This Mother Of A Stillborn Baby Doesn't Want Any Other Women To Go Through What She Did
There are, on average, six stillborn babies a day in Australia. This rate hasn't gone down in two decades.
WARNING: This post contains images that some readers may find distressing.
Ann-Maree Imrie conceived quickly and was told she had a healthy pregnancy.
But at six-and-a-half months gestation, the Sydney mother noticed a change of movement and went in for a check-up.
"The sonographer just looked at us and said 'I'm not able to find a foetal heartbeat'," Sydney mother Imrie told BuzzFeed News.
"Obviously your world comes crashing down and then you're told to pick a day where they can induce you and you can give birth."
The next morning, on January 30, 2015, she was booked in for an induced labour.
Xavier Rocket Imrie was born weighing 1.14 kilograms and measuring 40 centimetres in length.
The couple held their son and took photos with him.
Imrie had been a social worker for a decade, often with families working through bereavement, but she was totally unprepared for her own grief.
"I fell to pieces," she said. "I took five months off work and I couldn't imagine the idea of going back to work and supporting other people [as a social worker], so I resigned from that role and went into an admin role."
When Xavier was born his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and the nurses told Imrie and her husband that it might be the reason he died in utero, however the hospital report was inconclusive.
"It doesn't bring him back but it helps to have a reason," Imrie said.
One of the goals of a new Senate select committee inquiry into stillbirth in Australia is to provide answers to the many (an estimated third) of the mothers and fathers of stillborn babies in Australia who are never given a conclusive reason as to why their baby died in utero.
Imrie said she "breathed a sigh of relief" when she heard about the inquiry.
"Because I think when it first happened to me I was so shocked at the numbers of how many people this happens to, and how common it is, and yet how hidden it is," she said.
The inquiry was established by Labor's newly appointed senator for NSW, Kristina Keneally, who used her maiden speech last week to talk about her stillborn daughter Caroline.
"It took me a good decade before I was able to talk about my daughter and my experience without breaking down," Keneally told BuzzFeed News. "I made a decision a few years ago to start describing myself as the mother-of-three children."
Her first pregnancy went swimmingly (she didn't even have a single scan) but during her 1999 pregnancy the doctors told Keneally and her husband that Caroline had congenital defects which meant she would not survive.
"I thought, 'Why did nobody tell me this could happen?' Why wasn't this talked about more in all the books that I'd read, or the doctors I'd spoken to, or the midwives or the nurses?"
She was astounded that a woman in a developed country could be clueless about something which "left six Australian babies dead every day".
A 2016 study from PwC estimated that stillbirth deaths would cost the Australian economy $681.4 million over the following five years.
Parents who had suffered a stillbirth often took time off work or were unable to carry out all of their regular duties which, PwC calculated, would cost the economy $280m between 2016 and 2020.
Keneally wants the inquiry to build on international research – particularly from Scandinavian countries with lower stillborn rates – to formulate recommendations that could drive Australia's rates down.
"If you think of sudden infant death and the 'Back to Sleep' campaign, Australian research changed how we think about cot death and about how we prevent it, and there was a massive drop in sudden infant death around the world," she said.
"There are some things that we're not telling parents in pregnancy that could help prevent stillbirth. It won't eliminate it, but there is evidence to suggest that things like foetal movement monitoring – especially towards the end of the pregnancy – is important."
Keneally received co-sponsorship from 73 of 76 senators for the inquiry from across the political spectrum because, she said, this was an issue that had "touched the lives of most Australians".
Keneally said she often used to read Caroline's autopsy report: "It was a way of reminding myself that she was a person".
She still visits her daughter's grave every month and on Caroline's birthday the entire family visits.
"It deserves to be acknowledged that a woman who has a stillborn child goes into labor, she has contractions, she gives birth and she is in a maternity ward and it is a joyful place where people are happy and she is not, she is devastatingly sad, her family is devastatingly sad, and all her visitors are there to give condolences, not to 'oh' and 'ah' over this baby," she said.
"People have children who don't survive birth and those children have names and they have graves."
The Stillbirth Foundation Australia chief executive Victoria Bowring said for too long families had suffered stillbirth in silence.
"This inquiry presents the first real opportunity for those families to have their voices heard, and for political leaders to hear what needs to be done," Bowring told BuzzFeed News.
“We can only hope that at the end of this process, real funding will be available for research that can save more babies, and campaigns to let parents know what they can do to reduce the chance of stillbirth affecting their child.”
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If you would like to make a submission to the inquiry you can do so here.