By Debbie Haine Vijayvergiya – Since I was a young girl, the only thing that I was 100% certain of was that one day I would get married and become a mom. At the age of 30, I got the married part down and before I knew it, we were ready to get working on making me a mom. I had never been given any reason to believe that the whole process of becoming a mother would be remotely difficult, on any level.
After a few months of trying with no such luck, I invested in a fertility monitor. I was fortunate enough to get pregnant soon after. My pregnancy was easy and uneventful. However, a week after my daughter was born I came down with a late presentation of Strep B which nearly killed me. During my hospital stay, I contracted another infection and a blood clot but I stayed strong and focused on the fact that I had a week old baby that I had to get home to. 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 so 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 topic of stillbirth is taboo in our society and we have a tendency to pretend it doesn’t happen, so we don’t talk about it. This has to change.
The following year I suffered my second miscarriage which was a much bigger pill to swallow. I was 8 weeks along when I had 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 began to intensify over a 2 week period. 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, a D&C, and a broken heart. At that point, I didn’t think things could get any worse. It was my worst nightmare.
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 22-week 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. Six weeks later, our autopsy report showed us that our daughters umbilical cord had collapsed, which resulted in her oxygen source being cut off. My doctor informed us that our daughter being born still and her cause of death were extremely uncommon, like being struck by lightning.
What can I say? I lived 34 years of ignorant bliss, never knowing what a stillbirth truly was or that I was at risk. I think that up until this time, I had heard the word used maybe once or twice. I honestly couldn’t comprehend how my healthy pregnancy had ended this way.
But 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 approx 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 our daughter, Autumn, it took me a very, very long time to come to terms with our new reality. The only way that I could make any sense of this 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; not just for me but for Autumn too. I have since become heavily involved in stillbirth advocacy and work on a daily basis to create more awareness around stillbirth and to improve outcomes.
I’m proud to say that my hard work is slowly starting to pay off. On January 21, 2014 Governor Chris Christie signed New Jersey’s first ever stillbirth legislation, The Autumn Joy Stillbirth Research and Dignity Act. I sincerely hope that this legislation inspires stillbirth parents throughout the US to model similar legislation in their own backyards. One can hope, right?
But this is just the very beginning- there is so much that needs to be done. Truth be told, I don’t think I’ll find any real peace until stillbirth is recognized as the tragic maternal health crisis that it is here in the United States.
About the contributor
In July 2011 Debbie’s daughter, Autumn Joy, was stillborn. Since then Debbie has become a powerful advocate for stillbirth awareness and education. She has presented at two major maternal child health conferences, has had articles published in both the NJ Star Ledger and The Times of Trenton, and co-founded the Action for Stillbirth Awareness and Prevention (ASAP) Coalition. ASAP’s goals are to raise awareness and improve stillbirth outcomes in the United States. While ASAP’s focus is at the national level, Debbie wanted to see change happen in her own backyard as well. Now working with her friend Stacey Matarazzo Dinburg, who also suffered a stillbirth, Debbie most recently established The 2 Degrees Foundation, which will ensure that every NJ family who could benefit from the Autumn Joy Stillbirth Research and Dignity Act does so.