Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Stillbirth Stories: Sharing the Burden, Breaking the Spell

June 27, 2011

By all accounts, The Lancet Stillbirth Series was a landmark in drawing attention to an issue long neglected in public health discourse. In the days following the launch of the series, over 1,000 news stories carried the message, reaching an estimated one billion people with the issue of stillbirth through various forms of media.

While articles in The Lancet typically receive top billing among health professionals, this series was spectacularly unusual in its penetration throughout a wide diversity of segments in societies throughout the world. Coverage of the stillbirth articles unleashed an outpouring of interest from the global community in addressing a topic still held taboo in communities throughout the world, from Cape Town to Cleveland.

It is as if the lid was removed from a jar of secrets long held from public view, and in the process a spell was broken.

In an accounting of the current place of stillbirth in global public health policy, Froen et al., in the Lancet series, have pointed out the startling reality that stillbirth is missing from all major global public health targets and commitments.

In fact, as recently as the UN Summit in September 2010, stillbirth was not mentioned among any of the commitments by 7 UN agencies, 36 countries, and more than 75 NGOs and professional organizations.

Local voices must remain front and center in the midst of the calls for more attention to stillbirths and to childbirth care as fundamental to maternal and child health programs; as should the important roles of local data, local planning, and local resources. Although stillbirth prevalence is highly inequitable—an estimated 98 percent of stillbirths occur in low- and middle-income settings—neglect of the issue is universal.

Perhaps this is why news of attention to stillbirths went “viral” following the launch of the Lancet series. Since the stillbirth series was published, the foundation and our partners have heard from a number of women expressing their gratitude, even relief, that this issue was finally coming to light.

Bringing this issue out of the darkness and being able to talk openly about stillbirth has struck a chord and given new hope to many women who suffer in silence around the world following early pregnancy losses. The ways in which women deal with their grief and loss are as varied as the walks of life that they come from.

In the days to follow, we are honored to share the stories of four such women who have wrestled with their loss and in the process, developed highly creative ways of reaching out to others who share the burden of having carried their pain in agonizing silence and isolation.

We hope, after reading these stories, whether you’ve experienced pregnancy loss or not, that the veil on this issue has been lifted or at least pulled back a bit.

Their stories bring to life the incredible power for healing that exists for women who have suffered through stillbirth, by opening up and sharing their burden with each other and with all of us; and by dreaming together of a brighter future in which no woman has to bear alone the immeasurable loss of a pregnancy.

 
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