The woman, who was having her first baby, had arrived for admission to birth suite. I introduced myself and led her into the assessment room chatting as we went, neither of us had any clue about the tragedy which was about to unfold. I lay her down on the delivery bed to do an abdominal palpation and, still happily chatting, felt for the baby’s position. My hand touched the baby’s foot and a cold chill went down my spine as I realised that there was no reaction to my touch. My heart in my mouth I reached for the hand held Doppler and placed it directly over the anterior shoulder but there was no sound. Still a little disbelieving I checked the battery, which was full. I quietly said “I’m sorry there is no heartbeat, I’mgoing to arrange for you to have an urgent ultrasound but to be honest things don’t look good” it was time for the woman to be disbelieving, she later told me that she thought I was an “incompetent idiot” as she had felt her baby moving only a few hours earlier. Her beautiful baby girl was born still just a few hours later, not a mark on her perfect little body.
Since that day I have cared for many other families as they have met their stillborn baby. Just as is the case with live birth, every single birth and every single circumstance was different. But unlike the many hundreds of live births that I have attended I still remember each and every one of the stillborn babies names, the bereaved parents names and the circumstances of the birth and very few of the baby’s and parents whose baby was born alive and well. Why? Well I think it is because when birth and death collide it is always memorable AND I think that it is the most enormous privilege to provide care to parents when they are at their most vulnerable and sad. I often say to my students that a key role for the midwife is one of advocacy and it is never more important to advocate for the woman and her family than when the baby is stillborn.
So on this International day of the midwife as we celebrate the role of the midwife which is usually “being with” families at one of the most joyful times in their life, we should also remember the more than 7,000 babies across the world who will be stillborn today, their parents and their midwives who are “being with” them at one of the saddest times of their life.