After Tragedy of Stillbirth, She Set Out to Help Others



Might 26, 2023 — Elizabeth O’Donnell came upon she was pregnant in June 2020. It was a shock, however she was very pleased. She was by no means sick and says she was the healthiest she had ever been.

However round Thanksgiving, her daughter, who she was already planning to call Aaliyah, was shifting a bit of greater than regular. Then on Nov. 28, 7 months into her being pregnant, the unthinkable occurred.

“I noticed I haven’t actually felt her transfer all day, and so it took me a short while to really feel like ‘OK, I’m going to the hospital,’ as a result of I actually simply thought I used to be being an annoying first-time mother. All the things had been so nice up till then, why would there be one thing fallacious?” she recalled. 

Her doula inspired her to go to the hospital. When she received there, her midwife couldn’t discover a heartbeat.

“In that second when she advised me that my daughter not had a heartbeat I used to be like, ‘What are you speaking about?’” O’Donnell stated. “This nonetheless occurs? That is ‘a factor’? I believed stuff like this solely occurs, I believe I stated within the 1800s, as a result of I used to be similar to, ‘what do you imply you’ll be able to’t discover a heartbeat?’” 

All the things had gone completely as much as that time, she stated. 

“And so, to be advised your little one is lifeless and by the best way you continue to must undergo a full supply as if she was, you recognize, going to return out crying was simply so arduous, and it’s arduous to place it into phrases since you simply by no means count on that it’s important to do one thing like that.”

Aaliyah Denise Briscoe was born 4 days afterward Dec. 1, 2020. However O’Donnell’s trauma did not finish there. Her employer then additionally denied her paid maternity depart.

“I used to be advised that my household depart was going to be revoked as a result of I couldn’t present a start certificates regardless that it was beforehand accepted.”

The then-30-year-old Washington, DC, college trainer determined to struggle again. She went public along with her story, posting an image of herself holding Aaliyah from her hospital mattress on Instagram. It went viral.

“It shouldn’t matter if Aaliyah took a breath or not, you recognize, me as a mom, I nonetheless went via all the pieces that everybody else endures when it comes to labor and supply.”

“All I needed,” she continued, “Was 8 weeks in order that I wouldn’t go to work bleeding day by day or going to work making an attempt to determine what do I do with this milk that’s coming. I imply, I couldn’t go to work.”

Disgusted and disillusioned, she stop educating and instantly started advocating for folks of stillborn kids. Aaliyah in Motion was born. 

The nonprofit group supplies “self-care” packages as a primary step towards therapeutic for birthing dad and mom and households. 

“I needed to simply give a tiny piece of one thing to assist households get via simply the worst time of your life once you don’t wish to make it via,” O’Donnell recalled. “I believe individuals’s first response is to simply shove sources at you. And whereas that’s good, the primary week or two not everybody is prepared for that. For me, I used to be not prepared for that, but it surely’s useful to nonetheless have these sources when you’re prepared.”

O’Donnell needed to verify others had the identical entry. 

“It’s a very, actually robust life day by day, but when we will have a plethora of sources — and several types of sources — than hopefully individuals will have the ability to work out what works greatest for them.”

The packages are serving to struggling households in 40 states navigate life after such a devastating loss. Bereavement sources and books for folks and siblings are additionally being offered, they usually have partnered with doulas, birthing facilities, and almost 40 hospitals to assist distribute them.

O’Donnell even labored with the DC Metropolis Council to develop bereavement depart for workers that lose a toddler. The District Authorities Parental Bereavement Go away Modification Act of 2022 supplies 10 days of paid depart when an worker “suffers a stillbirth.” It turned regulation March 10.

In line with Vasu Reddy, senior coverage counsel for financial justice on the Nationwide Partnership for Ladies & Households, one of many points is that the Household and Medical Go away Act of 1993 isn’t clear about protecting miscarriage or stillbirth.

“When it’s not specific, then it’s all the way down to employers and HR to interpret what’s specific primarily based on, you recognize, to the perfect of their skill, Reddy stated. “And so there very a lot could possibly be confusion between employers and staff about whether or not that is coated as a result of it’s not specific. Implicitly, although, normally miscarriage and stillborn start could be coated.”

Reddy believes that as a result of employers don’t essentially consider this as well being concern, it slips via the cracks and lots of people get denied in consequence.

She says FMLA is a flooring, not a ceiling, so it units the baseline minimal protections, however states can transcend these protections to make it possible for individuals get the break day they want.

