Considered one of Australia’s neglected health epidemics, the stillbirth rate in Australia has not changed in twenty years – a confounding statistic that prompted a senate inquiry into the issue earlier this year.
While the Federal Government will table the results of the report in parliament this week, examining research to provide possible answers to why six babies are stillborn in Australia every day, a hospital in Queensland has become the fifth in the state to open dedicated bereavement facilities to support and accommodate parents of stillborn babies.
The Sunshine Coast University Hospital recently opened its purpose built ‘butterfly suite’, catering for families who have lost babies from as young as 14 weeks gestation. Designed by midwives, it has its own entrance, two ensuited rooms and a kitchenette area.
“We [staff on the maternity ward] all knew what was needed at SCUH to give something private and less traumatic for those familes,” SCUH maternity ward nurse unit manager Cheryl Rutherford told the ABC. “They can’t hear the other mums and bubs; it’s calming and separate.”
She added: “Everybody thinks coming and having a baby is a wonderful happy time and nobody really talks about the other side of it.”
Several mothers who have lost babies to stillbirth made submissions to the Senate inquiry in hope that it will raise awareness of an issue that can still be hard to talk about.
“There has been a silence, a kind of a stigma,” said Phillipa McGuinness, who lost her son Daniel at 39 weeks in 2001. “And often it’s because — I know this — women feel ashamed. We feel like we failed. It must have been something we did.”
The inquiry is also a chance to let the thousands of mothers who have experienced the tragedy of stillbirth know that they are not alone, she said.