Layla Emerald Youngman was born on July 11, 2011.
“She was exquisite,” say her parents, Gillian Graham-Crowe and Gavin Youngman. “Though, she was without breath.”
The Sydney couple are sharing their daughter’s story as part of a Senate inquiry into stillbirth research and education.
Graham-Crowe says she fell pregnant quickly and naturally. The couple were told their baby was “small for dates”, and Graham-Crowe had monthly scans, but they were advised that all was normal, even at 39 weeks.
“We had put together baby’s cot and washed all of her newborn clothes,” they remember. “We expected, any day now, to bring home our newborn.”
By July ninth, Graham-Crowe was three days overdue.
“As I lay in bed, I remember feeling a soft kick around the time I drifted off to sleep. However, my baby’s movements in utero had evidently reduced. I did not know at the time that this is something I should have been concerned about. Indeed, a simple Google search will tell you (incorrectly) that babies tend to ‘slow down’ as birth approaches.”
The next morning, at 11am, Graham-Crowe realised she hadn’t felt any movement that day. She rang the hospital and was advised to drink a glass of cold water. Nothing.
They went to the hospital where the doctor tried to find a heartbeat.
“There was not one. He lowered his gaze, apologised, and then left us in the room to try to process what we’d been told. Our baby had died.”
Graham-Crowe was induced and, after labouring for almost 24 hours, gave birth to Layla Emerald.
“We spent two days with Layla in the hospital. The midwives brought her to us a couple of times a day, and we dressed her; cuddled her; talked to her; kissed her a million times over. We spent a very short time making a lifetime of memories. Each time, we had to send her back to the cold room before we were ready to let go. We tucked her little ears up in her knitted green and pink beanie, so they didn’t get cold. We wanted to be the best mum and dad we could be for her.
“Then, all of a sudden, it was time to say our final goodbye. I don’t like to recall that moment to any great level of detail, because it physically hurts my heart.”
In their submission to the Senate select committee inquiry, Graham-Crowe and Youngman say there’s room for “significant improvement” when it comes to stillbirth research and education. They point out that the work of the Stillbirth Foundation Australia is 100 per cent community funded.
“Said in another way: the public health crisis of stillbirth attracts zero government funding.”
Layla was a small baby and the couple believe that more research is needed into intrauterine growth restriction.
They would also like to see more education about how sleeping in a supine position – lying on the back – has been linked with an increased rate of stillbirth.
“The reality for me is that, if I had been appropriately educated about the risk of supine sleeping, I would have slept entirely on my left side,” Graham-Crowe says. “If I was told about the risk of slowing movements, I would not have waited as long to present at hospital.
“I am an aware, highly educated, professional woman, but I did not know or understand the risks.”
The Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education was set up in March this year, and it’s chaired by Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.
“The death of a child at any age is a tragic event and leaves a deep ache in the loving hearts of parents and families,” Senator McCarthy tells Mamamia.
“Every year 2200 babies are stillborn in Australia. The Senate Committee was established to consider the future of stillbirth research and education because even though we have had significant technological and medical advances, the rate of stillbirth has not declined.”
Watch our tribute to the babies we've lost and the significance of remembering their names:
So far, just eight public submissions to the inquiry have been published online. But Senator McCarthy says that doesn’t automatically reflect the total number of submissions, because some come in “a very private capacity”.
“Families are generously sharing their personal experiences of stillbirth,” she says, “and while reading them is heartbreaking, they are a critical part of the Committee’s work.”
Public submissions to the inquiry close on June 29. To have your voice be heard, you can upload a submission here.