I can't think of much that could be more devastating than expectantly carrying your child most of the way through a healthy pregnancy, only to be told in the weeks leading up to birth that there is no heartbeat.
But for approximately 24,000 mothers each year, this is exactly the news they get.
Stillbirth is the death of a fetus at 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. This affects about 1% of all pregnancies. It may not be a very high number as statistics go, but for each woman included in that statistic, the experience can be utterly shattering.
While stillbirth has occasionally been associated with fetal or maternal problems (such as infections, defects, or genetic conditions), there is no certain, across-the-board answer to the question of "Why?". And while there are certain factors that may put you at a higher risk of having a stillbirth (such as your age, race, and if you smoke during pregnancy, to name a few), researchers still don't know exactly what those things have to do with a baby suddenly dying in the womb.
There are several key organizations that are trying to raise awareness of stillbirth as well as research the causes behind it. First Candle is one such organization. Another is the Star Legacy Foundation. On their webpage, you can find information about their work, as well as educational resources and even a section where you can participate in research. This might be difficult for someone who is still in the throes of grief, but stillbirth research is sadly lacking, and if you feel up to it, your participation in scientific studies could help pave the way to the prevention and possibly even the eradication of stillbirth in the future. If you'd like to participate, check out their research options: International Stillbirth Alliance, the STARS study, the Sleep Study, and the Psychological Aspects of Stillbirth Study.
I cannot pretend to know the experience of stillbirth. But my empathy for those women who experience it is through the roof. To all of you who have experienced or are currently going through the stillbirth of a child, know that I am grieving with you. Know that your questions, your anger, and all the unnameable emotions you are experiencing are normal and okay.
And also, know that you are not alone.
If you'd like to read some personal stories of stillbirth, check out the following blogs: