Poet, playwrighter, performer and arts project manager; Malika Ndlovu has just published her lates book on still born infants. Photo:Ross Jansen
Poet, playwrighter, performer and arts project manager; Malika Ndlovu has just published her lates book on still born infants. Photo:Ross Jansen

Writer gives voice to silent grief

By Time of article published May 6, 2011

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Tanya Farber

Cape Town writer Malika Ndlovu has returned from London where her own experience of stillbirth was shared with the public at the launch of a landmark edition of the international health publication, The Lancet.

Entitled the Lancet Stillbirth Series, it contains the first collection of global estimates on stillbirths, and Ndlovu’s voice has added to a groundswell of advocacy among international organisations to bring the topic out of the shadows.

The publication reports that at least 2.65 million stillbirths are estimated to happen every year, with more than half of those afflicting families in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

Ndlovu’s book, Invisible Earthquake, is quoted in the journal, while she was interviewed by media stables like al-Jazeera and BBC radio during the launch. “When I compare myself to other women in far less-resourced communities, I am humbled that my sharing of my story catalyses a process for other people who have never been able to speak about their tragedy. When I share my story at home in South Africa, it stands in stark contrast to the stories that come forward after I break the silence,” says Ndlovu.

Professor Sue Fawcus, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Mowbray Maternity Hospital, was also at the launch, and shed light on local statistics.

“In South Africa every year, there are between 21 000 and 23 000 stillbirths.

“That amounts to 61 a day,” she says.

She says a global framework like the UN’s Millennium Development Goals talks about the mother and child in many ways, but that no reference to stillbirth is made.

In many countries, stillbirths are not included in national systems for vital registration.

She also says that among some South Africans, it is not recognised as an “event”, and that the health system needs to “develop better mechanisms for caring for women during their bereavement and acknowledging their grief, which is otherwise forced to be a silent grief”.

Says Ndlovu’s publisher, Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books: “Personal stories make the research come alive and bring meaning so that people can really understand what the research and statistics mean.

“Malika’s writing down of her story and taking her own grief and loss seriously has meant that others can benefit from her experience and be comforted by it.”

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