One Year Ago

I wrote this post last week but wanted to obtain permission from the people I referenced prior to posting, hence the delay.

Sept 6, 2017

One year ago today, I was scrolling through Facebook. I’m not even sure how I saw this particular Facebook post from a local photographer. She had posted a picture of a heartbroken mother, face buried in encircled arms over a tiny coffin. The text read:

“I know this page is known for being filled with gushing happiness and precious newborn goodness, and I love when people at the grocery store come up to me and say they subscribe to my page because the chubby babies always make their days…….but I feel like I need to share a little piece of the other side of my work, my non-profit project– Born To Fly. Not because I want to spread sadness, but because this mother wants a certain message spread loud and clear. And if you’re like me, it will make you hug your children a little tighter. My dear friend had to do something on Sunday that no mother should ever have to do. She buried her perfect, beautiful newborn daughter. I can’t even put into words the type of pain that was written all over her face that day, but this photo speaks a thousand words to me. It speaks deep sadness, but it also speaks a louder message….cherish.your.children.  Cherish every day you have with them. Cherish the good, the hard, and even the ugly of motherhood. Hug your babies a little tighter….if for nobody else, do it for my friend.”

I remember reading that message, looking at that picture, and thinking of my own children. My daughter, 3 years old, at the time, and the new, sesame seed-sized life growing inside me. Tears fell as I wrote this comment:

I don’t know you, but my heart breaks for you.  There is no word to describe a parent who loses a child. Sending healing thoughts to you and your loved ones. Your pictures are beautiful.

Who knew that 35 weeks later, I would find myself in the same devastating circumstance? Who knew that 35 weeks later that very same amazing photographer would enter my hospital room to capture my own tragic loss? She told me about a woman who had also experienced the heartbreak of a full-term stillbirth. Another mom who was surviving this nightmare. On May 10th, two days after I, myself, became a bereaved mother, this other mom reached out to me. Not until today did I make the connection that she was the same mother I offered condolences to one year ago.

I don’t know what, if anything, this means. Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it means be nice to other people. Or we’re all connected. Or don’t take anything for granted. Or maybe it’s a reminder that we never know what the future holds.

Or that we are all vulnerable to heartbreak.

 

Neglected Tragedy

I’ve always been a fairly anxious person. I’m a type-A over-thinker, rarely taking risks. I thoroughly weigh both sides of a decision and research topics thoroughly.  During my first pregnancy I did a lot of reading. A lot. I know many mothers do so I’m uncertain if the amount of reading and research I did was “normal.” Regardless, there was me and Google at all hours of the day and night reading about group B strep, gestational diabetes, cesarean sections, inductions, vacuum extractions, forceps extractions, vaccines, vitamin K, and antibiotics in labor. I researched car seat safety, cribs and crib mattresses, toxins in disposable diapers, bed-sharing, baby gates, child safety products and daycares. I bought cordless blinds for the nursery. Once my daughter was rolling over, I moved her changing mat to the floor and removed her heavy dresser from her nursery. I breastfed for an atypical length of time. I kept her rear-facing in her car seat beyond the age of 3 years. Even now, at age 4, I won’t leave my daughter in the bathtub alone for more than 30 seconds. We don’t own guns. Every winter, my husband rolls his eyes when I give him the repeat lecture about puffy winter coats in the car seat. And years ago, when my husband and I were house hunting, I insisted that we not even consider a home with a swimming pool.

I’m not paranoid. I’m cautious. I’m careful.

And as I’ve said before, I took every precaution during both of my pregnancies.

As a society we are talking about a lot of important issues. We talk about not leaving children alone in hot cars. We talk about vaccinating. We talk about safe sleep. We talk about anchoring furniture to walls. We talk about baby gates. We talk about car seat safety. As a result, change is happening. Deaths and injuries are declining and I think this is amazing. For example, since the launch of the Back to Sleep Campaign in 1994, the rate of SIDS in the United States has decreased by 50%.

But we aren’t talking about stillbirth. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls this a neglected tragedy.

Annually, on average, in the United States:

Number of children who die from strangulation from window blind cords: 11

Number of children who die from furniture and televisions falling on them: 26

Number of children who die as a result of being left in a hot car: 37

Number of children who die from influenza: 37-171

Number of children who die from choking on food: 73

Number of babies who drown in bathtubs: 87

Number of children who die from accidental falls: 140

Number of people who die from listeriosis: 260

Number of children who die from accidental poisoning: 730

Number of people who die from toxoplasmosis: 750

Number of children who die from guns: 1,300

Number of sleep-related infant deaths: 4,000

Number of children under age 12 who die in car accidents: 9,000

Number of stillbirths (28+weeks gestation): 11,260

My point isn’t to minimize the seriousness of senseless tragedies. One dead child is one too many.  I HATE reading stories about children left in hot cars. Or dying in car accidents. Or from unsafe sleeping conditions. I hate it. And I hope you hate it too. But I also want you to hate the neglected tragedy of stillbirth. I want you to hate the fact that, worldwide, 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. I want you to hate that stillbirth rates in the United Kingdom, France, and Austria are the worst among developed nations. I want you to hate that the stillbirth rate in the United States has not changed in the past 50 years. I want you to hate that the stillbirth rate for African-American women is DOUBLE than for women of other races. I want you to hate that the United States doesn’t value stillbirth research.

I want you to hate this neglected tragedy.