After we lost Theo, I was surprised at how many people told me that they didn’t know stillbirths still happened these days. While I didn’t know much about it myself before it happened to me, I was fortunate to have two Facebook friends who had experienced stillbirths and shared their stories very openly. Thanks to these two remarkable women, I had some idea of what to expect after we received the news that Theo had died.
In order to increase awareness of and knowledge about stillbirth, I wanted to share some basic facts about stillbirth and how they relate to our experience with Theo.
Facts About Stillbirth (see American Pregnancy Association for more)
Stillbirth is defined as the intrauterine death and subsequent delivery of a developing baby at or after 20 weeks gestation. Stillbirths occur in about 1 out of 160 pregnancies. Though a cause is not identified in one-third of stillbirths, some common causes include the following:
- Placental problems, such as placental abruption and preeclampsia
- Genetic abnormalities
- Growth restriction
- Umbilical cord accidents
- Maternal health issues, such as diabetes and high blood pressure
There are a number of documented risk factors for stillbirth. However, not one of the many, many women I have come to know both personally and online over the past two months had a single one of these risk factors. I am not listing them here because my overall goal is to let people know that stillbirth can happen to anyone, regardless of “risk factors.” However, there are some steps that can possibly help prevent it.
While the incidence of stillbirth has decreased significantly over the last several decades, approximately 26,000 babies are stillborn in the United States each year. The following steps can help prevent stillbirth:
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking.
- Notify your doctor if you have any vaginal bleeding.
- Most importantly, be aware of your baby’s normal movements (i.e., count kicks), and see your doctor if you note any changes.
I cannot stress the importance of this enough. I truly believe that if I had had a better understanding of kick counting, I could have saved Theo. Theo was an extremely active baby. However, for several days prior to his death, I had noticed a decrease in his movements. Unfortunately, all I knew about kick counting was that the official guideline was “10 kicks in a 2 hour time period.” When I did my daily counts, I always counted at least 10 movements in 2 hours, so I felt reassured that he was okay.
As I have since discovered, there is much more to the “Count the Kicks” movement than simply counting 10 movements in 2 hours. The most important thing is to be aware of YOUR baby’s movements and call your doctor immediately if you notice drastic changes from his or her normal pattern. Below are the general guidelines. Please see Count the Kicks for more information.
- Count the Kicks every day, preferably at the same time.
- Pick your time based on when your baby is usually active, such as after a snack or meal.
- Make sure your baby is awake first; walking, pushing on your tummy or having a cold drink are good wake-up calls.
- To get started, sit with your feet up or lie on your side. Count each of your baby’s movements as one kick, and count until you reach 10 kicks.
- Most of the time it will take less than a half-hour, but it could take as long as two hours.
- Log your recorded times into a kick chart.
- Call your doctor if you count fewer than 10 kicks in a two hour period OR if you notice a significant change in your baby’s movements.
What Happened to Theo?
The cause of stillbirth is undetermined in one-third of all cases. Officially, Theo’s death was listed as “cause undetermined.” However, I experienced a placental abruption during labor that could have potentially started out as a partial placental abruption and deprived Theo of oxygen without causing any bleeding or other symptoms (according to the American Pregnancy Association, about 20% of cases of placental abruption occur without vaginal bleeding).
In addition, according to the doctor who delivered Theo, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his legs “several times.” However, the doctor also said that the cord wasn’t wrapped so tightly as to make him think that Theo’s oxygen and nutrient supply would have been cut off.
In short, the doctor could not clearly identify either of these factors as a definitive cause of Theo’s death, but it was likely one or the other, or a combination of these issues.
The What Ifs
Naturally, I feel guilty that I was not able to save Theo, and I live with the “what ifs” every day. What if I had gone to the doctor the day before? What if I had been less busy that day and noticed sooner that he wasn’t moving? I know that I can’t change what happened, and I don’t blame myself or anyone else. But the “what ifs” will never go away.
My family also has a lot of “what ifs” when it comes to my mom’s cancer. My mom always prided herself on having a very high tolerance for pain, on being a “good” sick person, and on never complaining. She had pain for many, many months before she finally went to the doctor. When she did go, the cancer that had originally started in her ureter had spread to her left kidney, her liver, her lungs, and her bones (spine, ribs, and arm). What if she had gone to the doctor sooner?
If there’s one thing I want everyone to know, it is not to be afraid to see the doctor, no matter what the reason. Don’t ever think you are overreacting or being a nuisance. And if you are not happy with the response you get, see another doctor. There is no harm in being overly cautious — you could potentially identify a serious problem early on. And even if everything turns out perfectly fine, at least you won’t have to live with the “what ifs” for the rest of your life.