Jackie Arnold lost her daughter Leah in 2009. Now, she helps other parents cope with the aftermath of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

Jackie Arnold as told to Amanda Gardner
November 30, 2017

I was almost 36 weeks pregnant in July 2009 when I woke up and didn’t feel any movement. I called my doctor.

“Have a snack, drink orange juice or something cold to see if you can feel movement,” she said.

When I called back and said it wasn’t working, she told me to go straight to the hospital. They put me in a room right away, and they couldn’t find a heartbeat with the handheld Doppler monitor.

A nurse said, “We’re going to have one of the doctors do a scan.”

The second my husband and I found out we were having a girl we named her Leah. During the scan, the doctor told me Leah no longer had a heartbeat. I was in complete shock and denial and just couldn’t believe this was happening. I could see her profile on the screen with no movement and no heartbeat. I was in complete disbelief.

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The next thing I knew, my husband was there. He said somebody from the hospital had called him. They said I was going to have to be induced, and they asked us if we wanted to go home and get ourselves together. We opted not to go home, and I got induced immediately.

It was my first pregnancy, and I had taken all the classes, but all the planning went out the window when I felt my first big contraction. I opted to have an epidural. I needed to be numbed in some way.

The hospital staff was amazing. A nurse on the bereavement team came into my room, telling me things I didn’t think I would ever have to think about, answering questions: What is she going to look like? What do people do after a stillbirth?

I delivered Leah about 24 hours after I was induced. We got to see and hold her. She looked just like my husband. She had dark, curly hair. She looked exactly like a sleeping baby.

We got to spend a couple of days in the hospital with Leah. I understand now that they had to take her away frequently because they had to keep her cold. The hospital provided clay footprints and handprints for us to keep. A professional photographer took tons and tons of pictures. At first I was scared and skeptical. Why would we want to do this? Now, more than eight years later, I understand. That’s all you have. I have a baby book and a whole chest of items, anything that touched her: a baptismal gown she wore, blankets. I have a piece of her hair.

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After a couple of days in the hospital, it was time to make decisions that we never thought we’d have to make. We ended up having Leah cremated. We contacted a local funeral home by our house. We picked out a heart-shaped urn. We planned a memorial and printed invitations using all the pictures we had from our ultrasounds and our days in the hospital. We did not bury the urn; it's on a shelf with a picture of Leah. We’ve always talked about not living in St. Louis forever, and we didn’t want to leave her here if we move.

Leaving the hospital was very difficult. I remember intentionally taking my glasses off–that way everything was blurry. It felt like everyone was staring at me. They weren’t, but leaving empty-handed was difficult. I suffered from postpartum depression. I had breast milk coming in. I didn’t want to get out of bed. We had painted Leah’s room a pale purple and decorated with white furniture. It was full of items from three different baby showers. That door stayed shut a long time.

It was a couple of weeks before I got out of bed. I had anxiety about leaving the house. I was worried I would run into people who had last seen me when I was getting ready to pop. Once we started getting out of the house we would go to different neighborhoods. Many times out in public, I just started crying. I left my job in foster care; I didn’t think I’d be good at it anymore. I became a school counselor, and I started volunteering for Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support, running support groups at the hospital where I had Leah. Now, I work for Share.

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We didn’t know what had happened at first, so we opted to have tests done. After many, many appointments and lots of waiting, we found out I have a blood-clotting disorder. A blood clot must have passed through the placenta, blocking off Leah’s oxygen. I had a lot of guilt, anger, and sadness–and blame for myself. It’s not tested for in normal pregnancies; you don’t find out until something terrible happens. Because I knew, I consulted a high-risk pregnancy doctor and took blood-thinning medication–and I was able to have two more children, now 4 and 6.