‘Absolutely traumatic’: Coast couple lift lid on silent tragedy
ATREUS Stanley Burvill would have celebrated his first birthday on April 7, but tragically his parents Courtney and Ben lost their only child at 22 weeks gestation when he was born still.
"Experiencing stillbirth was absolutely mind-blowing and traumatic," said Mrs Burvill. "Mind-blowing to find out how many people actually experience it, and traumatic in the sense there is no way to control your feelings or emotions.
"Nothing prepares you for what you go through and what we continue to go through from our experience of stillbirth. There's no heads up, no notice."
The Upper Coomera couple say their grief haunts them daily, but they're speaking out to start the conversation about stillbirth, something that affects six in 10 Australians but is rarely spoken about.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the nation holds one of the worst records in the developed world for stillbirth with almost 2200 babies (six a day) born still every year.
Because this rate has remained unchanged for 20 years, a consortium of organisations has joined forces to create Still Six Lives. It plans to lift the lid on the hidden tragedy of stillbirth and arm people with knowledge that could save an unborn life.
Funded by the federal government, Still Six Lives is delivered by a consortium of organisations including Red Nose, Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support, Stillbirth Foundation and Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence.
Red Nose chief midwife and manager of health and advocacy Jane Wiggill said the rate of stillbirth in Australia was 6.7 per 1000 births.
"That's one family suffering this devastating loss every four hours," she said.
"Not every stillbirth is preventable, despite enormous technological and medical advances … but there are three simple steps that can help reduce the risk."
This includes stopping smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke, making sure you contact a professional if you feel a change in your baby's movements and sleeping on your side from 28 weeks. This can halve the risk of stillbirth compared to sleeping on your back.
Ms Wiggill said although it was a common myth, babies did not stop moving towards the end of pregnancy, so any slow down in movements needed to be checked out.
Still Six Lives spokeswoman Jackie Mead said the stigma of having a stillborn baby was stopping people from sharing vital information about how to reduce the risk of stillbirth.
"We need to move on from unhelpful myths about mothers being emotional and worrying too much, or even that they can wake their baby up instead of contacting maternity care professionals," she said.
After trying for two-and-a-half years to conceive, Mrs Burvill said nothing could have prepared the couple for being told Atreus had a severe case of Spina Bifida, including fluid on the brain and an exposed spine. She was induced to give birth when he was 22 weeks.
Mrs Burvill said holding her son the first time was "magical" and that they were able to cuddle and kiss Atreus for 48 hours before leaving the hospital and their baby behind.
"It broke me into a million little pieces, knowing you weren't with me physically anymore," she wrote in a poem. "It shatters me every day that you are not here with me in my arms. But I know you are forever on my mind and forever in my heart."
Mrs Burvill said there was no timeline on grief and that it wasn't weak to ask for help.
"I was so hard on myself for so long. I didn't see any way through what had happened. My husband was worse. He tried to remain strong for me, and hurt himself doing so. I found out the day before my birthday he was feeling suicidal.
"That's when everything truly hit and we sought help.
"To everyone I speak to, I tell them I do have a child or a son. I have never tried to hide it. Atreus did exist and he will always be the child who made me a mother."
Details are available at preventstillbirth.org.au
SAFER BABY BUNDLE PROGRAM AT GOLD COAST HOSPITAL
GOLD Coast University Hospital (GCUH) is implementing a new program designed to significantly reduce the rate of late gestation stillbirth.
The Safer Baby Bundle is a set of clinical recommendations designed to reduce the rate of stillbirth in Queensland by 20 per cent by 2023.
Achieving this target would mean about 80 families a year could spared the devastation of having a stillborn baby. Clinical Excellence Queensland partnered with the Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth to put together the program.
GCUH Safer Bundle project lead and clinical midwife consultant Tionie Newth said in Queensland there was a stillbirth rate of 6.7 per 1000.
"At Gold Coast we are pleased that our rate is slightly lower than this," she said. "However, any baby stillborn is one too many. We see first-hand how devastating this is for families."
She said her team had been working closely with all staff GCUH to implement valuable tools for early identification of babies who may be at risk of stillbirth or foetal growth restriction.
"We know that by educating our staff and consumers in these five areas, we have a better chance of decreasing the number of babies stillborn on the Gold Coast."
THE FIVE AREAS WHERE RESEARCH SHOWS LIVES CAN BE SAVED:
1. Supporting women to stop smoking in pregnancy.
2. Improving detection and management of foetal growth restriction.
3. Raising awareness and improving care for women with decreased foetal movements.
4. Improving awareness of sleeping on either side after 28 weeks.
5. Improving shared decision-making about the timing of birth for women with risk
factors for stillbirth.
Originally published as 'Absolutely traumatic': Coast couple lift lid on silent tragedy