When my son was stillborn at 36 weeks, I was angry. Now I'm dedicated to helping reduce stillbirths.

Marny Smith and her husband celebrate their daughter's birthday and remember their son Heath. Courtesy of Marny Smith
Marny Smith's son Heath was stillborn on September 21, 2019.
Marny has since learned that many stillbirths are preventable.
This is Marny's story as told to Kelly Burch.
Editor's Note: This essay contains images of a stillborn baby.
As said, this essay is based on a conversation with Marny Smith. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When I was pregnant with my son Heath, I wasn't having a baby shower until I was eight months old. That's when I finally felt like this was really happening. But just weeks later, instead of delivering my baby, a doctor broke the worst news of my life: "There's no heartbeat."
I couldn't process what happened at all. I had planned to have an elective caesarean because I was afraid of going into labour. But after my baby died, my doctor advised against it. She said that I would be in so much physical pain from the surgery that not having a living child would add to the emotional pain.
So I was induced instead. I had an epidural and Pitocin. I vomited and pushed. Nurses took my dead baby away so I wouldn't have to see him. After that I was bleeding and lactating and battling mastitis. It was a typical postpartum experience, except I was one of the 24,000 American mothers who give birth to a stillborn child each year.
I returned to the hospital to hold my son
After leaving the hospital without my baby, I started researching. I've learned that mothers who don't see their child often regret it. So, a few days after Heath was born, I traveled to the bowels of the hospital with my husband and mom. A social worker presented me with Heath's perfectly formed little body.
He looked like he was sleeping but when I held him it didn't feel right. His body was completely limp and his arms were being torn apart in a way that broke my heart again. We spent an hour with Heath holding him and taking pictures. It was surreal and nightmarish, but I knew these were the only memories I would have with my son.
The couple holding their son in the hospital. Courtesy of Marny Smith
When I found out about preventable stillbirths, I got angry
After a loss, everyone expects you to be sad and grieving. But I was angry. We had an ultrasound three days before Heath died. My husband and I both noticed that he was moving less, but the doctor assured us that he was fine. The day before he died, I noticed that he wasn't kicking me around dinner like he always did. My husband asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, but I gave him the honest answer: I was heavily pregnant and very tired. I just wanted to go to bed.
After Heath died, I realized these were missed opportunities. My doctors had never discussed the importance of fetal movement with me. I now know that reduced movement is often the first sign that an infant is in distress. It's a point of intervention that's all too often overlooked.
There are also other steps that can save lives, such as monitoring fetal growth more closely during the third trimester. We never found out exactly why Heath died, but he measured only the fourth percentile for his weight. If we had realized that before he died, maybe we could have saved him.
Research suggests that up to one in four stillbirths could be preventable, and I'm making the case for a 20% reduction in stillbirths in America by 2030. Providers don't talk to patients about stillbirth because they don't want to scare them, but that's so infantilizing and disempowering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that babies are ten times more likely to be stillborn than to die from cot death. We need to empower pregnant people by being honest about the risks of stillbirth and recognizing the warning signs.
Now I'm raising my daughter and I remember Heath
When I was in labor with Heath, I told my husband that I didn't think I could get pregnant again. He said he would never ask me to. We considered adoption but ultimately decided that getting pregnant again was the right thing for us to do. Two years after Heath my daughter Zosia Heath was born.
I brought a framed photograph of Heath to the hospital. If this baby lived, I wanted him to be greeted by the big brother he would never meet. Heide will always be an important part of our family.
People think that once you have a live child, your heartbreak is over. But no child can replace another. The first experiences I had with Zosia — changing her diaper and buckled into her tiny car seat — were things I should have first experienced with Heath. I find joy in my daughter, but there will always be a heather-shaped hole in my heart.
Marny Smith is a founding member of Push for Empowered Pregnancy.
Read the original article on Insider

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