The shocking rise in stillbirths in England

Around 700,000 babies are born in England each year and of these 1000 unexpectedly die, as stillbirths or are left with brain injury following a traumatic birth. An NHS backed review has revealed that in as many as 80% of cases improvements in care could have prevented the deaths. Jeremy Hunt has announced that the government will be looking into changing the law to allow coroners to investigate full-term stillbirths – currently they cannot do this, with some parents saying deaths have been classified as stillbirths to avoid the need for an inquest.

Stillbirth is a tragic experience for parents to go through and the mental impact on the mother can be devastating. The joy of birth is met with the crushing sadness of death. Years ago I thought I told that my first baby wouldn’t survive the birth. It’s like looking down a kaleidoscope and seeing a happy future, making plans and looking forward to all the normal things that parents do and then suddenly you are planning the reverse – a funeral. I remember this feeling of limbo carrying on my daily life, working and socializing for a couple of weeks until the planned caesarian when I would deliver a dead baby. It was like carrying a tiny coffin in your body. The bump was there, people were still making comments and wishing me well but inside my body was a fading light. I was the life support machine, sustaining a life but as soon as that baby entered the world it couldn’t be a part of that world, it wasn’t meant to be, it’s life only existed in that womb and that was how it was meant to be. I couldn’t grapple with the idea of a date of birth and a date of death being on the same day. It was hard to get my head around that concept and there being no dash between two dates.

Thankfully my baby did live, although only for several months but I hope the government will take urgent action now that they know the shocking statistics to end the agony of stillbirth.

In my recent book ‘Every Family Has One’ there is a traumatic birth scene, inspired by my own experience. Here’s the link:

I’d like to end this blog with a great poem, ‘The Dash’ by Linda Ellis because it’s the one thing that’s absent from the life of a stillborn baby. And one of the most difficult lessons in life is that less is often more. For me it’s the fleeting experiences; experiences that transform us, changing us forever, leaving an emotional imprint; experiences we have that mean so much and live on in our hearts and minds.

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?