LEE COUNTY, Ala.- According to the Center for Disease Control, 1% of babies born in the United States each year are considered stillbirths. This 1% equates to 24,000 stillbirths in the country.
Mothers who have experienced a stillbirth say they felt alone after it took place, and did not know who to turn to. They add that there is a stigma attached to a stillbirth, and they hope that stigma will be done away with.
In 2014, Cassidy Dear went through what each expecting mother goes through: excitement and nervousness. Everyone in her family was ready for Courtney Michelle to enter the world. Cassidy said there were no complications during the pregnancy. Two days after her due date, she went to the hospital for a normal checkup, expecting to be induced and deliver baby Courtney.
Instead, it was a day that changed her life forever.
“You see a heartbeat whenever there is an ultrasound done, and there was no heartbeat,” Dear said. “There was just a hollow sound. I remember talking to myself saying, Cassidy, just calm down. Relax. Nothing is wrong. Once that ultrasound nurse left to go get my doctor, I couldn’t control what was coming next.”
Courtney’s heart never beat again.
Dear said she felt alone. She did not know who to turn to.
A year later, she wanted to carry on the legacy of Courtney. She created the Born Into Heaven Foundation, a group that helps fund funeral expenses for stillborn babies, but also raises awareness about stillbirth. Dear said it has given her the chance to meet other mothers who have experienced her pain. She said it is weird to be thanked for creating the foundation because Dear said she did it to carry on her daughter’s legacy, but it has allowed to connect to other mothers.
“One thing that really bothered me was that I was only issued a death certificate.” Dear said. “I think that one of the greatest things that someone could do when a child dies is honor that child because they mattered. I was really puzzled that we could declare someone dead before acknowledging the fact they once lived.”
Another mother who experienced a stillbirth was Kara Newby. Back in 2014, she lost her daughter Lyddia.
Recently, Newby and the East Alabama Birth Village completed a campaign to bring the “cuddle cot” to East Alabama Medical Center. It is a device used to give families the chance to spend time with the child and allows them to say their goodbyes.
Newby and Dear agree that one of the biggest things those who experience a stillbirth and those who encounter a stillbirth can do is to break the silence. Newby said that death is a taboo subject in our society and anything people can do to break silence but allowing space for mothers and families of stillbirths to be open about their feelings goes a long way.
“Don’t be afraid to say the baby’s name,”Newby said. “A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t want to remind the mom of the baby.’ You’re not reminding her. She’s thinking about that baby everyday. It’s not like you saying that she’s going to be like, ‘Oh, I had that baby that died.’ That is something that the mother or that father carries around inside of them every single day.”
Doctor Kraig Smith of East Alabama Medical Center said a pregnancy loss under 20 weeks is a miscarriage, and more than 20 weeks is a stillbirth. Doctor Smith said chronic illnesses in the mother such as diabetes and hypertension have a greater risk of stillbirth. He also cites cord accidents as another cause for stillbirth, but cites that good prenatal care, compliance with medications for chronic illnesses are ways to prevent a stillbirth.
Doctor Smith said that people who have unexplained stillborns are unlikely to experience one again, but said that a major part of a stillbirth is reassuring the mother that it is not their fault.
“That’s a common thing for mothers to think,” Dr. Smith said. “They have a bad outcome like that and they start thinking what did I do or what did I not do that made this happen? Part of what we do is reassure them that there is not always an explanation and most likely they had nothing to do with a stillborn.”
Doctor Smith said a big hurdle after a stillbirth is that the mother has been bonding with her child since pregnancy. The bonding starts at six weeks. The family has not had the same chance to bond with the child just like the mother has. He said they find that a lot of times mothers feel isolated since they are going through a grieving process, and family members may not understand what the mother is going through. He said the main thing mothers need is support.
There is currently a support group for parents and families who have experienced a loss during pregnancy, infancy or the loss of a child. The group is held at EAMC, and more information can be found here
Dear and Newby look forward to the day where the stigma of stillbirth is gone. They say it will be a day of equality and hope that once it is gone, parents can support other parents and mothers can reach out freely and get the support they need.
They also look forward to the day where they are reunited with their kids who are gone, but not forgotten.