A Mother’s Encounter with Stillbirth An interview with Mandy Dart
What is stillbirth? A baby born after 24 weeks with no sign of life is considered a stillborn.
What causes stillbirth? Although there are lots of indications or causes for stillbirth (including infection, umbilical cord accidents, diabetic conditions, genetic factors, placental problems, eclampsia, and high blood pressure) in about 50% of the cases, the reason for death is unknown (www.wisegeek.com). In our case, after an examination of the placenta, a true (tightened) knot in Kendall’s umbilical cord was found.
Describe your experience with stillbirth. At 39 weeks in my pregnancy, I noticed a lack of fetal movement one evening after enjoying a lovely, physically active, gorgeous autumn day. I called my mom and then my midwife, and when there was still no movement after taking some advice from them, my husband and I met our midwife at the hospital to do a fetal-monitoring test. Shortly after, we found out that our baby was no longer alive. I was induced the next day and gave birth naturally to our daughter on September 8, 2006, at 8:17am. Kendall was born at 6 1b, 3 oz and we spent the day with her until Billingsley Funeral Home came to the hospital to take her to be cremated. Were there any signs that something might go wrong? Not at all. My pregnancy was glorious and complication-free. All of my check-ups with my midwife were great. My prenatal care was thorough, my state of being was vibrant, and my optimism was overflowing.
What emotions did you experience after Kendall’s birth? Confusion. Shock. Hopelessness. Impatience. Relief. Guilt. Dread. Despair. Jealousy. Anger. Doubt.
What difficult things did you endure after Kendall’s birth?
- People asking me excitedly, “Oh, what did you have?” when they saw me
- Putting away Kendall’s baby things and packing up Kendall’s room.
- People asking me when I was pregnant with my second child, if it was my “first.”
- Being around a woman pregnant with her second child, and feeling odd because I had the experience of a full-term pregnancy and a natural delivery but no experience raising a child.
- Hearing about any other pregnancies/births after Kendall was born.
- Lying in bed after Kendall was born and realizing I no longer had a baby inside of me, that I would never see my baby’s eyes, or have a nice photo of her alive.
- Thinking about the umbilical cord tightening, cutting off Kendall’s vital nutrients and wondering whether Kendall noticed what was happening to her or went peacefully and quietly inside of me.
- Understanding my grief—who or what was I missing? My life had returned to the same childless state it was in before, but it would never feel the same.
Who/what helped you through this traumatic experience? The love of family and friends. An emotionally-available husband. An intimate gathering after Kendall was born, to share our sorrow. A visitation at our house for friends and colleagues to come and share their grief and shock with us. Distraction. Crying. Books. Midwife Dianne Smith. Time off work. Time with spouse. Pets. Perinatal Bereavement Services Ontario. Hospice Muskoka. Huntsville Hospice. Lots of photos from the birth. Naming the baby. Organizing an annual mini-golf tournament in Kendall’s name. Other people talking about our baby and using her name freely. Visiting the “Remembering Our Children” memorial site on the Gravenhurst Wharf trail.
What personal growth has occurred as a result of having a stillbirth experience? I learned a lot about acceptance after experiencing such grief. I learned even more how precious life is. I have been able to become much more empathetic to other people’s struggles with loss in all capacities. In telling people the truth about our situation, we have discovered conversations and connections with others who have similar stories of loss, grief or overcoming barriers to parenthood. My relationship with my friends and family has grown stronger as we all recognize how lucky we are to be here and to have the chance to experience a life that many babies don’t get to.
A Family’s Encounter With Stillbirth
Daddy’s perspective (Roger Bird): I have a sinking feeling. It is September 6th, 2006. In a small, private room in the Huntsville hospital, the midwife searches for a heartbeat. We hear nothing. A doctor enters, and he finds the same: nothing. In soft voices, we are officially informed of what we already know. Mandy cries a cry I have never heard. Bug is gone. I just snapped in her/his car seat this morning. Around midnight, I make two telephone calls, one to Mandy’s parents and one to my sister Pam. Pam won’t sleep the rest of the night, but she’ll let my mom sleep and break the sad, sad news to her in the morning.
The next day, Mandy is in hospital to deliver Bug. Bug waits. That night I sleep in a chair in the hospital room, alongside Mandy’s bed, waking at the squeeze of my hand to time contractions. In the morning, September 8th, Bug is born. There is plenty of crying, but none is from the beautiful baby girl who is soon named Kendall Pearson Bird. We hold her, talk to her, rock her, spend seven hours with her before she needs to be taken away. I have a sinking feeling.
Nana’s perspective (Bonnie Dart): As a mother filled with the excitement of waiting for my first grandchild, I was struck by an all-consuming, double-loss. My daughter, Mandy, enjoyed a happy and healthy pregnancy. After a very busy day, just before her due date, she called me at night and said she couldn't remember if she had felt the baby moving that day.
I was slapped by fear.
Mandy and Roger met the midwife at the hospital where an absent, fetal heart rate confirmed my worst thought. I felt anguish for my child who now had to face the death of her unborn child. It doesn't seem like a stillbirth when your daughter is still pregnant. I was stunned by the fact that she was going to need enough strength in her grief, to have labour induced, and deliver this baby.
I found these two sorrows, one for my child's loss, and one for the loss of my grandchild, agonizing. My mother had died just a few months before, and up to that point, I had been comforted, knowing that a new life was being added to our family.
What helped me through my distress, was realizing I had a vital role as a mother, in supporting Mandy and Roger through their grief, as well as the rest of my family. What hurt me the most, was not being able to lift their burden, to make the deepest heartache a parent can feel, more tolerable.
Grandpa’s perspective (Bruce Dart): After a rough couple of years where my wife and I had both suffered the loss of a parent and a few long time family pets, we were so looking forward to the birth of our first grandchild.
When the phone call from our daughter came saying she hadn't felt the baby move that day, I wasn't overly concerned since my wife, an experienced obstetrical nurse, had previously told me that babies don't have as much room to move around near the end of the pregnancy. The second phone call around midnight changed all that and sent us on a journey I wouldn't wish on anyone. We left for the drive to Huntsville.
It was dark out. It was late. It was lonely. A thick fog added to the eerie feeling of despair in the car. This wasn't supposed to happen.
Why, God? Why our family? Why Mandy? My observations over the pregnancy were that Mandy had been so careful. The right foods. Exercise. Rest.
Standing in the hospital room on the other side of a curtain waiting while my daughter delivered Kendall was such a helpless, horrible feeling. Knowing that she had been delivered but not hearing a baby's cry was torturous and I pounded the wall with my fists in frustration.
Holding little Kendall in my arms was something I wanted to do and I cherished the time I had with her but it was all over so quickly. Until Mandy got pregnant with her second child, I couldn't be around anyone who had a newborn baby. It brought back such memories about what might have been.
Over time, I have been able to accept the fact that God allows certain things to happen and it has brought us closer together as a family. It has taught me to be more sympathetic to the needs of others.
Auntie’s perspective (Melody Dart): My sister’s pregnancy was the first in our family, and I couldn’t wait to be the ‘fun’ aunt! When I found out that her baby wasn’t alive anymore, I was in disbelief. She was one week away from her due date. Everything had been great. How could this have happened? My next thoughts were about giving birth to a stillborn baby. How could one find the strength to do that? My sister did. Being 30 weeks pregnant with my first child now, I cannot imagine the pain, loss, and grief that she went through. When my sister had her second baby, we took comfort in knowing that without Kendall, there would be no Cameron. And with Cameron, I definitely got to be the ‘fun’ aunt I always wanted to be.