Every year, over 110,000 Australians experience pregnancy or infant loss. To acknowledge and remember all babies lost and the grief and trauma experienced by their families, October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, with October 15 known internationally as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day.
To commemorate Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day we spoke to Rebeca ‘Bec’ Carro, a member of DV Vic/DVRCV’s Expert Advisory Panel who has experienced pregnancy and infant loss. Bec is an experienced survivor advocate, published writer and campaigner. Since the Royal Commission into Family Violence, Bec’s advocacy experience includes TV appearances, radio hosting, roundtables, public speaking engagements, as well as federal and state campaigns. Recently, Bec was part of a successful campaign that saw a national legislative change to maternity/paternity leave in recognition of stillborns.
You are the stars that steer my life by
You are everything that is good and holy to me
When I see a beautiful sunrise or sunset, that is you
When I see the lake or the forest or a flower, that is you
You are in the trees, the wind and the sunshine
You are all around me and in me
You are forever my babies born with wings.
Poem by Rebeca Carro
When Bec first started dating her perpetrator in 2005, their relationship moved quickly. After moving in together, the physical and emotional abuse started almost straight away. Six months in, Bec was surprised to find herself pregnant. She later found out her perpetrator was routinely sabotaging her birth control methods – a form of reproductive abuse.
As Bec’s pregnancy progressed, so did the violence – until seven months into her pregnancy she was rushed to hospital. Devastatingly, her baby had passed away.
“I blamed myself. I believed what he said to me, that it was my fault, I was crazy. I had to hide it and lie to the hospital staff, saying I fell down the stairs even though he pushed me. You learn to be so convincing that they don’t ask the extra questions. I was all alone; it was incredibly traumatic.”
Bec is not alone in her experience. According to the Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework (MARAM), family violence often commences or intensifies during pregnancy and is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, low birth weight, premature birth, foetal injury and death. Data collected from the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey indicated that over 400,000 women in Australia had experienced violence by a partner during pregnancy.
Family violence during pregnancy is widely regarded as a significant indicator of future harm and for this reason, it is listed in the MARAM as one of the evidence-based risk factors that may indicate an increased risk of a victim being killed or almost killed. For Bec, this risk was very real. The violence and coercive control continued after the loss of her baby, and she found herself terrified to fall pregnant again due to the risk of significant harm from her perpetrator.
“I told myself I would never go through that again…I was so scared to have another child due to the trauma I experienced. Trying to hide the fact I was on the pill was really difficult and risky – he wanted me to get pregnant, but I saw pregnancy and trauma as totally linked. I saw pregnancy as trauma.”
Bec endured 10 years of ongoing and escalating abuse, making multiple attempts to leave the relationship until she was able to escape for good in 2015.
In 2019 Bec met her current partner, Steve. He provided a sense of safety and stability she had not experienced in a relationship before. When Bec fell pregnant in her 40s with twins, she felt ready again. Things seemed perfect.
“I was over the moon. I felt like I had dealt with the trauma and PTSD and was at a stage where I could embrace the pregnancy, embrace the baby inside me. I was in a great space.”
Tragically in June of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bec’s babies were stillborn.
“It was unbelievable. How could this happen to me? Having stillborns is such a traumatic experience as it is – but to experience this at a point in my life when I thought everything was perfect, I was ready…not being able to take these babies home made all my trauma resurface.”
Desperate for answers, Bec was devastated to learn the autopsy was inconclusive. Feeling lost and unsure how to work through her grief and trauma, Bec started researching stillborns in Australia. She found that every day in Australia, 6 babies are stillborn each day – a statistic that has remained relatively unchanged since 1999. In 2018, there were 9.2 perinatal deaths for every 1,000 births.
Despite the statistics, Bec found losing her twins – a boy and a girl who she named Isaac and Grace – was an incredibly lonely experience.
“I thought there would be more support out there for pregnancy loss, but there wasn’t. I felt so alone, and I had no answers.”
Bec felt a distinct lack of support and awareness both times, but particularly during her first experience in 2005 when the links between pregnancy and infant loss and family violence were not as commonly known by practitioners.
“Family violence was not really spoken about, there was a lot of shame around it. Practitioners also didn’t have the knowledge; they didn’t have the education to ask the extra questions. I am so grateful now that practitioners today are more informed, they ask those extra questions, they investigate further.”
Bec feels strongly that the ongoing trauma she experienced as a result of family violence may have contributed to her later pregnancy loss – a risk factor she believes needs more research and focus. Another gap is the lack of a specialist, targeted network or service within the family violence sector to support women who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss. Despite pregnancy being one of the most high-risk times for women to experience death or serious harm from family violence, no such service exists.
More than anything, Bec hopes her story can help others who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss to realise they are not alone. She hopes by sharing her story and advocating for change, it will help reduce the shame associated with both family violence and losing a child.
Bec’s advice for family and friends who are unsure how to approach the subject? Be kind, and approach with empathy and understanding. Don’t ask whether they want to ‘try again’ – acknowledge the loss and offer support. Above all – normalise the conversation. For Bec, the silence surrounding pregnancy and infant loss makes it impossible to move past the grief.
“It’s traumatic. Silence means trauma, it means heartache. It means my babies didn’t exist. And they did.”