Raising awareness of stillbirths

After suffering tragic complications in her own pregnancy, Marina Fogle reveals the work that is going on behind the scenes to raise awareness of stillbirths

“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” observed the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It’s something I always hoped was true but had never really tested. Until one day, 33 weeks into my third pregnancy, I suffered a catastrophic placental abruption resulting in the stillbirth of my son. Before it happened to me, the idea of losing a child was unpalatable; I couldn’t begin to understand how someone would be able to function. But somehow I did, and I realised that Nietzsche was absolutely right – not just in my case, but in the case of one particular woman who has inspired me.

Around 36 weeks into a healthy, low-risk pregnancy, Heidi Eldridge found out at a routine midwife appointment that a heartbeat couldn’t be detected; her baby had died. No one could tell her why – her placenta had stopped functioning as well as it should have done and little Aidan James, born on 15 May 2009, was stillborn. Looking back over the final week of her pregnancy, Heidi remembered small changes in her baby’s behaviour and wished she had contacted her midwife sooner.

The following year, while holding her second son, Tobiah, in her arms, Heidi resolved that if there was anything at all she could do to reduce the stillbirth rate, she would.  She became active at her local hospital, helping the team work out how key, lifesaving information could be conveyed, simply and effectively, to pregnant women.

And so came about the idea of the Wellbeing Wallets. I remember being frustrated at how bulky and inefficient the file containing those all-important pregnancy notes was during my pregnancies. Pieces of paper would fall out; I kept meaning to buy a simple plastic wallet to house this crucial information but somehow never got around to it. Heidi’s idea was to create a practical wallet to hold these notes that would also convey these potentially lifesaving messages to women for the duration of their pregnancy.

Over the course of a year, she worked with the Department of Health and SANDS to put together the information that would save babies’ lives. She tapped into a work contact in China to make the wallets as cost efficient as possible, and persuaded the NHS to trial the idea in a handful of hospitals.

The Wellbeing Wallets feature key life-saving information

The feedback has been phenomenal. Over the year, nearly all of the hospitals reported a significant decrease in stillbirth rates while the wallets were in use. Midwives noticed that the wallets made women act on concerns rather than ignore them, citing three cases where acting on the information illustrated on the wallets had undoubtedly saved lives. One young mother called up explaining, “the wallet said to call you immediately if I have a bleed, so I am” she told the midwife. She was rushed to hospital and her baby was delivered immediately by emergency caesarean section, ‘in good condition at birth’.

This story makes my hairs stand on end – that such a simple idea can have such profound implications.  A life that could so easily have ended before it had begun. Not all women have the funds or the time to attend antenatal classes and this is what makes the idea so clever. The presence of this wallet, throughout the whole of their pregnancy, makes it impossible for pregnant women and their partners not to notice and digest the information. Even the midwives say that the wallets are a talking point and give them an invaluable opportunity to discuss potentially sensitive topics.

A mother to six-year-old Tobiah and three-year-old Tilly, Heidi is one of those people whose energy is as contagious as it is relentless. She established MAMA Academy to inform pregnant women of crucial information. Her aim is for every pregnant woman in the UK to be given a Wellbeing Wallet at their booking appointment. The NHS is on board – the problem is funding the wallets. Our cash-strapped health system will struggle to pay 55p per wallet for each of the 700,000 women who fall pregnant every year.

But this is one woman who doesn’t give up. She’s currently working to partner with a sponsor who would fund this lifesaving initiative in return for having their branding on the wallets. This clever partnership would create something mutually beneficial; saving babies’ lives while giving valuable exposure of a brand to every pregnant woman in the UK.

If anyone proves Nietzsche right, it is Heidi. You’d never guess from looking at this woman that her petite frame would harbour the passion, the zeal and the drive that is concealed within. Like Heidi, I feel that since the death of Willem, I too am stronger and braver. Maybe it’s because we survived the kind of trauma we couldn’t initially conceive that’s made us realise this. But maybe, too, it’s the frustration at the waste – the waste of a life that never got started, that could have been prevented, that inspires Heidi. Nothing can bring Aidan back, but if his death is the catalyst for change, if it prevents even just
one needless stillbirth, then it all just seems a little less senseless.