”.
I was in absolute shock; this was so far from my radar I couldn’t think straight. I jumped in the car, and as quickly as possible ran to her side. How could this be happening to my daughter and my grandchild? Stillbirth is so rare I thought. How can this be happening with all the tests that have been done? All prenatal tests showed everything was ok.
On arrival at the hospital I was met by the most amazing woman. Her title was Obstetric Social Worker. She was there to guide us through what to expect during delivery, how to plan the funeral, and subsequent mental health care for the months to follow.
I started to realise that this must be more common than I thought, if the hospital has someone dedicated to this role. She informed us that stillbirth numbers have not changed in Australia in decades. Why don’t we know this?
What stillbirth looks like…
The hospital was very sensitive to the issue and put my daughter in a delivery room at the end of the corridor. I was not sure if it was for her benefit or for the benefit of the other families. We could hear other mothers in labour and the cries of their newborns.
A very cruel place to be when you know your baby has died, but I guess all the relevant equipment will be in this part of the hospital. Regardless if baby is dead or alive, the birthing procedure is the same.
My daughter was induced to begin labour. Labour takes just the same amount of time whether baby is dead or alive.
Blood tests and swabs are taken while labour progresses. We presume the tests were done not only to give us answers, but to also help with research. We later find out the tests are only to see if there are any clues to why Beau died.
My daughter requests an epidural to help relieve her pain. Why should she have to feel this pain? The pain that will not produce the happy ending they dreamed of.
We start to worry what a dead baby will look like; we have never seen a dead baby. Is there going to be something wrong with him? Panic sets in.
Many hours later the 25th April 2017 Baby Beau is born. At first, I’m too scared to look at him. We ask the midwife to look for us and prepare us if something looks terribly wrong. The midwife says he is beautiful. She is right; he is perfect. We embrace him and hold our breath, hoping the ultrasound was wrong, and he will move and take a breath, but the breath does not come, and reality sets in again.
The doctor then explains if the placenta doesn’t come away, he will have to take you to theatre to do a caesarean. I think, could this day be any crueller. Luckily this wasn’t the case for my daughter, but with some women this does happen after stillbirth.
Her body does not know that the baby has died and will soon begin to produce milk. We are told there is a drug they can give her, but it must be within four hours after birth. The doctor has left without writing the prescription. We have to wait. My eyes are on the clock nervously. Please hurry, my daughter has had enough pain. Please don’t let her milk come in to remind her every second that her baby needs to be fed. They sort this out just in time.
We hold this beautiful bundle that we will never get to take home and watch grow. Photographs are taken, hand and footprints are done. For this we are very grateful because these are all we get to take home
I sit back and watch my daughter falling in love with her baby, she is holding him on her chest. (When a dead baby is born, he is still warm from his mother’s body). After a while my daughter looks up from him and says, “Mum he is going cold”. Oh, dear god, could this be any crueller.
Daddy gets to put his nappy on. The other grandparents arrive to hold their grandson. We all talk about whom he looks like, and each of the family traits we can see in him, but we will never know the colour of his eyes, and we won’t get to take him home and watch him grow.
Beau is finally put in his little hospital cot, the same one they put live babies in, a blanket placed over his whole body, including his beautiful face, he is wheeled off to the morgue.
Now for the longest walk through the labour ward, then through the maternity ward. We hear happy families visiting and newborn babies crying.
Susan Bruyn is grandmother to baby Beau. Read part 2 of her story here.