“I’m sorry.  Her heart isn’t beating.”  

Those horrible, terrible words marked my “before” and “after.” My “before” was a time when I was blissfully unaware of the word “stillbirth” and that anything bad could happen to our baby.  I was 39 1/2 weeks pregnant and was cruising along through a healthy, normal pregnancy. We were excited to meet our little girl with my due date just three days away. My husband and I had spent the weekend putting the finishing touches on the nursery. My “after” came that Monday during my last routine OBGYN visit.  That day I heard those devastating and unimaginable words from my doctor:

“I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.”  

That day, our world shattered and suddenly the word “stillbirth” became all too real and personal. The following morning we had to go to the hospital where I was induced into labor.   Fourteen-and-a-half hours later, we met our beautiful, perfect daughter.  We named her Harper Elizabeth. We got to spend a few days with her before we had to go home with empty arms, to an empty house and begin planning her funeral.  I felt so much guilt in those long days, weeks and months that followed. I felt very isolated and broken.  I wondered what I had done wrong and why I hadn’t been able to protect our daughter. I began to do research. What I found was completely shocking, and that unfortunately, I was very much not alone in my experience.

There are about 2.6 million stillbirths each year throughout the world with approximately 24,000 occurring annually right here in the United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, “That is about the same number of babies that die during the first year of life and it is more than 10 times as many deaths as the number that occur from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).” The majority of stillbirths occur at or near full term and in otherwise low risk, healthy pregnancies like mine with Harper.

Why was no one talking about this?

During this time, I also came across a public health campaign called Count the Kicks. This campaign was founded in Iowa by five moms who lost their babies like I did.  Count the Kicks encourages expectant parents to monitor their baby’s movements daily in the third trimester of pregnancy.  By doing daily kick counts, expectant moms can get to know what is normal for their baby. “Normal” means how long it takes a mom to feel ten movements.  When “normal” changes, and there is a decrease or increase in movement, this could be a sign of potential problems and an indication to call one’s provider.

Count the Kicks offers many free resources to providers on their website and a free kick counting app fore expectant moms in Apple and Google Play online stores.  In 2009 Count the Kicks launched statewide in Iowa.  Each year since, the stillbirth rate in Iowa has steadily dropped, and they have seen a very dramatic 26% decrease in their stillbirth rate.  Iowa has gone from 33rd worst stillbirth rate in the country to third lowest in just five years.

In October of 2013, I was invited to become the Ohio Ambassador for Count the Kicks.  It’s been my honor and my privilege to bring this program to Ohio.  I want to see the stillbirth rates in Ohio decrease as dramatically as they have in Iowa.  I hope to save other families from the terrible pain of losing a baby. I do this work in honor of our daughter Harper’s memory.  I want every expectant mom in Ohio to know how important it is to “Count the Kicks.”

kari-count-the-kicksKari Davis is mom to Harper Elizabeth and Ohio Ambassador for Count the Kicks.

Over the past 10 years, Hamilton County has lost an average of 87 babies annually to stillbirth. For more information on counting kicks during your pregnancy, visit www.countthekicks.org.

And if you lost your baby to stillbirth, resources are available to help you during this difficult time.