Opinion: Why stillborn babies deserve to be remembered too

Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop opens up on why more of us should be talking about stillbirth

Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop opens up on why more of us should be talking about stillbirth - Credit: Archant

At the time of writing this, I had just put the phone down to a mother who had lost her son 37 days ago. 

I use the word lost, but we all know that’s a politer, more acceptable way of saying died. 

On May 31, Spixworth mum Danielle Heusner was at the hospital by herself when she was given the devastating news that her baby boy had died.

Danielle Heusner at home at Spixworth, with a TikTok of her son Ivar, who was born stillborn ay 35 w

Danielle Heusner at home at Spixworth, with a TikTok of her son Ivar, who was born stillborn ay 35 weeks - Credit: Denise Bradley/Archant 2022

In agony, both physically and emotionally, the 25-year-old had to make the difficult decision to have him delivered by caesarean section at 35 weeks while under general anaesthetic. 

Far from being lost, little Ivar was stillborn. 

Using the word “lost” might imply that he had been forgotten or misplaced and that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

In fact, he remains firmly in the hearts of his mother and big sister Avaiya – and all those who watched his mother’s expanding bump as he grew inside of her.

Danielle Heusner's picture of her daughter Avai and son, Ivar Heusner-Millan, who was born stillborn at 35 weeks

Danielle Heusner's picture of her daughter, Avaiya Heusner-Millan, and son, Ivar Heusner-Millan, who was born stillborn at 35 weeks - Credit: Supplied

And yet, the word stillborn remains shrouded in stigma. 

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While no expectant parents want to think about the unimaginable, it is an unwelcomed truth that many experience baby loss. 

The NHS explains that a stillborn baby is one that dies before they are born and after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Before this, it is known as a miscarriage or late foetal loss. 

While some stillbirths are linked to complications with the placenta, a birth defect or with the mum's health, for others no cause is ever found.

Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop launching the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help

Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop launching the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help campaign. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

In England, around one in 250 births result in a stillbirth every year – that’s seven babies every day.   

And here are some more heart-breaking facts from UK pregnancy charity, Tommy’s. 

In 2020, one in every 225 pregnancies ended in stillbirth which means 2,638 babies were stillborn in 2020 in the UK. 

The stillbirth rate in England and Wales is 3.8 stillbirths per 1,000 total births 

According to one study of 1,064 pregnancies, around 60pc of stillbirths are unexplained and doctors cannot tell parents why their baby died. 

A total of 12pc of stillborn births are caused by placenta factors, including placental abruption – as in Danielle’s case.

Danielle Heusner's picture of her son, Ivar Heusner-Millan, who was born stillborn at 35 weeks.

Danielle Heusner's picture of her son, Ivar Heusner-Millan, who was born stillborn at 35 weeks - Credit: Supplied

Women who have suffered stillbirth are more likely to have anxiety and depression afterwards, and it can also have a long-term effect on mental health. 

A study of 609 women who had experienced a stillbirth or neonatal death, showed that women who experienced stillbirth were four times more likely to have depression and seven times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Why is it then, that with so much suffering and unanswered questions, many of us continue to speak about such unimaginable grief in whispers and hushed voices? That’s if it is even spoken about at all. 

Which is why Danielle took to the social media platform TikTok to share her experiences. 

She was grateful that there had been a place she felt able to share her grief with others, but she is right when she expressed a need for great awareness and understanding. 

Surely that only comes through more parents opening up about their experiences and society welcoming the conversation? 

It’s also why Bryony Seabrook and her husband Ben, of Sprowston, Norwich, have been vocal about their own journey through baby loss.

The Seabrook family at Dylan's grave. Picture: Seabrook family

The Seabrook family at Dylan's grave. Picture: Seabrook family - Credit: Archant

Together they have raised over £40,000 for Tommy's, helping families like them through grief, as well as funding research into miscarriage and stillbirth. 

For Danielle, she has been inundated with support from almost everyone but a few individuals have questioned why she has shared photographs of her baby boy born sleeping – another palatable way of referring to stillbirth. 

For her, the answer is a simple one. Why wouldn’t she? Baby Ivar is her son and, quite rightly, she wants to share him with the world.  

All of these babies deserve to be remembered.

Danielle Heusner's picture of her son, Ivar Heusner-Millan, who was born stillborn at 35 weeks.

Danielle Heusner's picture of her son, Ivar Heusner-Millan, who was born stillborn at 35 weeks - Credit: Supplied

  • If you would like to talk to one of Tommy's midwives about any aspect of stillbirth, they are experienced in talking about baby loss and bereavement. Call them for free on 0800 0147 800 or email them at midwife@tommys.org between Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.