In 2014, Adelaide mother Claire Foord experienced the heartbreak of losing her first child, Alfie to stillbirth. Determined to help prevent other families suffering the same tragedy, Claire is now the founder and CEO of stillbirth awareness charity, Still Aware. Her tireless efforts saw her awarded South Australia’s Local Hero in the 2016 Australian of the Year Awards. She tells her story to KIDDO…
It was my first pregnancy. I had covered off every single base. I had private health care, a private hospital, an obstetrician, a midwife, an acupuncturist, a hypnobirthing instructor and a yoga teacher. You would think one of these health care practitioners would have said something throughout my pregnancy about stillbirth?
I had a textbook pregnancy which is a really rubbish term. It’s so false. There is no one size fits all model. It suggests every pregnant mother gets this one guide.
I knew Alfie well. I knew what made her move. I knew what music she liked and that she loved listening to me reading a book as she would move around when I read. I didn’t realise I was keeping an eye on her safety at the same time.
The last weeks of my pregnancy, the movements had drastically changed but slowly. Every day she got a little bit slower and less responsive to the things that would normally make her move. I naively thought because of the information I was fed through the community and clinicians that a baby slows down before it’s born. Which again, is false information. The baby actually gets stronger and the movements will intensify.
The night before she was born was the time that she died. I had intense frantic amount of movement. I turned to my husband and said, ‘This baby wants out’ but then I thought of the information I’d been given about moving slower and then thought she wasn’t ready to come out yet. I didn’t realise that was going to be the last large amount of movement I felt from her. Then at 2am I felt a sudden jolt and I realised that was her taking her last movement and taking her last breath. She not longer tried to live. She had given me all these signs to keep her safe but I wasn’t given the tools to know I needed to report any of those changes.
It’s stranger that you can be treated during pregnancy as if you have no say, or that you are a passenger in this journey. I asked for information with the intention of keeping my baby safe, wanting to bring her home. I didn’t realise I needed to search adverse outcomes of pregnancy. I didn’t know I needed to have the right words to ask my obstetrician so he would truly give me the right answers. I trusted these experts in the pregnancy field I had not one of them told me that they had come across stillbirth before and it was a possibility in this day and age. Like me, most pregnant women are not given information about how important it is to get to know your baby before in utero. I just got asked, is your baby moving, to which I said yes, until at 40 weeks, I said no. When I expected to go into labour and bring my baby home safely, I instead went into labour and Alfie died and I didn’t get to bring her home.
Alfie was a healthy baby. The autopsy showed not only was she healthy, with no genetic illness or abnormality. Her death was like SIDS but in utero. A fatal accident, so to speak. One moment she was alive, the next she was dead. The difference is there were signs she was in distress. Had Alfie been born earlier, she would be here. In 60% of all third trimester stillbirths, there is nothing wrong with the baby and there is no reason for their death, which means they are also preventable.
I wanted to create Still Aware days after Alfie was born. When she was stillborn I was told by the midwife how rare it is and that I was just very unlucky. That led to me to wonder, ‘What did I do wrong, how did I miss this?’ What could I have done to prevent it?
I started doing research and actual deaths, trying to make sense of it all. I thought rare meant one in several hundred thousand. When I counted and realised it was six a day, I thought that couldn’t be right? When I dug deeper and confirmed that the right statistic was six a day I couldn’t fathom how in my pregnancy I couldn’t be made aware of the risks given it happens that often. 2,500 babies a year who die from stillbirth is not rare at all yet no one was talking about it. There are organisations doing this overseas and it has led to a reduction in deaths but Australia’s not done enough to help prevent it.
I wasn’t told that it was a possibility. I was saddened to find that Alfie’s death was quite preventable because of the things that I had been feeling throughout my pregnancy and had I been given the tools to communicate them, or given information, she would likely be here today. So I couldn’t sit back and let that happen to anyone else. That’s why I started it.
