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Eight years on, stillbirth mother still aches

AMANDA PARKINSON
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2014

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She knew before she went into labour that she would deliver a "dead baby".

Waikato mother Cathy Buntting's world collapsed eight years ago when complications during her first pregnancy led to her daughter being delivered as a stillbirth.

"It changes your life. She was my first child. We set things up at home, but we never got to take Meagan home."

Buntting was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia - a disorder associated with high blood pressure during pregnancy. The condition led to blood clots forming in a knot of the umbilical cord and the death of her unborn baby.

"For a period of time after Meagan died that was my identity - I was just this mother of a dead baby."

The death of your baby changes your world and there are social pressures to grieve in silence, Buntting said.

As a young and healthy 29-year-old mother she had to grapple with the endless questions of why.

"Why did it happen? Why do other families get to keep their babies? Why do families that don't look after their baby get to keep them?"

Despite the risk of making her and her husband vulnerable to loss again, the desire to have a child overrode Buntting's fear of losing one.

"I wanted a baby to hold, I wanted my baby to hold. My arms would physically ache for that. Even now I physically get an ache in my arms that long to hold that baby," she said.

She went on to have a healthy daughter and son.

Eight years on, Buntting said she has learned to find balance in her life again, but the recent Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) report released this week was disheartening.

As the convenor of SANDS Waikato, a support group for bereaved parents, Buntting said for parents the grief is "ghastly".

"The report has highlighted the significant group of people that don't or can't access maternity care . . . those babies should have been given better care."

The PMMRC investigated the deaths of 669 "infants" aged between 20 weeks' gestation and four weeks old, and 15 maternal deaths that happened in 2012.

It called for better education into the associated risks of pregnancy, including improved access to maternity care.

Obesity was identified as a major contributor into stillbirth rates and led to Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew encouraging practitioners to better support healthy eating during their patients' pregnancy.

"Like many other developed countries, obesity is an increasing issue in New Zealand. Putting on some weight during pregnancy is normal but too much extra weight can lead to health issues for the mother and baby."

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Recommendations presented to the Health and Quality Commission included improved access to maternity care and smoking cessation courses to help reduce pregnancy mortality rates in New Zealand.

The report indicated a third of the maternal childbirth deaths "potentially" could have been prevented and almost 20 per cent of neonatal deaths could have been avoided.

Anyone seeking support or grieving the loss of a child can call SANDS on 0800 570 0330.

amanda.parkinson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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