Stillbirth: Trying to Understand

Stillbirth: Trying to Understand

When your baby is stillborn, expectations, hopes and dreams are cruelly shattered and lives are changed. Many parents have initial
feelings of shock and confusion when told that their baby has died. What happened? Why you? Babies are not supposed to die.
When they do, it can be devastating, overwhelming, and painful. We are very sorry for your loss. No one can take away the pain,
but we hope the following information will answer some questions, provide reassurance, and help you.

Stillbirth is unfortunately common. It may affect anyone. There is no way to predict when stillbirth will happen or who will experience it. There is about one stillbirth in every 115 births. Each year in the United States about 25,000 babies, or 68 babies every day, are born still. Most often a stillbirth is detected while the baby is in the mother’s uterus, sometimes not until labor is underway.

Why was your baby stillborn?

Following a stillbirth, parents frequently ask, “Why did this happen?” Sometimes a reason is found; other times a specific cause remains unknown. Extensive and careful evaluation of the placenta following delivery may help identify a cause. When a specific cause is not identified, evaluation may still be helpful by at least helping to rule out potential high risks for recurrence.

Identifiable causes of stillbirth generally fall into one of three different categories: birth defects in the baby; problems with the placenta or umbilical cord; maternal illnesses or conditions which may sometimes affect pregnancy.
• Birth defects are a common, but often overlooked, cause for stillbirth. About 1/4 of babies who are stillborn have one or more birth defects that are responsible for their death.
• The placenta and umbilical cord are the baby’s “lifeline” for oxygen and nutrients. Problems in either one may completely cut off or severely interfere with the needed flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the baby. Although commonly pointed to as the likely cause for death of a baby, problems with the placenta or umbilical cord actually account for only a moderate number of stillbirths.
• Although uncommon, maternal conditions may be responsible for stillbirth. Certain illnesses in the mother, such as diabetes or hypertension, and their treatments, may occasionally raise the risk of stillbirths. An increased risk for stillbirth is also associated with alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, malnutrition and inadequate prenatal care.

In addition, there are many other rare causes of stillbirth. Whether or not a specific cause for your baby’s death is identified, it is most important to remember that stillbirths most often are not caused by something you did or did not do.

What about future pregnancies?

Generally one stillbirth does not predict another. On average, there is approximately a 3% chance for stillbirth to happen again in the next pregnancy—or approximately a 97% chance that a future pregnancy will birth a healthy baby.

Making sense of what happened

In the natural course of life events, babies are least of all expected to die. The loss of a baby through stillbirth can be overwhelming and devastating. Although surprising to some, the stillbirth of a baby is a great loss, as great as that of an older child or any loved one.

When stillbirth occurs, parents who were anxiously awaiting a baby suddenly are not. It is natural for you to grieve deeply for your loss and for the hopes, dreams, and wishes that will never be. Hopes, dreams, and wishes that, for you, were real long before the anticipated birth of your baby. You may feel a strong sense of sadness, anger, or maybe bitterness at the unfairness of this
tragedy. You may experience feelings of loneliness and longing, helplessness, or, because of the intensity of your emotions, confusion. Many parents also feel guilt. They often wonder if they did something to cause their baby’s death; this is rarely true.

These intense emotions are real and a normal part of grieving. Grieving is a process of making meaning out of your loss and of life without your baby. Grieving is not easy. It is long, unpredictable, and requires a lot of energy.
But you need time to grieve since grieving is necessary to work through pain toward healing.

Coping with your loss

Dealing with the death of your baby may be one of the most painful experiences in your life. Everyone copes and mourns differently. Perhaps a few of the following suggestions can help you survive some of the difficult times.

• Take care of yourself. Eat well. Get plenty of rest. Stay well physically so that you can continue to heal emotionally.
• Express yourself. Talk about your feelings, your fears, and your grief. Keep a diary, write a journal, create, start a flower garden; find an outlet suitable to you to express your grief and pain. This may help you to see things more clearly.
• Find a support network. Such a network may be your family, your friends, your Rabbi or local community. You may want to contact a support group for parents who have experienced the death of a baby, to share your story and feelings and to learn from others who have also “been there”. Try contacting your local JCC or synagogue to see what program they have set up. Don’t underestimate talking to other mothers who have experienced the same loss. They are the key to helping you cope. Speak with your husband, allow him the space to deal with his grief,  and heal together.

Above all, give yourself time. TIME HEALS. Be patient. You will never forget what happened, but you will heal. Healing is an ongoing process; it does not happen overnight. But it will happen.


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