Stillbirth and Post Traumatic Stress
Stillbirth, the term used for babies who die in utero, after 20-24 weeks, is a worldwide health issue. 2.6 million babies die in this way each year. (Source The Lancet Medical Journal, UK) That is more than all those who die as a result of malaria and AIDS COMBINED. What it means also is that there are 2.6 million families struggling with the trauma of this shocking grief.
Every woman is prepared for the possibility of losing her baby through miscarriage but stillbirth is rarely mentioned. Women are educated about pre-natal vitamins, diet, nutrition, exercise, birth options and positions. But they are not educated about counting their baby’s kicks after 30 weeks. They are not educated about the symptoms of placental abruption and cord abnormalities. They are not taught about what to look out for so that they can protect their babies.
This leaves mothers and fathers wide open to the painful effects of Post Traumatic Stress after a beloved baby dies. Parents often find themselves struggling not only with their natural grief but also PTSD symptoms such as;
Flashbacks, vivid sensory recall of the labour, the moment in which they knew their baby had died and etc
Hyper-Vigilance, tense, expecting danger
Survivors Guilt, guilt at surviving when their baby did not
Numbing, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma
Post Traumatic Stress is the name given these symptoms when they last longer than one month and cause significant impairment.
It is my experience that many bereaved parents struggle with PTSD, alone and unsupported, because stillbirth is still such a taboo subject, even among those in the medical and helping professions. It is incumbent on us as professionals to educate ourselves firstly, by studying the research on cord abnormalities being undertaken in the U.S.and secondly by accepting the offers of support and information from reputable parent led bereavement groups.
In terms of PTSD, isolation is a major contributory factor to the severity of symptoms and social support is a major preventative factor. So it is vital that as professionals we are aware of the resources available to parents bereaved in this way. It is not enough to simply deal with the physical symptoms. We must be pro-active in terms of the emotional and psychological challenges faced by bereaved parents. It is vital that we do not inadvertently contribute to the trauma that bereaved parents experience.