I have never thought of stillbirth as a feminist issue before today, after reading an article by Kristina Keneally. But it makes so. much. sense.
Stillbirth doesn’t happen to men the same way it happens to women. It would be wrong to say it doesn’t happen to men at all, of course, they are losing their children too. But for women, it doesn’t just happen to us, it happens inside us. We are the unwilling accomplices in our children’s deaths. It is so much more than something that happens to us.
And in a world run by men, it makes sense that the rate of stillborn births has literally not changed for decades. In Australia, 6 babies die every day in their mother’s womb. That is 2,200 mothers every year suffering the loss of their baby (the figures are much higher in America, where 26,000 babies are stillborn every year). Of course their families cannot be forgotten, there are fathers, brothers, sisters, suffering the loss too. But none of them are as intrinsically involved in the loss like the mothers are. None of them are forced to physically take part. Giving birth to a baby that has already passed is something that only women experience.
Historically, stillbirth was a shameful experience, and blamed on the mother. In modern times, while this has somewhat changed, women can still be marginalised in their own stillbirth experience. I could not count the amount of male medical professionals who told me things along the lines of “sometimes these things just happen”, or even the occasional one who implied that the blame laid with me. The fact of the matter is that healthy babies do not just die. But there hasn’t been enough research into the incidence of stillbirth to even scratch the surface of why it happens, and this is probably because most of the researchers and medical professionals are male. Most of the people funding the research are male. We are living in a male-dominated world, and the finer points of women’s rights often don’t get a look in.
The medical profession is male-dominated. Women in the profession earn less then men. These are important feminist issues, no doubt about it, and apply to many other professions. But when it comes to the silence surrounding stillbirth, something must be done. Men aren’t speaking for us, because quite frankly a man has never truly experienced stillbirth. Feminists need to realise that stillbirth is their problem. Even if it has never happened to you, you are a woman, and we are a sisterhood where 6 of us (in Australia) lose our loved children every day. Just like even if you have never experienced gender-discrimination, as a feminist woman, it is still your responsibility to fight against it.
So many women before have fought for us not to experience the things that they had to. I fight today so the women who come after me might not have to experience the loss of their child through stillbirth.