Wednesday, March 4, 2009

News item: "Baby's death, unexplained"

I was glad to see perinatal loss given such prominent coverage in Tuesday's edition of "Canada's national newspaper." This story was prominently featured on the front page of the Life section and continued for a full page inside, with several photographs included. (The link should remain active for about a week.)

At the same time, though -- and with the utmost of all due respect to the family featured -- there's something about the presentation of the story that bothers me.

I think a lot of it has to do with headline: "Baby's death, unexplained." As in, ONE baby's death, unexplained. Like this is an anomaly -- the only baby whose death (at least of late) cannot be explained. The only one that's newsworthy.

Well, not in my world it's not. Tell me something I don't already know. Yes, this is absolutely a sad, tragic story, & it deserves investigation. But it's just one of the many, many such stories I have heard in 10 years as a bereaved parent, support group volunteer, & online community member.

Yes, I realize that the average reader does NOT know what I know. I don't think people realize (a) just how many babies DO die, & (b) just how many of those deaths are unexplained -- and always will be. And I'm not sure that they are going to get that message here.

The story does say that "each year, the Ontario [Maternal and Perinatal Death Review] committee reviews about a dozen newborn deaths," and that "According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 962 babies died from various causes in Canadian acute-care hospitals in 2007-2008, excluding Quebec."

But that figure is only for acute-care hospitals, & only for neonatal deaths. It doesn't include stillbirths.

Please, please don't get me wrong -- I'm grateful to see this issue receiving coverage (any coverage!!), not to mention in the Globe and Mail, and I think the story does a good job of conveying the depth of this particular family's loss and grief, as well as the bureaucratic hoops they have had to jump through to try to get some answers. I was glad to see PBSO quoted, and the cautionary note that finding a concrete reason for your baby's death does not necessarily relieve the pain or bring "closure." The photos are heartbreaking. And I wish the family well with their case -- I hope the reporter does a followup story so that we can find out what happens. Also, as a journalist myself, I am well aware that many details do get edited out to ensure the words and photos fit the available space.

I just wish all of the heartbreaking stories I've heard over the past 10+ years got full-page coverage in the Globe & Mail. And an equal commitment from the authorities to finding answers as to why they died.

Maybe this story will help to bring that about. I hope so.

Am I wrong? Am I nitpicking? (I'm not sure I'm expressing myself very well here.) What did you think of the story?

(Comments on the article are closed -- I don't think they were ever open. I wonder why?)


  1. No statistics on survival rates for premature/preterm infants. A 33 weeker has an 85% chance of survival. No information that shows the difference between a Level I, Level II and even a Level III nursery. No mention of what they were doing for Ms. Forshaw once her membranes ruptured - antibiotics? Medications for keeping her uterus from contracting? My oldest daughter was born at 33 weeks and was in a Level II nursery. Level II nurseries are rated to provide the care a preemie at that gestation requires. Though the article almost reads as if there were some suspicious or even negligent doings on the part of Ms. Forshaw's care providers or the hospital.

    I agree with you - mention of stillbirths and some more statistics to show these are not as isolated events as one might think, and that sometimes the unthinkable happens and there is no blame to be placed. (The passing mention of the midwife - they almost made it sound like it was part of the "mistake") More information that shows that a woman can do everything right, have top notch care and still go home with empty arms and a broken heart.

    I think the way the article ended with a quote by another baby lost mama was quite appropriate though, and conveyed a sobering and thoughtful message:

    "It's very difficult to go home empty handed," Ms. Costa said, "when you are not supposed to."

  2. I can imagine why they closed comments, didn't want to hear from all the people who will criticize them for printing such a 'downer' story. The general public just doesn't want to hear or worse, see what baby loss looks like.
    I wish more people would write about it, report on it, bring it up for discussion in public forums. Maybe if more people knew about it and it's painful after effects the db families would get more support.

  3. I guess I feel this could've, kinda, sorta, been about me, and um, I'm not sure how I'd feel having an article written about me? the whole "unexplained" thing makes it sounds like a House episode, and obviously it's really, really not. You're right, "unexplained" makes it sound like "incredibly rare! Never Happens!"

    Having said that: they do go on to point out yet another "unexplained" birth, and given that they're not just focussing on this family, but raising two instances, and have agreed to review a certain number of infant deaths, than I think stillbirth needed mention. It is also "unexplained," and if stillbirths aren't part of the review, there needs to be a reason why.

    Comes off as a not very well rounded personal interest story.

  4. It occurred to me later that one reason why they didn't open comments on the story was to protect themselves from the possibility of potentially libellous comments about care (or lack thereof) received at that & other hospitals.

  5. Glad there's coverage but I agree, it painted it like it was an anomoly, which we all sadly know it is not.

  6. There's been a lot in the British news recently re: neo-natal death because of a popular soapstar:

  7. The last line was heartbreaking - about coming home empty handed. I can't imagine how crushing that must be. It's something that you could never get over.

  8. Well, the comments are closed because every single discussion of this issue on that site, leads to a fight about abortion, not exactly the point.

    As for story itself? The parents had no way of knowing this, but I really don't like that hospital they got sent to, or several of the other ones in the area. They have a very high mortality rate compared to other GTA hospitals. (Or at least the recent provincial report said so...)

    We also have an absolutely pathetic pediatric pathology program in this country as shown by the Charles Smith inquiry. So unless they hire a US pathologist, they have no hope of ever finding a cause, and neither do most Canadian bereaved parents. US parents have a much better chance...sad actually. We like to pretend we have a great system of prevention here, but we really do suck at it.

    I hope those parents press for a Us autopsy, or at least a second opinion review of slides and reports. And then I hope they sue. They deserve better care, and I know from the care I received at Women's that they do things very differently.

  9. I'm trying to give back to help other families who have just lost a child, please read about it on a page dedicated to it...