The three things a bereaved family wants you to know: 'Unavoidable conversation'

·6-min read

Holly was 36 weeks pregnant when she woke up one morning and could not feel her baby Bluey moving.

It was a Monday morning in 2018, and her husband Josh was at work. She was told to go to hospital after calling the pregnancy assessment unit.

"I immediately picked her up and we rushed to the hospital. By this point, we were both starting to feel quite panicked," Josh told Yahoo News Australia. 

"After an ultrasound, our worst fears were confirmed that our son’s heart had stopped beating."

Josh's brother Will was on the ninth floor at the office when he received the call about Bluey at around mid-morning.

Josh and Holly lost their son Bluey in 2018, they now want others to be aware of the risks, and how to prevent stillbirths. Source: Supplied
Josh and Holly lost their son Bluey in 2018, they now want others to be aware of the risks, and how to prevent stillbirths. Source: Supplied

"It was the worst phone call I've ever received from Mum," Will said.

He said it only took a second for him to deduce from his mum's tone the news was not what he was expecting.

"My gut dropped and I felt physically unwell," he said, recalling what it was like hearing his brother and sister-in-law's son was gone.

"I was staring at the floor and felt like I was just plummeting from nine stories up, way down into a hole."

Josh said coming to terms with Bluey being gone was hard, after he and Holly had waited to meet him for so long.

"In the initial stages of grief, we felt complete disbelief," he said.

"I’d heard stories of people going through it and even thought – 'what a horrible thing to have to experience' but we never really believed it could happen to us."

Pictured is Josh holding a toy rabbit
Holly and Josh were in complete disbelief after Bluey was gone. Source: Supplied

In Australia, stillbirth is more common than you think — every day, six families will go through what Josh, Holly, and Will did.

Jackie Mead, co-CEO of Red Nose and Still Six Lives campaign spokesperson, told Yahoo News Australia stillbirth can happen to "absolutely anybody".

"There is a myth or misconception that it only happens when baby or mum is sick, or in third world countries but of course in Australia, we have six babies a day, who die suddenly and unexpectedly during pregnancy," she said.

Three things which can help prevent stillbirths

While not all stillbirths are preventable, there are things that can be done to significantly reduce the risk, The Stillbirth Promise is aiming to educate people on what they can do.

"The Stillbirth Promise came about after working with Still Six Lives – a national stillbirth awareness and education initiative – to draw attention to how Australians can reduce the risk of stillbirth," Will said. 

"Every Stillbirth Promise made will hopefully help achieve a future where fewer lives, like Bluey’s, are lost."

Jackie says it is important for expectant mothers to get familiar with their baby's movements. 

"If there's any changes to those in terms of intensity, or how often they're occurring then you should seek help from your medical practitioner immediately," she said.

The second thing is to stop smoking and avoid cigarette smoke and the third thing expectant mothers can do is sleep on their side after 28 weeks.

Jackie Mead, Still Six Lives campaign spokesperson and Co-CEO of Red Nose, says there are three things that can be done to prevent stillbirth. Source: Supplied
Jackie Mead, Still Six Lives campaign spokesperson and Co-CEO of Red Nose, says there are three things that can be done to help prevent stillbirth. Source: Supplied

"Sleeping on your side after 28 weeks can halve the risk of stillbirth, so that's a pretty big deal and something that's relatively simple to achieve," Jackie said.

She added it helps to go to sleep on your side, and just re-adjust if you wake up in the night in a different position.

Will told Yahoo News Australia he would urge other men to not be be afraid to engage in a conversation with their partner or loved one during pregnancy about ways stillbirth can be prevented.

"I know it’s a scary thought, and of course understand that you don’t want to trigger or upset your loved one, but this isn’t a conversation that we can afford to avoid," he said. 

"This applies to fathers, brothers, partners and close friends, who can stand up and begin a conversation that could potentially be life-saving."

Will admits he didn't appreciate the prevalence of stillbirth until it touched his family, and said more can be done to remove the stigma.

By making a Stillbirth Promise, you are helping promote a safer pregnancy. Source: Still Six Lives
By making a Stillbirth Promise, you are helping promote a safer pregnancy. Source: Still Six Lives

"It’s deemed as too scary to talk about, and because of that not enough people know it could happen to their family, just like it happened to mine," he said.

Josh added the goal is for the three preventative tips to be as well known as not drinking alcohol, eating soft cheese and deli meats during pregnancy.

He also wants to normalise the conversation around stillbirth, so "people who have experienced it feel less isolated" and people discuss the risks and ways to reduce them.

How to supported bereaved parents

As mentioned, not all stillbirths are preventable and it's important people know how to best approach supporting bereaved parents.

"I supported Holly by doing what I could to be there for her, and most importantly understand the physical and mental side effects she was experiencing after childbirth," Josh said.

He added he and Holly leaned on each other after, as well as their families, and Josh said he was there for the two of them whenever they needed him.

"It varied from coffees to croissants, or our much-loved chocolate tart delivered to them at the hospital. To a surf trip down the coast to try to clear the mind and get moving or to simply be there for a huge hug and a cry," Josh said.

Jackie said the support an individual needs is as individual as a family itself and she suggests being led by the bereaved parents.

It's important bereaved parents know their baby is remembered within the family. Source: Supplied
It's important bereaved parents know their baby is remembered within the family. Source: Supplied

"That means engaging and communicating with them, asking them what they need, and be really aware that initially they may not even know what they need," she said.

It's important for the family to create space for the baby to be remembered and integrated into the family, Jackie said.

"The bereaved parents might have pictures up in their home of their baby and that can be confronting for people but to them that baby's as beautiful as every other baby that's ever been born," she said.

She also said it is important for people to be sensitive when other babies are brought into the family.

"It doesn't mean that they're not thrilled and elated," Jackie said. 

"But it comes with a sense of sadness too, so always knowing that those those emotions of happiness and sadness or grief and love coexist for bereaved parents."

Red Nose has 24/7 Support Line: 1300 308 307 and you can make your own Still Birth Promise here.

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