I want to inspire others to find their voice and break the silence

Sharon Manatsa from Bedfordshire was delighted when she found out she was pregnant in 2016. Devastatingly, her baby Melkiah was stillborn. Sharon is now determined to break the stigma around baby loss, particularly within Black and minority ethnic communities. This is Sharon’s story.

My husband and I got married in 2014. We didn’t start trying for a baby straight away as we wanted some time to enjoy early married life. After a wonderful year and a half together, we decided it was time.

A positive pregnancy test

In spring 2016, I found out I was pregnant. I made a surprise announcement to my husband and we were both absolutely overjoyed.

I suffered with terrible hyperemesis gravidarum, which is severe morning sickness, throughout the first couple of months. Experiencing such extreme sickness was difficult but we got through it. I took each day as it came and kept reminding myself that it would come to an end. It was a very tough time but definitely brought us closer together as a couple.

Entering the third trimester

Before I knew it, I was approaching the third trimester of my pregnancy. At 24 weeks, I went for a scan and everything seemed fine.

However, at a routine midwife appointment at 27 weeks, I found out that my bump wasn’t growing at the rate that it should’ve been. I was booked in for a growth scan a week later to check everything was okay.

Going into early labour

A few days before the scan, I woke up with excruciating pain in my lower back. I also started to bleed. I was very worried that I was going into early labour. Something felt seriously wrong and I was finding it increasingly difficult to communicate. We called for an ambulance and I was rushed to our local hospital.

The doctors’ first focus was making sure that I was okay. I was showing symptoms of high blood pressure and it didn’t seem to be lowering.

I was taken into a room for a scan. All I remember was the silence. Then I heard the devastating words: “I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat”. I couldn’t quite make sense of the situation. I wanted them to check again. A senior consultant came in and confirmed that my baby had died. In that moment, I was crushed.

Giving birth to our stillborn son

I gave birth to our baby boy in the early hours of November 13 2016. We named him Melkiah which means ‘God is my King’.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see him initially. I didn’t know what to expect and my mum was worried that it would make me feel even more upset. But I needed to see him.

Our son was perfect. There was nothing wrong with him. He looked like a perfect sleeping baby.

Leaving the hospital with empty arms was incredibly difficult. I just couldn’t stop crying. I’d become so familiar with his kicks and movements during our months together. We’d bonded and I loved him with all my heart.

Dealing with our loss

I was born in Zimbabwe and moved to the UK in 2001. In many ways, my family and I have fully integrated into Western life but when it came to my devastating loss, my family found it difficult to deal with.

I found myself encountering the same opinions from people over and over again: stop crying, it’s done now, it’s finished, you can have another baby, it’s okay. It was as if our beautiful little son could be replaced.

Where I come from, we stand together. We keep things private. It was important to be strong. My family were petrified at the thought that I was receiving support and I felt like I wasn't allowed to grieve openly for my son.

In my culture, people believe that crying about the loss of a baby is bad luck. I didn’t attend Melkiah’s funeral as the people around me warned that crying would make me infertile.

Trying to make sense of my grief

It was an incredibly painful time. As the months passed us by, I felt like I wanted to talk more openly about what I’d been through. I didn’t want to feel scared and afraid of my feelings anymore.

I started to talk more about what I’d been through. I discovered that many of the women around me had experience of baby loss but had kept it to themselves. I realised that there was a bigger problem within my community.

Two years ago, I gave birth to my second son Levi. I talk openly with him about his big brother. I recently took him to visit the place where Melkiah was laid to rest. It gave me closure in a way.

I’ll never forget Melkiah, and I will always love him.

Breaking the silence

I am now on a mission to break the silence that surrounds baby loss, particularly within Black and minority ethnic communities. Of course, everyone’s experience will be unique, but I believe it is important to give a voice to the women and families that have been silenced.

The Melkiah Foundation is named after our son in remembrance of him. It aims to  create a voice for the one who has been silenced. We aim to support women and their families to access services and emotional support. This will be their protected space to openly share experience and we are here to listen.