Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sacramento Bee Article

Stillbirth: A Hidden Hurt
By Anita Creamer

 January 31, 2007

People don't know much about stillbirth. Ten days before her son's due date, Catriona Harris didn't, either. Then his kicking stopped. Her doctor assured her that the baby still had a heartbeat, but an ultrasound two days later told a different story: Her firstborn, Brady, was dead. After 36 hours in labor, she delivered him on June 17, 2005 -- a perfect, beautiful boy whose umbilical cord had wrapped around his legs, cutting off his oxygen supply.

"It was horrendous," says Harris, now 28, a public relations executive. "My husband and family and best friend were there in the hospital with me. You're supposed to be in the midst of this exciting time, and I was on the labor and delivery floor with all these new mothers. "But instead of coming home with a new baby, I was planning a funeral. It was heartbreaking."

We don't talk about stillbirth. Maybe we're afraid of scaring pregnant women, though we don't mind warning them about a host of other prenatal dangers. Catriona Harris wants to share her story, because she wants mothers of stillborns to know they're not alone -- and because she wants pregnant women to monitor their babies' kick counts.

More than we like to think, pregnancies can go very, very wrong. One in 115 American pregnancies ends in stillbirth, which is defined as fetal death past 20 weeks' gestation. That's 26,000 stillbirths a year or one every 20 minutes. In contrast, sudden infant death syndrome claims about 2,500 children in this country every year.

SIDS organizations, to put it bluntly, have a better marketing strategy.

"I thought stillbirth was something from the 1920s and 1930s," says Harris. "You don't even know that it still happens."

She grew up in Folsom, where her family still lives, and then she moved away -- first to San Francisco, where Brady was born; then to Florida, where her husband's family lives. She and her husband, Mike, 32, now live in Orlando.

"In San Francisco, everybody I came into contact with every day expected me to have a baby," says Harris. Friends and co-workers knew what had happened, of course. But casual acquaintances -- people she ran into regularly at the coffee shop, the staff at her beauty salon -- assumed she was a new mother. She was. But her baby was gone.

"You had to relive the story over and over," she says. It was too much. After a celebration of life in Brady's honor at Washington Square Park, she and her husband went to the spot on Mount Diablo where he'd proposed to her, and they looked at Brady's picture for the first time. They'd already decided to have another baby right away.

"We'd already prepared our home and our lives for a baby," she says. "We didn't want to replace Brady, but we wanted a child."

In September 2005, just after they moved to Florida, Catriona Harris learned she was pregnant again. Imagine the grief, the joy, the fear. "I'd gone into my pregnancy with Brady this normal, naive woman," she says. " 'Oh, gosh, what could happen?' "

Now she knew. She called her doctor with every possible question and worry. At home in Folsom that Christmas, she burst into a long crying jag and shut herself in her room: It was supposed to be her first Christmas with her little boy, after all. Mother's Day was surreal for her, too. She was a mother, but she wasn't.

Born June 1, her daughter, Reilly, is almost 8 months old now. She has three teeth and baby blue eyes, and she's just getting ready to crawl. From grief and sorrow, new life. And a new cause.

"For so many women, their way of grieving is not to talk about stillbirth," Harris says. "But if we don't talk about it, nobody will be aware of it, and the research won't get done."