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Still Six Lives: The devastating toll of stillbirth in Australia every day

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Australia holds one of the worst records in the developed world for stillbirth.

Around 2,200 babies are stillborn every year—or six every day and that rate that has remained unchanged for 20 years.

For Gem and her partner Yen, the heartbreak following the loss of their baby boy Jin was indescribable.

According to Gemma, “As a same-sex couple, we always knew I would carry our baby. I was older than Yen, and I was ready to grow my body around our child, to change and mould myself to motherhood.

“At the beginning of our IVF journey, we decided to use an Asian donor so our baby would look more like their non-birth parent and feel a deep sense of belonging to our extended family,” she said.

And for the same reason, it was important to give their baby a Chinese name—Jin, which means ‘the place where the mountains meet the water’, and which they kept secret for fears of somehow “jinxing” the pregnancy.

The couple endured many trials in trying to conceive their son. Their first round of IVF resulted in two miscarriages. The next round gave them no good eggs and no good reason why.

“In the doctor’s office, he pointed to a picture of my insides—the very minimal endometriosis sitting in my gut—and shrugged. We still didn’t know what was happening, but we agreed to try one more time.

“I was determined, even with a blood clotting disorder that meant my pregnancy, whenever it happened, would be risky and full of specialists.”

Given the challenges of their journey to become parents so far, Gemma and Yen were overjoyed to fall pregnant.

“The pregnancy was smooth. I held my breath at every scan, but Jin’s heart was always beating, his tiny body twisting around within me.”

Gemma and Yen.

But one Saturday morning in November, Gemma woke up and Jin felt heavy and still.

“We went to the hospital and found out that Jin, probably some time the night before, had passed away.”

“Jin lived within me for 27 weeks. For 174 days, I felt him in my body, growing, changing, becoming.”

“I had always imagined that announcing my baby’s name to the world would be a joyous affair, a celebration of life to come. Instead, we announced our baby’s passing in the same breath.”

Gemma and Yen are sharing their story in support of Still Six Lives, a national initiative to educate Australians on the prevalence of stillbirth across the nation and to empower communities with knowledge that could help save an unborn life.

While stillbirth can happen to anyone, is not always preventable, and can happen for a variety of reasons, there are three simple steps that can help reduce the risk of a baby being stillborn: stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke; if you feel your baby’s movements change, contact a maternity care professional; and sleep on your side after 28 weeks.

Funded by the Federal Government, Still Six Lives is delivered by a consortium of established Australian Organisations including Red Nose, SANDS (Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support), Stillbirth Foundation Australia and Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence.

Jane Wiggill, Red Nose Chief Midwife & Manager, Health and Advocacy, said Australia’s rate of stillbirths was 7 per 1,000 births—that’s one family suffering this devastating loss every four hours.

“Not every stillbirth is preventable—despite enormous technological and medical advances, the rate of stillborn babies has not declined in two decades,” she said. Yet education around the known risk factors needed to be more widely understood throughout the community.

“Smoking is a significant risk factor for stillbirth, so stopping smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke is important. This is a difficult habit to break for some, so reach out for support if you need it. You’re not alone.

“Also crucial is feeling your baby move, and contacting your maternity care professional immediately if you feel a change in movements. Although it is a common myth, babies do not stop moving towards the end of pregnancy.

“Lastly, and seemingly lesser-known, sleep on your side from 28 weeks to halve your risk of stillbirth compared to sleeping on your back. There are plenty of pillows and support systems out there to support this important change in sleeping style.”

To find out more about the Still Six Lives campaign including advice, support services and how to support loved ones, visit preventstillbirth.org.au.

Feature image: Gemma and Yen holding Jin.

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