After Tragedy of Stillbirth, She Set Out to Assist Others


Might 26, 2023 — Elizabeth O’Donnell came upon she was pregnant in June 2020. It was a shock, however she was very joyful. 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 somewhat greater than regular. Then on Nov. 28, 7 months into her being pregnant, the unthinkable occurred.

“I spotted 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. The whole lot had been so nice up till then, why would there be one thing flawed?” 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 informed me that my daughter not had a heartbeat I used to be like, ‘What are you speaking about?’” O’Donnell mentioned. “This nonetheless occurs? That is ‘a factor’? I assumed stuff like this solely occurs, I feel I mentioned within the 1800s, as a result of I used to be identical to, ‘what do you imply you’ll be able to’t discover a heartbeat?’” 

The whole lot had gone completely as much as that time, she mentioned. 

“And so, to be informed your youngster is useless and by the way in which you continue to should undergo a full supply as if she was, you already know, going to return out crying was simply so arduous, and it’s arduous to place it into phrases since you simply by no means anticipate 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 informed 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 authorized.”

The then-30-year-old Washington, DC, faculty instructor 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 already know, me as a mom, I nonetheless went by all the things that everybody else endures by way of 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 attempting to determine what do I do with this milk that’s coming. I imply, I couldn’t go to work.”

Disgusted and disillusioned, she give up educating and instantly started advocating for folks of stillborn youngsters. Aaliyah in Motion was born. 

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

“I needed to simply give a tiny piece of one thing to assist households get by simply the worst time of your life once you don’t need to make it by,” O’Donnell recalled. “I feel folks’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, however it’s useful to nonetheless have these sources when you find yourself prepared.”

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

“It’s a very, actually robust life day by day, but when we are able to have a plethora of sources — and several types of sources — than hopefully folks will have the ability to determine 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 supplied, 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 broaden bereavement depart for workers that lose a baby. The District Authorities Parental Bereavement Go away Modification Act of 2022 supplies 10 days of paid depart when an worker “suffers a stillbirth.” It grew to become 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 will not be clear about masking miscarriage or stillbirth.

“When it’s not specific, then it’s right down to employers and HR to interpret what’s specific based mostly on, you already know, to the perfect of their potential, Reddy mentioned. “And so there very a lot may very well be confusion between employers and workers about whether or not that is lined as a result of it’s not specific. Implicitly, although, generally miscarriage and stillborn start could be lined.”

Reddy believes that as a result of employers don’t essentially consider this as well being difficulty, it slips by the cracks and lots of people get denied because of this.

She says FMLA is a ground, not a ceiling, so it units the baseline minimal protections, however states can transcend these protections to ensure that folks get the day without work they want.

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

Reddy believes ladies who’ve been denied paid medical depart after delivering a stillborn youngster must make it very clear what their medical and well being wants are with a purpose to bodily and emotionally recuperate.

Yearly not less than 21,000 infants are stillborn in the US. That’s about 1 in each 175 births, in response to the CDC. 

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

The inspiration’s founder and government 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 know 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 executed, what number of gaps there have been, and that there simply actually was no consideration being paid to this difficulty,” Wimmer mentioned. 

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

“We’ve quite a lot of work to do, and we should be doing it as a result of the place we’re at proper now will not be OK,” Wimmer mentioned. “And I’d say we’re positively falling behind our colleagues and our counterparts in different high-income international locations world wide who’re actually making stillbirth prevention a precedence.”

Some stillbirths might be brought on by infections, start defects, and different being pregnant problems. In line with the March of Dimes, the most typical symptom is that if the child stops kicking and shifting. 

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

Elizabeth Cherot, MD, senior vice chairman and chief medical and well being officer at March of Dimes, desires 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 could have that may improve your possibilities of stillbirth,” Cherot mentioned. “This is a crucial step for anybody pondering of getting pregnant.”

Different ideas: Preserve a wholesome weight and keep away from medicine, tobacco, and alcohol. See a physician straight away if you happen to expertise bleeding throughout being pregnant. 

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

“The research of particular causes of stillbirth has been hampered by the dearth of uniform protocols to guage and classify stillbirths and by reducing post-mortem charges,” Zahn mentioned. “Normally, stillbirth certificates are stuffed out earlier than a full postnatal investigation has been accomplished and amended demise certificates are not often filed when extra data from the stillbirth analysis emerges.”

He says extra knowledge and analysis are wanted. His group “believes that stillbirth prevention is a accountability shared broadly and has labored to boost consciousness amongst legislators and stakeholders relating to 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 heart 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 by scientific analysis and know-how growth,” Cherot mentioned. 

And final yr, following a request from Congress, a gaggle of consultants met to debate stillbirth. In March, the Stillbirth Working Group on the Nationwide Institutes of Well being’s Nationwide Institute of Youngster Well being and Human Improvement printed a report that targeted on obstacles to gathering knowledge on stillbirths, communities at increased danger, the psychological influence and therapy for moms after stillbirth, and identified danger elements.

They advisable enhancing recordkeeping and knowledge assortment; addressing disparities in danger; and decreasing the U.S. stillbirth fee by analysis and prevention efforts.

O’Donnell took measures into her personal fingers and employed a placental pathologist from Yale to assist decide Aaliyah’s reason behind demise. 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 ought to 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 are able to change this and I’m right here to try this.”