Stillbirths Still A Problem In The U.S.
San Diego Woman’s Child Dies In Womb Without Explanation
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Aired 2/4/16 on KPBS News.
Despite advances in medicine, about 1 in 160 pregnancies in the U.S. results in a stillbirth. Nearly 24,000 babies are stillborn in America each year.
Trish Taylor loved being pregnant.
“It was just fun," the 30-year-old woman said. "Very uneventful. Hospital trips were standard, got to see her bouncing, or dancing around. Heartbeat was always there and strong.”
Taylor and her husband named their baby Joislen. They bought a crib, and set up a nursery.
All of Taylor’s family flew into San Diego for the birth. On the day after her due date, Taylor used her at-home baby monitor to listen to Joislen’s heartbeat.
“And I couldn’t find anything," she said. "So, I knew something was wrong, because I listened to her regularly, and I just told my family that I was going to run to the hospital to make sure she was OK.”
At the hospital, the nurse couldn’t find Joislen’s heartbeat either. So they brought in the ultrasound machine.
“They went to her little heart chamber. And I’m so used to seeing this little flicker, and there was no little flicker. They were still looking and still trying," Taylor said. "But I’d seen it, I knew. And, ‘So there’s no flicker right?’ And they said no. And that’s when they said, ‘Sorry, Trish and Dwayne, Joislen doesn’t have a heartbeat.'”
Taylor could have had Joislen extracted by C-section. But she decided to go through labor, and deliver her baby as she had originally intended.
Taylor took some videos and photos of her and her husband holding Joislen. They chose not to have an autopsy performed on the baby. After spending some tearful hours with their daughter, Joislen was cremated.
To be sure, the vast majority of pregnancies in the United States result in a healthy baby. Even so, according to the March of Dimes, about one out of every 160 pregnancies ends up in a stillbirth. Nearly 24,000 babies are stillborn in America each year.
A stillbirth is defined as when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of gestation.
Dr. Tom Kelly is chief of perinatal medicine for the UC San Diego health system. He specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
Kelly said women with conditions like lupus, diabetes or pregnancy-related high blood pressure are at higher risk of having a stillbirth. Other risk factors include smoking and obesity.
“Unfortunately, about half of the time, there’s no explainable reason," Kelley said. "And that’s the frustration for the obstetrician as well as the patient, is why did this happen, and I guess, more importantly, is this going to happen to me again?”
Kelly said the problem is perfectly healthy women who’ve had a normal pregnancy can still have a stillborn baby.
“Most stillbirths occur in low-risk women, unfortunately, because there are more low-risk women than high-risk women," he said.
When a stillbirth occurs at UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest, clinical social worker Danielle Nelson gets a call. It’s Nelson’s job to help a woman and her family begin the grieving process.
“So I’ve seen everything from walking into a room where a patient is very numb, the family’s very numb," Nelson said. "I walk in, I introduce myself as a social worker, and they say ‘Great, we need our parking validated.’ And I’ve also walked into a room where everyone is emoting, and it’s very visceral, and everyone’s feeling it, it’s acute. And neither one is right or wrong. It’s just, you know, you meet the patient where they’re at, and you go from there.”
Trish Taylor said her religious faith has helped her cope with her loss. In addition, she’s found comfort in blogging about her journey.
Taylor’s decorated a mantle in Joislen’s honor. And she had some keepsake jewelry made in Joislen’s memory.
“This is a pendant with her ashes, and another pendant with her ashes," she explained, opening a small jewelry box. "I actually love this one," Taylor said, holding a small alabaster-colored heart. "It’s breast milk.”
Taylor and her husband have also donated two special pieces of equipment called cuddle cots to UC San Diego Medical Center. Each cot is a refrigerated bassinette that allows stillborn babies to stay with the parents a little bit longer, rather than going straight to the morgue.
The Taylors want to have another child soon. But Trish said she’ll never forget Joislen, whose death remains unexplained.
“I’m never gonna get over Joislen dying," Taylor said. "She’s not a bad day that I had; she’s my daughter. She’s not here anymore, and so she goes forward with me.”
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