Helping Parents through Stillbirth
Stillbirth is defined as the death of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy, most often detected while the baby is still in the mother's womb although sometimes not until the woman is in labor. A loss before 20 weeks is called a miscarriage. Regardless when it occurs, the death of a baby is a tragic and incomprehensible loss. The couple was expecting a healthy, perfect baby.
Suddenly, everything has changed, their dreams are shattered, and the cradle is empty. What happened? Why did it happen to them? How can friends and family help?
What Happened and Why?
Stillbirth is common, with about one in every 115 births ending in stillbirth. It affects people across the spectrum and there's no way to predict when it will happen or who will experience it. Extensive and careful examination of the baby and placenta is necessary following the birth to determine the cause of death. This examination includes an internal autopsy as well as several other examinations.
Having this done provides information and can also help quiet the anxiety and pain of the parents. With extensive examinations about 40 to 50% of stillbirths can be explained, or a potential high risk can be exposed. In some countries an autopsy is mandated, in others like the US, it is not. Some parents approve it, others do not.
The Emotional Pain of Loss
Parents who have experienced a stillbirth are thrown into a new reality, one without their baby. It is natural for them to grieve the loss of their child, their hopes, dreams, and longings. They may feel very sad, or angry, or bitter at the injustice of losing their child. Guilt and blame often attend these feelings as the parents wonder if they did something wrong.
Intense emotions can cause confusion and a feeling of helplessness. All of them are part of grieving and it is necessary in order to make sense of the tragedy. It isn't easy and can be a long process for the couple and family.