Featured image courtesy of Alex McClintock.
Earlier this month Hagar Cohen and Alex McClintock spent time with a Sydney family and their stillborn daughter, Chloe for an ABC Background Briefing investigation into preventable stillbirth. This is how it happened.
For weeks we’d been chasing hospitals, trying to get access to maternity wards to tell the story of a stillbirth. After endless phone calls with suspicious hospital administrators, it was the Mater Maternity Hospital in North Sydney that invited us in.
Then it was simply a matter of waiting for a stillbirth to happen. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Waiting for a stillbirth to happen. That’s our job, though, and we knew this was an important story to tell.
We didn’t need to wait long. Six babies are stillborn in Australia every day — one every four hours.
Deb de Wilde,a social worker, got in touch and said she had spoken to a couple who wanted to tell their daughter’s story. Her name was Chloe. She was born at 37 weeks and four days. She was perfect.
You can listen to Chloe’s story on Radio National’s Background Briefing podcast, here.
We jumped in a cab, and started making plans. I’ll do this, you’ll do that. We wanted to make sure we were as sensitive as possible; we didn’t want to push the boundaries of what a grieving family were comfortable with.
The penny dropped on the Harbour Bridge: we were about to see a dead baby. We spent the rest of the drive in silence.
Deb met us at the hospital. She looked tired. Chloe’s parents were the third couple she had counselled in the last 10 days. Deb is well known among bereaved parents and the Mater’s midwives know her as “Saint Deb”. She’s usually the first person parents see after hearing the devastating news that their baby has died.
First, we spoke Regina and Fiona, the midwives who cared for the parents. Though they have half a century of experience between them, the discovery of a baby that has died before drawing a breath is not something you ever get used to. At times during the interview, both seemed close to tears.
Then we waited, eating hospital sandwiches and drinking instant coffee. Suddenly Deb appeared and before we knew it we were following her down the maternity ward’s corridors. We were going to collect Chloe from the fridge and take her to her parents.
This might sound a bit strange. We know. But these days many hospitals encourage parents to spend time with their stillborn. Deb says it helps them with the grieving process by creating precious memories of a child they will never take home. It helps validate their experience as parents after nine months of expectation.
Chloe was in the “holding room”, a cupboard really, tucked away at the bowels of the maternity ward: a few shelves, lots of baby blankets and a fridge.
We knew what was inside. We certainly didn’t feel ready for it.