Raising Awareness of Stillbirth: A Mother’s Story

2 Degrees FoundationWe’re so happy to welcome Debbie Haine Vijayvergyia to the blog today, sharing her story in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Debbie is the co-founder of Action for Stillbirth Awareness & Prevention and the 2 Degrees Foundation.  If you have experienced a loss, please know this post might be triggering. 

Since I was a young girl, the only thing that I was 100% certain of was that one day I would become a mom. As a little girl, I fondly remember playing with all of my baby dolls, always pretending to be “the mommy.” Not once was I ever given a reason to believe that the whole process of becoming a mother would be remotely difficult.

Fast forward 30 years.

My first pregnancy was easy and uneventful. However, a week after my daughter was born I came down with a late presentation of Group B Strep which nearly killed me.  I can’t lie, it wasn’t pretty but I got through it. Many people would often ask me if I would consider having more children after such a traumatic post birth experience. I was always a little surprised by this question, but of course I would reply, one day.

A year later I suffered my first miscarriage. I made peace with it, acknowledging that our daughter was still very young and that waiting another year would be better for everyone. I never once worried about what my future pregnancy outcomes would look like. The following year I suffered my second miscarriage which was a much tougher pill to swallow. I was 8 weeks along when I started spotting. Ultrasounds showed the baby’s heart beating strong and my OB decided to put me on bed rest hoping that maybe a little time with my feet up was all I needed. Unfortunately the spotting became heavier and my pain intensified over a couple of weeks. I felt like a ticking time bomb and one night the bomb went off. It resulted in an ambulance ride, 10 hours in the ER, and a broken heart. At that point I didn’t think things could get any worse.

The next year I was pregnant yet again. I was anxious but at the same time, I was feeling great and was confident that everything was going to be ok. As silly as it may sound, at this point, I convinced myself that I had been through enough and had “paid my dues” to the fertility gods. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case; at a routine 2nd trimester checkup my obstetrician could not detect my baby’s heartbeat. There are no words to describe the overwhelming sense of devastation I felt. I was broken. Life would never, could ever be the same.

Six weeks later, our autopsy report showed us that our daughter’s umbilical cord had collapsed, which resulted in her oxygen source being cut off. My doctor informed us that this was extremely uncommon, like being struck by lightning, as he tried to ease our anxiety when discussing the idea of a subsequent pregnancy.

Stillbirth is defined as a fetus that dies during the 20th week of gestation or later, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. I think that up until this time I had heard the word stillbirth or stillborn used maybe once or twice. I honestly couldn’t understand how my low-risk, healthy pregnancy had ended this way.

I learned the hard way that stillbirth isn’t as uncommon as we are led to believe. The fact is that stillbirth causes approximately 26,000 deaths a year in the United States — that is approximately 71 babies a day (2000 each month). Even with numbers like these, stillbirth remains one of the most understudied and underfunded public health issues today.

After losing my daughter Autumn, it took me a very long time to come to terms with our new reality. The only way that I could make any sense of our heartbreaking tragedy was to give it a purpose. I couldn’t sit by and let others suffer like we had, I felt compelled to help them. I have since become heavily involved in stillbirth advocacy and work on a daily basis to create more awareness around stillbirth and improve outcomes.

Almost exactly a year to the date that I brought our sweet sleeping girl into the world, I delivered a healthy beautiful boy. My son gives me so much hope; not just for myself but for others.

I have to believe that with hope we will be able to discover why stillbirths occur and how we can begin to prevent them. Hope will help us overcome the stigma associated with stillbirth. Hope will put stillbirth on the map so that it gains the recognition that it deserves.

Whatever you do, please don’t give up, you’re not alone. We can do this together- the more we talk about it the less it can be ignored. #pregnancyandinfantlossawarenessmonth #stillbirthawareness #stillbornstillmatters #the2degreesfoundation #breakthesilence #endstillbirths

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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