18 October 2021
October marks International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. As with all awareness campaigns, there is an encouragement to talk and recognise the loss of a baby by miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. By talking we're raising awareness and we're raising money, instigating research to reduce the incidence of this loss and find ways to prevent families distress in the future.
Every year in Australia 110,000 mothers experience miscarriage. More than 2,200 endure a stillbirth and 600 more families lose their babies in the first 28 days of life. If you come from a culturally or linguistically diverse background the statistics are higher for you. If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander the statistics show you are 50 per cent more likely to see your baby die. COVID-19 has presented more challenges for families who have been affected by the loss of a baby over the last two years, given the necessary isolation from families and friends who could provide support and comfort. Getting COVID in pregnancy is also extremely dangerous for the health of the mother and baby. Medical experts recommend getting vaccinated if you're thinking of having a baby or are currently pregnant so, please, talk to your doctor or medical professional and consider booking in for a vaccination.
Last Friday 15 October social media was full of images of candles lit for beloved babies. This event every year gives families an important opportunity to publicly remember and reduce stigma that often follows the loss of a baby. Red Nose and Sands Australia are also supporting parents by their Say Their Name campaign, which encourages parents to remember their babies by posting their names on social media in their birth month. Often the feedback from bereaved families in isolation is that they don't think there's a space to talk about their babies that have died. And well-meaning comments, like, 'You're young, you can have another one,' or, 'At least you already have children' don't provide mothers, fathers, siblings or grandparents a place to talk and remember their baby. All parents love talking about their children and it's no different for families who have lost a baby. Having people remember their birthdays, even after many years, makes the loss easier to bear.
The hardest question I'm often asked is how many children I have. My answer is rarely 'five' for so many complicated reasons, but mostly because society has no real words to comfort grief of any sort, and especially that of a baby. I have three wonderful boys I've watched grow and succeed in life, and two babies who, although are thought of every day, are not with us to share our celebrations. Raising awareness not only supports families dealing with those losses but also ensures research to improve outcomes in the future. Government initiatives and funding for research are vitally important. The National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan is one of the things we need to fund and support.
Overall, Australia is one of the safest places in the world to have a baby, but even here over 100,000 pregnancies a year will end without a healthy baby to take home. That is why groups such as Red Nose, Sands, Miracle Babies and the Stillbirth Foundation are so crucially important to support families grieving the loss of their babies. These groups support and help mothers, fathers and the rest of the family negotiate not just those first few weeks and months but the subsequent pregnancies, which are often difficult, as they bring back so many negative memories.
I encourage and acknowledge all of the researchers, doctors, nurses and families who are contributing every day to finding the answers that will help reduce these rates. I especially recognise all the families who share their stories to make sure that their special children are not forgotten and other families do not suffer in the future. I acknowledge the medical professionals and my friends and family who supported us on our journey of loss. I remember Michael and Meaghan.