I Had a Stillbirth at 36 Weeks Pregnant

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

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.

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.

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.

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