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Return to Zero: Mother hopes movie premiere will highlight the 'taboo' of stillbirth

By Victoria O'Hara

A mother who is campaigning for better awareness of the impact of stillbirths has spoken about how a new film, starring acclaimed actress Minnie Driver, could help improve support for grieving parents in Northern Ireland.

Anne Marie Smyth was plunged into grief when, at nine months pregnant in September 2010, she was told the heartbeat of her son Colin could not be found. It wasn't until six months later that she found the strength to attend support meetings held by the charity Sands (Stillbirth and Neo Natal Society).

Sands, with fellow charity Life After Loss, has now secured the first viewing in Northern Ireland of a movie called Return to Zero. Also starring Paul Adelstein, the story tells how the world of a professional married couple is shattered by the stillbirth of their son. It was directed by Sean Hanish whose second child was stillborn.

Anne Marie said she believes it could help raise vital awareness among the public and medical teams. In Northern Ireland, four babies a week are stillborn or die in the first week of life.

The 37-year-old civil servant said: "I think it is a top priority for us to highlight the issue of stillbirth, it is happening so frequently and is still a taboo subject. People don't want to talk about it, pregnant

women don't want to hear about it but we want to get awareness out there."

Anne Marie, now a mother of two, said greater awareness could potentially reduce the level of stillbirths.

"I was nine months and nine days overdue. I was so excited as it was my first baby. But once I got there I was told, 'I'm sorry, there is no heartbeat'. I couldn't believe it. I went into shock."

She added, however, that facilities are slowly improving.

"When I had my son in 2010 in the Ulster, I was in a room at the end of a labour ward. I was listening to other women giving birth, even leaving the hospital. I was dodging round so I wouldn't see a newborn. That was horrendous and I'll never forget that experience.

"Now, there is a bereavement suite in the Ulster where parents of stillborn babies can deliver them and spend time with the baby in privacy without that fear of bumping into someone with a newborn or hearing them being born. We are working with Trusts to get them into every hospital."

Return to Zero will be screened at the Odyssey Cinema in Belfast on May 29. For more information about tickets, visit www.lifeafterloss.org.uk

Background

In Northern Ireland, four babies a week are stillborn or die in the first week of life. Every year in the UK nearly 4,000 babies are stillborn and another 2,500 die within four weeks. The stillbirth rate has not changed for a decade. Sands has around 100 support groups across the UK, which many find a beneficial source of support, comfort and understanding.

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