Addressing the “Silent Sorrow” of Stillbirth


This article was originally published as part of a series produced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the months after losing my son at 40 weeks gestation, I received tremendous support from women whose babies had died many years before. At the time, it was difficult for me to appreciate our commonalities since my grief was so raw while theirs seemed so very far removed.

Today, I understand. My son would have been 17 years old this year. I do not miss the infant son so much as the teenager who would be standing alongside his brothers, now 16 and 14 years old. As an anonymous poet wrote years after her baby’s death, “I do not mourn for what you were, but for what cannot be – the unfinished life we did not share.”

Pregnancy After a Loss

That is why I was so gratified to read about Melinda Gates’ support of the landmark Lancet Stillbirth Series, designed to bring attention to a problem that affects 2.6 million women every year.

The series serves as a powerful acknowledgement that the consequences of stillbirth extend far beyond the initial grief. While it remains very much a silent sorrow, the loss of a baby brings pain into the lives of a mother and her family that cannot be erased by having more children.

However, as women who experienced such a loss proved to me so long ago, we can use our experiences to help others. In the weeks after I buried my son, I resolved to follow in the footsteps of those women who reached out to me when I needed it most.

In the early years, that resolve took the form of a book I wrote to guide women through the journey of the next pregnancy. More than 12 years after the publication of Pregnancy After a Loss, women continue to write and tell me how thankful they are to know that someone else shares their feelings.

I now plan to heed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s call to action and join other parents in the global initiative designed to both break the silence around stillbirths and reduce them by half over the next decade. Having recently completed my PhD with plans to specialize in public health research, the Lancet series inspires me to find ways to contribute to this movement. I invite others to do the same.

While I am forever grateful to those mothers who reached out to me so long ago, I am optimistic that this new research initiative will succeed in its goal of diminishing the number of women in need of such comfort in the years ahead. In the meantime, it is good to see so many joining together in giving voice to the voiceless.

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