Amid my grief, I forced myself to write something I was thankful for because she didn’t get the chance to breathe life and how could I not live it for her? It took a long time before I was okay being around others. When I was ready, I always wanted people to talk about her. There is no right or wrong way to grieve but something is always better than nothing. So it’s always better to validate and speak up rather than be silent.
Alfie is our butterfly. She is always with us, whether it’s Ada wearing a butterfly dress, or my butterfly brooch. I am adamant to include her. My kids are only young but Archie blows her a kiss each night. It’s beautiful. We include her in our family tree. That’s the advice I would give. Remember their birthdays and special dates. It’s okay to validate them. Everyone should do that with you.
There are great charities and organisations out there for post-loss support and research, but Still Aware is the only one about the fact it exists in Australia and how to prevent it, even that it was in fact preventable.
I’m not trying to place blame but I am trying to change the way we communicate with people. Alfie could and would be here had I been communicated with properly. When I went to the doctor, I didn’t know what was normal or what wasn’t and there were times I should have been checked that I wasn’t. That doesn’t mean it was his fault. I would say that the tools of communication were substandard and that’s the case of the entire system. That’s what we’re trying to change so that women feel empowered.
I know that awareness will bring change. I am proud people are asking for our information and using it. I couldn’t never have imagined it to be as big as it’s become. It’s not just me anymore. It’s become an army of women and change-makers talking about it and sharing information to keep babies safe. It’s empowering. But we still have a really long way to go.
Since having Alfie, I’ve also been blessed with a son, Archibald, and daughter, Ada. Even with the third baby, the anxiety doesn’t go away. The innocent and naivety from my first pregnancy was snatched when Alfie was snatched from me. I no longer had the ability to be a blissful pregnant woman. However, I would have traded knowledge for naivety any day to keep her here. While my subsequent pregnancies were riddled with anxiety, I felt empowered because I had the tools to know what was going on. I longed to play with Archie and Ada every day. I asked for as many scans as I wanted and as many checks as I needed and I didn’t take no for an answer. I knew I could stand up for my babies.
I want to put the effort into Still Aware that I would have put into raising Alfie. She should be here and I should be nurturing her. I cant bring her back. I wish I didn’t need to do this but I have to. Without it, babies will continue to die unnecessarily and no one should have to walk out of the hospital with empty arms and empty hearts. It’s not fair.
Still Aware runs free classes at the Adelaide Pregnancy, Babies & Children’s Expo, April 7 & 8, Wayville Showground. Entry to the Expo is free for those registered online at pbcexpo.com.au
Still Aware’s 10 Tips
- The baby’s habits are forming around 20 weeks and by 26 weeks, there should be a routine that gives a good indication of a healthy baby. If the movement’s change, report it.
- Treat the baby as if it were out in the world with how active it is and what it responds to. If there are concerns, don’t wait until the next doctor’s appointment to check.
- Use a Still Aware fridge magnet to remind you to get to know your baby through touching, oral communication such as reading, and music.
- Do NOT use general pregnancy apps to advise on baby milestones and when they should me moving as the information is too general. Seek professional advice.
- Sleeping on your side helps oxygen reach a growing baby. Try to fall asleep on your side so the deepest and longest part is in that position.
- From 16-24 weeks on you should feel the baby move more and more up to 32 weeks then stay about the same until the birth. Babies should move right up until labour and during labour too.
- In the 3rd trimester, monitor your baby’s movements every day, preferably at the same time when your baby is usually active.
- Take notice of and note down if your baby is a morning person who wakes you, or a night owl with lots of bumping, or do they kick when the same voice is heard, or moves when someone touches your belly. Knowing the patterns makes your baby safer.
- Family and friends of a pregnant person can help by asking: “Do you play with your baby every day?” Empower them with the Still Aware message.
- A reduction or sudden increase in baby’s movements can be a warning sign. Do not wait to call your practitioner.
For more information about Still Aware and stillbirth or to donate, visit www.stillaware.org