Yesterday I raised my head from my sun lounger for a quick check on my stepdaughter who was playing in the ocean waves below me and had another unexpected reminder that I had no pregnancy bump any more.
There are two explanations needed with that statement. The first is that I’m on holiday as I write and, second, just a matter of weeks ago my pregnancy ended suddenly when I gave birth prematurely to my baby daughter Rosie, who didn’t survive.
Stillbirths, neo-natal deaths and late miscarriages are, unbelievably, on the up in the UK and Ireland. Figures show that today, in the UK alone, up to 17 women will lose their babies through stillbirth or neo-natal death and 290 women will suffer a miscarriage.
Recent losses by celebrity mums, including Amanda Holden, Kelly Brook and Lily Allen, have highlighted the risk somewhat but stillbirth remains very much in the shadows and it’s not really talked about in pregnancy books or in antenatal classes.
Early miscarriages (before 13 weeks) are often down to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo but late miscarriages, like Kelly Brook’s, are much less common and quite unusual. They can be caused by blood-clotting disorders, anatomical problems with the uterus and cervix, or infections, and only one or two percent of women suffer a late miscarriage in pregnancy.
Nothing can prepare you for the immeasurable devastation, shattered expectations and heartbreaking emotion of losing a baby.
Even in the immediate moments after Rosie’s birth and death, when the doctors and midwives left us alone to have some time together, I wanted to cry out: “Don’t leave us! We don’t know what to do!”
But holding her gave me huge comfort and then we found great solace in sharing stories and hearing others’ — it’s incredible how many people came forward to share stories of their own losses with us.
But from all this there are so many positives.
I still have my own health (my labour was hugely traumatic as I had an infection which was putting my own life at risk) and this has actually given me a new strength and a positive lease of life.
I’m embracing every opportunity and refocusing on some of the important things in my world.
I have three fabulous stepchildren and a great network of industry colleagues, friends and family around me whose comforting words, hugs, cards, flowers and even — in this technical world — texts and emails, were all so welcome in my time of need.
In addition, my husband tells me he sees me in a different light and the whole experience seems to have strengthened our relationship in some intangible way.
TV presenter Amanda Holden said the same of her relationship and I can only imagine at pop singer Lily Allen’s recent wedding to Sam Cooper, where the couple announced they are expecting again after her late miscarriage last November, they celebrated their lost baby in some way too.
Next month, on the day of my proposed baby shower, I’m having a girls’ get-together at my house as a thank-you for all their support. I’m also planning to make the occasion a fund-raiser, so instead of bringing along a bottle of wine or box of chocolates, I’m asking them to donate to charity.
Who knows, maybe I too will be pregnant again. Maybe I won’t. Rosie’s loss is immense and everlasting but I have her little foot and hand prints on my wall and a grave beside my father’s to visit.
A report in medical journal The Lancet placed the UK 33rd out of 35 Western countries for stillbirth rates. And this is just not good enough, considering the causes are mostly preventable and countries like Australia have reduced rates by up to 80% through increased research, routine testing and extra scanning.
The national charity Sands (Stillbirth and Neo Natal Death) campaigns for government research to develop new ways of screening pregnancies to find out which babies are more at risk and to save their lives.
Locally, mum Jillian Gilmore is leading the way in raising awareness of the risks with group B streptococcus, which is a common germ found in the reproductive tract of 25% of women but it is a major killer of unborn and newborn babies. Jillian is compiling a list of local babies who have been affected by it and has set up an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, to hear individual stories.
Recently she met MLA Michelle Gildernew, who proved very supportive, although after writing to the Health Minister, Edwin Poots he came back to say he didn't agree with routine testing.
But the road is long and even if awareness helps pregnant mums ask for tests and extra screening then at least we are perhaps a couple of babies away from another stillbirth statistic.