Confronting the elephant….

January 4, 2012
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The Elephant in the Room

“Elephant in the room” is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue.

You know how it is when family, friends, co-workers or just acquaintances are gathered and there is something that you just can’t talk about? You know – the obvious elephant in the room? It looms larger than life but you dare not acknowledge its’ presence? So it is with stillbirth. For many it becomes the elephant because it’s too painful to discuss or because we’re afraid talking about it will be hurtful to those who have lived it; for health professionals, it is the elephant that isn’t talked about because the problem is too complex and there are few answers and disgustingly because of the looming threat of legal repercussions.

Well, the ‘stillbirth’ elephant was addressed in a big way recently by the Star Legacy Foundation at the Stillbirth Summit held October 6-8, 2011 in Bloomington, MN. Researchers from around the globe along with parents, healthcare providers and interested individuals were invited to discuss new and emerging theories and hypothesis in the causes and prevention of stillbirth. It. Was. Amazing! My mind is racing with thoughts about it all – way too many to address here. So I’ve narrowed it to my top 10 thoughts and take-aways. In future postings we will delve deeper into the specifics discussed.

10. It takes an army to pull together an event like the Stillbirth Summit. All of the volunteer hours, commitment and dedication by so many are just too numerous to individually mention – you all know who you are and I send you my deepest gratitude and thanks.

9. There isn’t a perfect time to hold such an event as the Stillbirth Summit! We really wanted to hold this event in 2011 but finding a date that worked well for the majority of the researchers, had hotel availability and convenient for potential attendees was – well – painful. The date we settled on was NOT ideal in that it landed squarely on one of the most sacred Jewish holidays. To those that were impacted in this way we offer you our most sincere apologies. To Dr. Kliman who managed to come, present and return home with respect to his holiday – we honor you for acknowledging the important topics and making it work without sacrificing your spiritual convictions.

8. The many organizations that financially supported the Stillbirth Summit cannot be held in higher esteem! We are so grateful to each of you and we hope we were respectful of the way we used the funds you contributed.

7. There is hope. Although it seems most of the time that the world disregards the babies who die before they are born, we were renewed with hope just listening to the researchers who took time from their busy schedules to join in the conversation. Their passion and commitment gives us hope.

6. Action as part of grief recovery is a powerful force! In addition to the medical researchers, we were joined by a number of stillbirth families who share with us ways they have turned their grief into action. To name a few (and we’ll talk about each in later postings) Sherokee Ilse (Wintergreen Press and Babies Remembered), Sue Mosquera, Naomi Arnold (a contemporary pianist, composer, songwriter and singer). There were so many more – but we’ll talk about them all later on.

5. Parents can have an impact and need to be heard! Every one of the researchers who attended mentioned their gratitude to the parents and grandparents in attendance for bringing the stillbirth issue out of the darkness and encouraged us to push forward and insist that more attention be given to stillbirth prevention!

4. The energy was palpable! The new friendships through common bonds and ongoing networking, the heightened awareness we all received, information about new and exciting concepts, ideas for prevention, research proposals and so much more! Coming together only served to renew our hope and convictions.

3. There is no silver bullet. It became quite clear that all of the hypothesis and research examined may cause stillbirth at times, but when the various elements occur in combination they may create the ‘perfect storm’ for a less than desirable outcome. The discussions evolved to the identification of the vulnerable infant and the creation of a screening tool for that purpose. More on this later…..

2. There is strength in the stillbirth community. As we meet more and more ‘members’ of the club no one asks to join, we are impressed with the instant understanding and support for each other that is not found in the community at large. All who grieve need support and yet stillbirth is so poorly understood by most who have not experienced it. We quickly come to learn that “alone all we can do is grieve, but together we can do more.”

1. We must carry on. There is hope but when you remember that 30,000 babies in the US alone are stillborn each year – we must work harder, we must push more, we must not ever give up – ever.

In closing – when you go to bed tonight, look up at the stars and say a little prayer for the 80 or more families in the US who delivered a stillborn baby today.


One Comment

Gina Citelli moser

Great article, shauna. One thing that strikes me about the medical field and stillbirth patients is the lack of compassion and knowledge by staff. Having had been in the medical field myself (no longer) for 15 years, I had patients who experienced traumatic events that would leave anyone speechless. I understand many people do not have words ( the white elephant) and any trained medical professional must keep boundaries in showing sympathy for patients. But I will tell you after losing my daughter @ 39 wks pregnant I have run into the most ignorant people ( and also some very wonderful ) in the years after. In times when I’ve had to explain my pregnancy history I have actually run into a nurse who did not understand it when I said stillbirth. I think it should be mandatory for any health professional ( not just l& d nurses & on gyn) to be educated about prenatal care and dealing with people who have lost babies.
Our subject really Is the white elephant in the room.

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