Heart-breaking photos of mum with stillborn son are branded GRAPHIC

Stacey Lebond and her son Tobias show us that we can't shy away from recognising reduced fetal movements and the problem of stillbirth in our society

Yesterday the Daily Mail published the heart-rending story of Stacey Lebond, who gave birth to stillborn son Tobias after a hospital failed to recognise the seriousness of her baby’s movements slowing and stopping in the womb.

It’s shocking that Stacey has gone through this, and that she is one of 3500 mothers every year in the UK who go home from hospital without their stillborn baby. It’s still more shocking to us here at Tommy’s that the Daily Mail chose to lead not with her story, but with a WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT’ in reference to the photos of Tobias nestled in Stacey’s arms.

 

Stacey and Tobias

Yes, Tobias was born sleeping. Yes, that is not a live baby that we see cuddled in his mother’s arms. But ‘GRAPHIC CONTENT’? These are not graphic images. These are photos of a mother’s final few moments with her son. As Stacey herself said,

‘I should be taking him to play group, not visiting his grave.’

It’s not the Daily Mail’s fault: the fact that they needed to brand Tobias as GRAPHIC shows how we as a society are squeamish when it comes to confronting stillbirth and baby loss. The whole sorry case is upsetting and perhaps they are right to warn before reading: mums and their families who have gone through stillbirth may not want to remind themselves of their own little ones lost. That is a perfectly understandable response, and they should receive the very strongest support. But the stark word ‘GRAPHIC’ feels insensitive and takes us away from the most important issue: he shouldn’t have died, and we must do more to prevent cases of stillbirth happening in the UK over and over again.

Tobias was lost after Stacey detected a reduction in his movements two days after she last visited her midwife. After being taken to hospital, a portable scanner was used to try and find a heartbeat, but there was no-one in the hospital who could interpret the results and Tobias was pronounced dead the next day. The hospital did not follow the care plan that high-risk mum Stacey had received. He was delivered weighing 7lbs 5 oz.

What to do if your baby's movements have slowed down.

This is Stacey’s second stillbirth – Tobias was buried next to his brother Ayrton, born sleeping in April 2012. She has called out the hospital for not more readily listening to her concerns, saying:

‘Not every worry is simply new-mum nerves, as I learned with Tobias,'

We spoke to Dr. Alex Heazell who heads up Tommy's Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. He is part of the AFFIRM trial which is looking into whether giving standardised advice and management to mums afters being diagnosed with reduced fetal movements can save babies’ lives (the results are due in mid 2017). He says,

‘This case shows that we should ensure that mothers are aware that they should report changes in fetal movements to their maternity service and that their maternity service should respond appropriately.

We know that mothers who experience one stillbirth are at almost 5x increased risk of another one and should be treated as high-risk.

There has been national guidance in how management mother who notice reduced fetal movements since 2011. Our research published in 2015 showed that many units had not implemented this guideline.

The MBRRACE Confidential Enquiry into antepartum stillbirth published in 2015 highlighted problems with the management of reduced fetal movements. If units had implemented the RCOG guideline, this would have standardised care and potentially saved babies lives.’

We need to work together to ensure the fetal growth movements are taken seriously, and that mums know when to call their doctors or midwives. We need to ensure that medical staffs are then able and willing to act upon mums’ warnings. And lastly, we need to see that pictures of stillborn babies aren’t squeamishly graphic but photos of children that are deeply moving and sad. These images reflect the pain inflicted by the unacceptable rates of stillbirth rates in the UK. 

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