Press release: Stillbirths - The invisible public health problem

Stillbirths: breaking the silence of a hidden grief

Steven’s story

Monday, 3 May 1993, 10.40 h - That’s when my life changed, the exact time my third child, our second daughter, Danielle, was stillborn. I’ve come a long way since then but never far enough. The emotions of that day, the disbelief, confusion, pain, sadness, grief are less raw now but never completely gone.

I can remember the panic when the staff realized our baby was in distress, the rush to the delivery theatre, the anxious wait in the small room next door, the silence after she was delivered. The consultant crying as he told me she was dead; I’ll never forget his tears. I remember trying to tell my wife the awful news, being asked if I’d like to see and hold my dead baby, my fear and revulsion at the very idea, the midwife who handed me a beautiful little girl in a pink baby-grow, soft and warm in my arms—at least that’s how I choose to remember that moment. I remember the mortuary technician who offered hand and footprints, the curate who organized the funeral, the undertaker who placed her little coffin on the front seat beside him. Burying her on my own, leaving the hospital with nothing, crying all day every day, not leaving the house, people avoiding us in the street when we did go out. I remember it all.

I have moved on; I can talk about the day she died and not cry, sometimes. I am proud of the little girl we lost. She has changed me from the shy insecure person I was then to the openly emotional, caring, supportive, and strong man I am now. My living children will succeed or fail in their lives and I will love them regardless. I love Danielle because she has inspired me to succeed or fail in her memory. Danielle will be 18 this year; “will be” because she is always in my thoughts. To me she lives in the work I do to help other parents bereaved as I was back then.

Steven Guy, UK

Malika’s story

No fetal heartbeat. These three words began the surreal journey of inducing labor and finally my daughter’s stillbirth at dawn on Friday, Jan 3, 2003. I named her Iman (Faith) Bongiwe (Gratitude) and she was buried at noon on that same day according to Islamic rites. In the weeks that followed I waded through each day trying to keep my head above an ocean of sorrow. I mostly hibernated. I slowed down to a routine of getting my two sons off to school and then returning to bed where I spent most of the day. Family and friends showered me with all levels of support and comfort, but still around 3 months later I did not want to go on. I just wanted to stop breathing, to stop time moving me forward.

Being a writer, I had begun journaling on the very same day that we were told our baby was no longer alive. I wrote for my own relief and sanity and to try to capture as much of her and her impact, for remembrance as time passed by. It helped immensely to have a place to ventilate without censorship of my thoughts and feelings. 6 years later a book* had emerged: a tribute to my daughter, made with immeasurable love.

I have known from the start that she did not come to bring me sorrow. She is my greatest teacher and her dying has intensified my living, deepening my gratitude for all that I have and strengthening my compassion for others. Iman Bongiwe is fully present in our family memories and in the lives of those who carried my family and me through the initial shock. She lives through us and through all those on whom her story—our story—has made an impression. Through writing and speaking out about her, that circle widens and the overwhelming silence and invisibility around her life and death, and many others like hers, is penetrated.

Malika Ndlovu, South Africa