Friday, November 02, 2007

Behind the stats, a family grieves

ALYSSA Harvey, the third child of champion St Kilda footballer Robert Harvey and his wife Danielle, reaches up to give her mother a kiss. The little girl's birth two years ago was an occasion of great joy for the Harveys after the trauma of losing six babies between their second and third children.

"They (the pregnancies) were all quite far ahead — four of them were over 14 weeks, one was almost 19 weeks," Mrs Harvey recalls. "I saw all my babies on the ultrasounds — at one point, I saw them all doing well. I had pictures of the ultrasounds and I felt they were very much real."

Harvey, 36, who next year will play his 19th season for the Saints, clearly remembers the pain of losing their daughter at 19 weeks."That was more of a shock … when you actually see the baby, that certainly hits home that it was a life lost," he recalls.

The couple has spoken out about their trauma to raise awareness about miscarriage, which affects one in four pregnancies.

Figures obtained by The Sunday Age through freedom of information show miscarriages in public hospitals rose to 2298 in 2005-06, from 1975 in 2003-04. In private hospitals, it increased to 676 from 598.

Euan Wallace, a member of the State Government's maternity services advisory committee and director of obstetrics at Monash Medical Centre, said many miscarriages went unreported, and if there was an increase, it might be due to women having babies later in life.

The miscarriage risk is about 10 per cent for women in their 20s and up to 50 per cent for women over 40. Women who are overweight, or significantly underweight, also have higher rates of miscarriage. Smoking, alcohol, drugs and excessive caffeine intake have all been linked to an increased risk. "But most women who miscarry are not participating in those activities," Professor Wallace says.

There is no doubt about the distress it can cause.

"While it's very common, when it happens to the individual, it really does knock them around," he says.

After the birth of their son, Connor, now nine, Mrs Harvey had an ectopic pregnancy before giving birth to Remi, now seven. But after that came the six lost pregnancies.

For Harvey, the hardest part was watching his wife suffer. "I absolutely worried about her being OK," he says. "Even getting on towards the later pregnancies and miscarriages, I was obviously very disappointed, but I was more worried about her health and emotional state."

He admits it was a stressful time, in which he felt helpless.

There were times Harvey thought his wife had gone through too much and they couldn't keep trying. But he says his wife's strength was inspirational.

"To go through all that is a pretty big effort and she's still talking about having another kid, which is just amazing."

Mrs Harvey says she still thinks about her lost babies but has found support through a counsellor.

"I had someone to talk to outside my family and friends. You have to have someone to talk to and somehow release the grief and disappointment," she says.

She also made some lifestyle changes.

"I tried some alternate practices that were very beneficial to me. I went on a herbal program, I saw an acupuncturist … I modified my lifestyle and exercise. I virtually did everything possible to try and help myself."

Mrs Harvey believes that, despite being so common, miscarriage is still a silent issue.

She has gone public to raise awareness of the issue and the Bonnie Babes Foundation.

The foundation is a non-government-funded, non-profit, volunteer-based charity that provides counselling for families that have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or prematurity and related issues such as infertility.


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