A Newcastle artist has poured her experience of stillbirth into a new book which she hopes will lift the lid on taboos surrounding the subject

There are few taboos left in 21st century Western society, but stillbirth - the death of a baby, over 24 weeks old, before or during delivery - is still rarely discussed. A new book by Newcastle artist Adinda van ‘t Klooster aims to break the silence around stillbirth, illustrating the issue from both a personal angle and as an issue within our society.

Adinda gave birth to a stillborn daughter, Elvira Elina, in 2010. Since then she has been making artwork about, and informed by, this experience. Her new book, Still Born, combines a personal selection of this artwork alongside responses by eight poets, her own narrative, and by stillbirth specialist and obstetrician Alexander Heazell of Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre at the University of Manchester.

The book aims to lift some of the taboos on this delicate subject matter, speaking through art and poetry about the emotions that arise in the days, months and years that follow a stillbirth. It is being launched this month at Northern Print. Some of the original artworks from the book will be on display and three of the contributing poets will read their work.

The poems in the book have been written in direct response to the artwork and engage with the central theme of loss. Some of the poets have their own personal experience of stillbirth, miscarriage or the death of a baby later in life, some have witnessed the loss and pain of stillbirth in others.

"The artworks in Still Born were made over a seven-year period and chart the different stages one goes through in grief," says Adinda. "Denial and anger are represented in the early porcelain uterus pieces and Tree of Sadness, made in 2013, highlights feelings of deep sadness and isolation. In my most recent work, I have been able to take more distance and approach the subject matter as a societal problem, not just a personal one’.

Frozen, which illustrates the front cover of the book, is a drawing based on an X-ray made of Adinda’s stillborn daughter in 2010. The image shows the reality of stillbirth, a baby frozen in time, a baby with no future. Drawing Elvira’s skeleton in intricate detail it struck the artist that the skeleton was smiling and she concluded that we are born to smile, more so than that we are meant to disappear into our sadness. The drawing aims to give hope to women in the earlier stages of grief and show that, although it will never disappear, it does become a lighter load to bear.

"One in 224 pregnancies end in stillbirth, but nobody speaks about it and parents feel isolated and alone in their grief," says Prof Heazell. "Art and the written word offer an accessible means to inform and challenge the viewer in a quiet personal space. I hope this book will help to reduce the stigma and taboo which so often prevent parents from being able to talk about stillbirth openly."

"I remember speaking to Adinda about her work on the theme of stillbirth a number of years ago," says Anna Wilkinson, Northern Print Director. "This was quite soon after her own experience and it resonated with me as a close relative had also experienced stillbirth. I had seen first-hand the impact it can have and how hard it is for people who want to help to know how to respond. The fear of saying the wrong thing often takes over from saying anything at all. We hope Adinda and her visually-strong and incredibly beautiful work will help to raise awareness and create space for conversation about this important subject.’

Adinda has lived in the North-East on and off since 2005. She originally sought to raise funding for her ambitious project on stillbirth seven years ago, but failed to break through barriers of taboo surrounding the topic. In 2017, she ran a successful crowdfunding campaign which, alongside Arts Council funding, allowed her to realise the Still Born project which includes two exhibitions, workshops and the Still Born book.

Washington and Sunderland MP Sharon Hodgson recently made a Commons speech about her own personal experience of a daughter being stillborn 20 years ago and new government guidelines are coming into effect in April. These aim to ensure that every stillbirth is referred to the Healthcare Safety Investigation.

Still Born (Affect Formations Publishing, ISBN: 978-1-9999657-0-9) is being launched at an invitation-only event at Northern Print, Stepney Bank, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 2NP on March 22. The artworks will be exhibited at Northern Print until April 21 (Wed-Sat, noon-4pm). W: http://northernprint.org.uk

• Around 1 in every 224 births ends in a stillbirth in the UK.

• Around 9 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK.

• In 2015 Britain had the 24th highest stillborn rate out of 49 high income countries. Croatia, Poland and Czech Republic all have better stillbirth rates than the UK.

• In the UK around half of all stillbirths are linked to placental complications. Reduced foetal movement is a good indicator of stillbirth, with slowing down of movement noticed by the mother in around half of stillbirths.

• An estimated 4.2 million women are living with depression associated with a previous stillbirth.

W: http://tommys.org