“I believe that employers and HR departments are sometimes oriented towards what’s the minimal that the regulation says we have now to do, and let’s try this,” she stated. 

Reddy believes ladies who’ve been denied paid medical depart after delivering a stillborn little one must make it very clear what their medical and well being wants are to be able to bodily and emotionally get better.

Yearly at the very least 21,000 infants are stillborn in the USA. That’s about 1 in each 175 births, in accordance with the CDC. 

The Star Legacy Basis says the stillbirth fee within the U.S. has remained the identical for a number of many years and is increased than many different industrialized international locations.

The inspiration’s founder and govt director Lindsey Wimmer’s son Garrett was stillborn at 38 weeks — then thought-about full-term — almost 20 years in the past.

“I attempted to grasp what had occurred to us from that medical perspective as a result of there have been simply so many unanswered questions, and that was once I realized how little analysis had been carried out, what number of gaps there have been, and that there simply actually was no consideration being paid to this concern,” Wimmer stated. 

The previous nurse practitioner says the underside line is that within the U.S., stillbirth has not been made a precedence.

“We’ve plenty of work to do, and we must be doing it as a result of the place we’re at proper now isn’t OK,” Wimmer stated. “And I might say we’re undoubtedly falling behind our colleagues and our counterparts in different high-income international locations all over the world who’re actually making stillbirth prevention a precedence.”

Some stillbirths could be brought on by infections, start defects, and different being pregnant issues. In line with the March of Dimes, the commonest symptom is that if the newborn stops kicking and shifting. 

Black ladies are greater than twice as more likely to have a stillborn little one than Hispanic or white ladies. Ladies 35 and older and ladies in decrease earnings brackets are additionally at increased danger.

Elizabeth Cherot, MD, senior vp and chief medical and well being officer at March of Dimes, needs ladies to know that whereas there are some danger elements you’ll be able to’t change, there are others you are able to do one thing about.

“Getting a preconception checkup, for instance, helps determine medical circumstances you will have that may enhance your probabilities of stillbirth,” Cherot stated. “This is a crucial step for anybody considering of getting pregnant.”

Different suggestions: Keep a wholesome weight and keep away from medicine, tobacco, and alcohol. See a physician straight away should you expertise bleeding throughout being pregnant. 

Christopher M. Zahn, MD, interim CEO and chief of medical observe and well being fairness and high quality on the American School of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says the explanation for many stillbirths continues to be largely unknown. 

“The examine of particular causes of stillbirth has been hampered by the shortage of uniform protocols to judge and classify stillbirths and by reducing post-mortem charges,” Zahn stated. “Most often, stillbirth certificates are crammed out earlier than a full postnatal investigation has been accomplished and amended loss of life certificates are not often filed when further data from the stillbirth analysis emerges.”

He says extra information and analysis are wanted. His group “believes that stillbirth prevention is a duty shared broadly and has labored to boost consciousness amongst legislators and stakeholders concerning U.S. stillbirths, the racial and ethnic inequities that exist, and the necessity for extra analysis.”

The March of Dimes has launched a brand new middle that may analysis and sort out poor well being outcomes and longstanding racial disparities that they are saying make the U.S. among the many most harmful developed nations for childbirth.

“The middle will focus solely on analysis geared toward closing the well being fairness hole in maternal and toddler well being outcomes via scientific analysis and know-how improvement,” Cherot stated. 

And final 12 months, following a request from Congress, a gaggle of specialists met to debate stillbirth. In March, the Stillbirth Working Group on the Nationwide Institutes of Well being’s Nationwide Institute of Little one Well being and Human Improvement printed a report that centered on limitations to accumulating information on stillbirths, communities at increased danger, the psychological affect and remedy for moms after stillbirth, and identified danger elements.

They really helpful enhancing recordkeeping and information assortment; addressing disparities in danger; and decreasing the U.S. stillbirth fee via analysis and prevention efforts.

O’Donnell took measures into her personal palms and employed a placental pathologist from Yale to assist decide Aaliyah’s explanation for loss of life. She had outgrown her placenta.

And she or he’s engaged on increasing Aaliyah in Motion to assist fill within the gaps she sees within the system.

“No person must be strolling right into a hospital pregnant after which strolling out with empty arms. Particularly if it may be prevented. Not all stillbirths are preventable, however many, many are. And we will change this and I’m right here to try this.”