After Tragedy of Stillbirth, She Set Out to Help Others

1800x1200 aaliyah elizabeth odonnell.jpg
1800x1200 aaliyah elizabeth odonnell.jpg

Could 26, 2023 — Elizabeth O’Donnell came upon she was pregnant in June 2020. It was a shock, however she was very completely happy. 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. All the things 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 obtained there, her midwife couldn’t discover a heartbeat.

“In that second when she instructed 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 believe 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?’” 

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

“And so, to be instructed your youngster is lifeless and by the best way you continue to need to undergo a full supply as if she was, , going to come back out crying was simply so laborious, and it’s laborious 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 four days in a while 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 instructed that my household depart was going to be revoked as a result of I couldn’t present a start certificates despite the fact that it was beforehand accredited.”

The then-30-year-old Washington, DC, college trainer determined to battle again. She went public together 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, , me as a mom, I nonetheless went by means of every part that everybody else endures by way of labor and supply.”

“All I wished,” she continued, “Was eight weeks in order that I wouldn’t go to work bleeding day-after-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 instructing and instantly started advocating for fogeys of stillborn youngsters. Aaliyah in Motion was born. 

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

“I wished to simply give a tiny piece of one thing to assist households get by means of simply the worst time of your life whenever you don’t wish to make it by means of,” O’Donnell recalled. “I believe individuals’s first response is to simply shove assets 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, nevertheless it’s useful to nonetheless have these assets when you’re prepared.”

O’Donnell wished to ensure others had the identical entry. 

“It’s a extremely, actually robust life day-after-day, but when we will have a plethora of assets — and various kinds of assets — than hopefully individuals will have the ability to determine what works finest for them.”

The packages are serving to struggling households in 40 states navigate life after such a devastating loss. Bereavement assets and books for fogeys and siblings are additionally being supplied, and so they 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 offers 10 days of paid depart when an worker “suffers a stillbirth.” It turned legislation March 10.

In accordance with Vasu Reddy, senior coverage counsel for financial justice on the Nationwide Partnership for Girls & 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 express, then it’s right down to employers and HR to interpret what’s express primarily based on, , to the most effective of their means, Reddy mentioned. “And so there very a lot could possibly be confusion between employers and staff about whether or not that is lined as a result of it’s not express. Implicitly, although, generally miscarriage and stillborn start can be lined.”

Reddy believes that as a result of employers don’t essentially consider this as well being difficulty, it slips by means of 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 be sure that individuals get the day without work they want.

“I believe that employers and HR departments are sometimes oriented towards what’s the minimal that the legislation says we’ve to do, and let’s do this,” she mentioned. 

Reddy believes girls 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 so as to bodily and emotionally get well.

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

The muse’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 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 now have numerous work to do, and we should be doing it as a result of the place we’re at proper now isn’t OK,” Wimmer mentioned. “And I’d say we’re positively falling behind our colleagues and our counterparts in different high-income nations around the globe who’re actually making stillbirth prevention a precedence.”

Some stillbirths could be attributable to infections, start defects, and different being pregnant problems. In accordance with the March of Dimes, the most typical symptom is that if the child stops kicking and shifting. 

Black girls are greater than twice as more likely to have a stillborn youngster than Hispanic or white girls. Girls 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 girls 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 situations you’ve got that may improve your probabilities of stillbirth,” Cherot mentioned. “This is a crucial step for anybody pondering of getting pregnant.”

Different ideas: Keep a wholesome weight and keep away from medication, tobacco, and alcohol. See a physician straight away in the event you expertise bleeding throughout being pregnant. 

Christopher M. Zahn, MD, interim CEO and chief of medical apply 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 shortage of uniform protocols to judge and classify stillbirths and by lowering post-mortem charges,” Zahn mentioned. “Generally, stillbirth certificates are stuffed out earlier than a full postnatal investigation has been accomplished and amended loss of life certificates are hardly ever 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 lift 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 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 aimed toward closing the well being fairness hole in maternal and toddler well being outcomes by means of scientific analysis and expertise improvement,” Cherot mentioned. 

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 Growth revealed a report that centered on limitations to gathering knowledge on stillbirths, communities at increased danger, the psychological affect and therapy for moms after stillbirth, and identified danger elements.

They beneficial bettering recordkeeping and knowledge assortment; addressing disparities in danger; and lowering the U.S. stillbirth fee by means of analysis and prevention efforts.

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

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

“No one needs 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 will change this and I’m right here to try this.”


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