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The importance of being ‘Still Aware’

Birth Stories

By Meleseini Tai-Roche

Having experienced the stillbirth of her first son Noah at term, Meleseini Tai-Roche is incredibly passionate about stillbirth prevention. Being a Registered Nurse and Midwife, and having worked in both Maternity Service Provision and Public and Population Health Models in Australia for several years, Mel is determined to ensure the devastating rates of stillbirth decrease across Australia.

For some reason, I remember the frost as I walked myself and my belly to breakfast that icy July morning in Mittagong. In hindsight, it was probably fairly telling of the evanescence that would follow…We had booked the weekend course of Calmbirth in the Southern Highlands. The course was all that we had hoped it would be, we really loved the quiet relaxed weekend away, just the three of us.

I recall family and friends often asking why we would bother undertaking formalised antenatal preparation, and although I had practiced as a Clinical Midwife, I felt that it was very important for both my husband and I to be well equipped for birthing as this was our first baby, and after all, I would be mum in this scenario, not Midwife.

My husband Brendan and I, sat in those chairs for the entire two days. Listening and learning about birth preparedness, the psychological and physiological components of birth, and practicing the ever-increasing calm that we would hope would help us at our most crucial moment, bringing our firstborn into the world.

Whilst we were reclined in the circle of other eager and expectant parents, I recall some discussion about Calmbirthing techniques being useful in the instance when birth plans become obsolete, or in the event of ‘undesired outcomes’. I acknowledged and agreed with this, as I had seen this often in clinical practice, and appreciated how the tool of Calmbirth would certainly be useful for such mothers and families to help grasp the ground in a whirlwind of change, intervention and chaos, which can sometimes be birth. I never really imagined that this would be us.

On Sunday the 21stof September 2014, our son Noah, died. We were 40+6 weeks pregnant, eagerly awaiting to see our little boy, and he simply stopped moving in utero. I woke up, without him.

All the birth preparedness, clinical midwifery practice and lifetime of waiting, could not have equipped us for the utter devastation and soul wrenching heart break that comes with losing a child.

Having just been told Noah had died inside of me, I knew that birth itself would be incredibly difficult, for so many reasons. I was afraid not having him to help me, to work in sync with me, would mean I wouldn’t have the strength to birth our baby. Much from that day remains both crisp but blurred in our memory, but after having taken a few hours with my husband to gather my strength, we thought a lot about how we had planned to birth our son. It was in those few hours that I decided that although this was not at all the way we had planned and all control over our son’s fate had been taken from us, we could still choose, to use the techniques we had learnt, to try and bring our baby’s body into the world the way we had originally imagined. I was grateful for the gift of Calmbirth. It afforded me the opportunity to bring our baby into the world with as much dignity as possible given our circumstances. For us, this was the right choice.

That evening, I was induced, and I welcomed every single contraction. I wanted to feel Noah’s birth, I wanted to feel every single cellular tightening. I knew that this was all I was getting, so I wanted it to last forever. With every wave of contraction, I breathed my calm, as I had practiced in those Southern Highland rooms, now, forever etched in my mind.

We welcomed our little boy, still, on Monday morning, 22ndSeptember 2014. The emotion you feel as a mother embracing your child having just birthed them, is unimaginable. To hold your child, for the first time, waiting, begging, and praying he would just take a breath, is indescribable. Your soul is confused in a cocktail of elation and sorrow, and the needle of your internal compass no longer knows which was is north. In losing a child, you lose yourself entirely.

After Noah died, I wanted to know how this happened, why it happened, and how often it happened. I began to research stillbirth in Australia, and although a Midwife, I was completely unaware that the stillbirth rate in Australia was so high. 6 babies are stillborn every single day in Australia. This equates to 1 in every 135 pregnancies; 1 baby every 4 hours. How could this be?

I went back to the books about pregnancy I had read, the care and classes I had received, and rehashed the conversations I had had with family and friends throughout Noah’s pregnancy. Other than a small paragraph about pregnancy loss and neonatal death, and some discussions surrounding wayward birth plans, there was no dialogue, education nor mention of stillbirth at any time. I also reflected on my Midwifery practice prior to losing Noah. I concluded that I rarely spoke about stillbirth directly with women, essentially I spoke around the topic, by assimilating it into ‘undesired outcomes’. This teaches women and their families absolutely nothing about the very real incidence of stillbirth in Australia, and more importantly, how to prevent it. Nor does it serve to break the silence or taboo which surrounds stillbirth. All of this, was not ok. For these reasons, I decided to volunteer my efforts to helping aid change and raise awareness for prevention of stillbirth, with a not for profit organisation, Still Aware.

Still Aware

Still Aware are an organisation, founded by a Mother, who similarly to myself, lost her precious daughter Alfie, at term, for no known reason. Still Aware are committed to raising awareness of the very real statistics of stillbirth in Australia and work to end preventable stillbirth. Still Aware educate clinicians, mothers and families about stillbirth prevention and promote open communication. At Still Aware, we encourage and support dialogue around the realities of loss, to break the silence and taboo surrounding stillbirth. Still Aware are also invested in sharing stillbirth research and actively lobby for stillbirth to be listed and remain on the policy agenda at a national level.

Stillbirth is not inevitable, sometimes, it is indeed preventable. We know that movements matter. We know that mothers are the vital communicator with their baby, and should take time every day to get to know their baby’s routine, and be mindful of movements. We know that a baby who is stressed may experience a change in movements, such as a decrease or a sudden erratic increase in movements. We know that for women in their third trimester, settling to sleep on your left side is protective against stillbirth. We know that mothers have incredible instincts. We know we need to encourage and support women to listen to those instincts when it comes to all things mothering. We know we need to do better.

I would like to thank Karen and her team at Calmbirth, for helping to break the silence surrounding stillbirth, for empowering women by speaking about stillbirth prevention during pregnancy, and for helping to spread much needed education through dispensing the Still Aware brochure to course participants.

If you would like to know more about stillbirth prevention, please visit http://stillaware.org/or you can find us on both facebook and Instagram.

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