Published on: 02/10/2020
The photo speaks a thousand words, a young black woman holding her newborn, a small bundle, carefully wrapped in pink blankets. Eyes closed, lips gently apart, the baby lies in her mother’s arms, whose gaze rests firmly on her baby. Just the normal start of a tiny human’s life, captured by a photo to cherish forever. Only this photo is different. Because the beautiful little girl in the bundle of blankets was born still.
This year, from 9th until 15th October, Baby Loss Awareness Week will take place for the 18th time. Baby Loss Awareness notes that, especially during the times of Covid, the care and support for those affected has run into complications. Nevertheless, the organisation encourages people to share their stories and keep getting involved to raise awareness and to prevent those affected from being isolated.
Telling her heart-breaking story to The OBS UK is Orlanda Jackson, whose daughter Sophia was stillborn at 27 weeks on 16th May 2018.
The build up to the tragedy is even more shocking, given that, with a huge certainty, Sophia’s death could have been prevented. Three weeks before Sophia was born still into this world, Orlanda experienced some bleeding, which, at 24 weeks pregnant, prompted her to go to hospital. There, she was told all was fine, the bleeding was “normal”, and sent away without being examined at length. A week later, she returned, still bleeding. Again, the bleeding was not deemed an issue and her worries brushed aside. Trusting the advice given, she went back home.
However, during week 26 of her pregnancy, Orlanda noticed that her baby’s movement had reduced, so she rushed into hospital to get some reassurance. “They put the doppler on for around 5-10 seconds”, Orlanda recalls, “then said she is fine. I was told I couldn’t feel much movement because my placenta was at the front. My baby wouldn’t be strong enough to kick through the placenta for me to feel it.”
Once more, Orlanda went back home, believing that she had been given sound advice and somewhat reassured that, because of the location of her placenta, she wouldn’t be able to feel her baby move as much.
However, only four days later, Orlanda and her husband rushed back into hospital as she was unable to feel her baby move at all. There, she was given the news anyone expecting a child dreads to hear: “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.”
The same day she was given the most crushing news, she was given a pill that would induce labour – but not before she had to return back home for two days to wait for the effects of the pill to take place. When she returned to hospital for the final time, she was given another pill that started labour around four hours later. Orlanda gave birth to her daughter Sophia, born still, so small, so delicate, so beautiful. “She just looked like she was sleeping”, Orlanda recalls.
Despite her harrowing experience, Orlanda has praise for the staff at the hospital, recalling how lovely they were, making the unspeakable event a little less painful. “We were asked if we wanted an experienced bereavement photographer”, she recalls, “and he took some family photos at the hospital, which we now have as a slide show on a USB stick, accompanied with a beautiful song.”
Research into stillbirths shows that, in 2018, the neonatal mortality rate remained the same as in 2017, at 2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in England and Wales (www.ons.gov.uk). In addition, the same year Orlanda lost her beautiful baby daughter, the stillbirth rate in England reached its lowest level on record, at 4.0 stillbirths per 1,000 births. Such statistics are promising, but why did Orlanda have to live through every birthing person’s worst nightmare?
Orlanda explains that the results from Sophia’s post-mortem showed that Orlanda’s placenta had prematurely separated from the uterus, three weeks prior to Sophia’s stillbirth. Sophia was three weeks smaller than her gestation size should have been at 27 weeks. The consultant concluded that the issue could have been detected, had Orlanda been monitored more closely, as well as been measured properly and been attached to a monitor for a lengthy period of time. Sophia’s death was put down to negligence.
Women’s Health Magazine cites a similar story, ironically from the same year as Sophia came into this world still. Serena Williams, the black professional tennis player, explained how she had not received correct initial treatment by doctors after she had given birth. She had experienced post-birth blood clotting issues which could have proven fatal. Both Orlanda’s and Serena’s accounts highlight a wider issue, namely that of the increased risk for Black women and babies in the UK. Women’s Health notes that “Black women in the UK are five times more than likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts; that Black pregnant women are eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19; that Black babies have a 121% increased risk of being stillborn and a 50% increased risk of dying within 28 days of birth compared with white babies. These issues affect Black women no matter how high up the poles of money and influence they climb” (www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/health/a33323338/black-maternal-care/).
Two years on, and Orlanda admits that the pain is still as raw as before. “You just learn how to cope a bit better, especially when you have a toddler to take care of.” Orlanda has since given birth to a little boy, her rainbow baby, but the family doesn’t spend a day without thinking or speaking of their beautiful baby girl Sophia. “We are a family of five, not four. Sophia is our darling angel.”
Orlanda has huge praise for a charity named 4Louis, a UK charity which works across the country to support anyone affected by miscarriage, stillbirth and the death of a baby or child (https://4louis.co.uk/). “They do an amazing job and gave us a beautiful memory box with lots of different things inside, such as teddy bears, a candle, a card to write in, hand & foot print moulds and many other things. We still have Sophia’s little box which has a lock of hair, her cord, the first outfit she wore & many other sentimental items. I couldn’t thank them enough”, Orlanda says.
Whilst Orlanda’s story of loss and bereavement ends here for us, the pain and heartbreak for her family will never go away. What is also clear is, that there is still a lot of work to be done, and that Orlanda and Sophia’s family have been let down by a system that should have cared for them and made both their lives a priority.