Looking back, Meghan Hughes Petty said, the thing that stands out about the final weeks of her second pregnancy is that the closer her due date got the less often Miles, her unborn son, seemed to kick.
She mentioned the change in the baby’s behavior during her prenatal exam the week before Miles was due, she said. However, when his heartbeat was checked it appeared to be strong.
Her next exam fell on Sept. 20, Miles’ due date, she said. That time, when the midwife checked, there was no heartbeat at all.
After an ultrasound at the doctor’s office confirmed her baby had died, she recalled, she was taken to Parkridge East Hospital where labor was induced around 5 p.m.
“Miles was delivered by my doctor at Parkridge East with loving care from the labor and delivery nurses,” Mrs. Petty said. “We had Miles at 3:01 a.m. and were home by 3 p.m. that afternoon. My husband's parents and mine were able to hold Miles.”
That same night, she said, she was on the internet, researching stillbirths and what could be done to prevent them.
She didn’t know it at the time, but she was following in the path of Sophia Mason, an English woman who learned about the importance of fetal movement while researching stillbirth and its cause after placental failure led to the death of her unborn daughter, Chloe, one week before her due date in 2009.
“Mason's campaign, called Count the Kicks, actually helped save the life of her second child, a boy named George, who stopped moving at 36 weeks and was delivered safely by an emergency c-section,” according to an About.com article on pregnancy loss. “Mason believes if she had not researched stillbirth and learned about the importance of fetal movement, she could have easily lost her second child just like she did Chloe.” Around the same time, an effort was launched in Iowa by five mothers who experienced stillbirth or infant death - also called Count the Kicks (though the programs are not affiliated).
The concept of keeping track of fetal movements is not a new one, and is often recommended as a way of monitoring an unborn child’s medical status. Numerous websites, including www.baby2see.com
, explain why it can work for virtually all pregnant women.
“The kick count is an easy, non-invasive test that you can do at home to check your baby's well being,” www.baby2see.com
notes. “The idea is to be sure he or she is moving around enough.”
”There are numerous ways to count your baby's movements and numerous opinions on how many movements you are looking for within a certain amount of time,” the website continues. “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you time how long it takes you to feel 10 kicks, flutters, swishes or rolls. Ideally, you want to feel at least 10 movements within 2 hours. Most likely you will feel 10 movements in much less time.”
In the US, the Count the Kicks campaign headquartered in Iowa launched an app this year aimed at making it easier for moms to track their babies’ movements. They also provide free, downloadable kick charts and how-to videos on their website (www.countthekicks.org
Count the Kicks offers advice that is easy to understand and follow.
For example, “One simple way to make sure you're keeping track of your babies movements is to put 10 small objects like pennies, paper clips, or buttons in your left pocket,” the organization’s website advises. “When you feel a movement, transfer one of the objects to your right pocket. Even if you're busy, like at your job, you can do this simple action. If your left pocket is empty, you know your baby has been active.”
In Chattanooga, Mrs. Petty said the overwhelming sense of bereavement she felt after Miles died gradually evolved into a desire to try to help other expectant parents avoid the kind of loss that she and her family suffered.
Toward that end, she recently agreed to serve as Tennessee ambassador for the nationwide "Count the Kicks" campaign, which assists volunteers such as Mrs. Petty by schooling them in ways to help spread the word that paying attention to the clues provided by the unborn child can help alert pregnant women when their babies are in trouble and need medical help.
The plan is to contact doctors, nurses, midwives and other medical staffers working with pregnant women and encourage them to teach their patients how to track their babies' kicking patterns, and to recognize the signs that a baby may be in trouble. Luckily, she said, she has a lot of help making the outreach program successful: Lisa Vincent of the Hamilton County Health Department has already gotten in touch with doctor's offices in the Chattanooga area.
Ms. Petty said she will reach out to the home birth community since she had planned for a home birth of her son, Miles. Her goal this first year, she said, is to make sure every pregnant woman in our county is provided with an informational brochure at 28 weeks; so far they have funding for half that.
The past year has not been an easy one for her and her husband, she said, although their now-3-year-old son has provided great solace.
“Our (then-)two year-old son, Oliver, stayed with my cousin (while his parents were at the hospital), which had been our plan for the delivery,” she explained.
After leaving Parkridge, she said, she and her husband and their parents “met Oliver at Coolidge Park that day and had an extended family and friends picnic - basically anyone who was at the hospital came along. I'll never forget that day, for many reasons, but one of my most vivid memories is seeing Oliver play croquet with sock gloves on his hands. Two year-olds have a way of making you smile and laugh - even when you want to stay in bed and cry.
“We waited to tell Oliver (about Miles’ death) until the next day, after we all got a bit of rest,” she continued. “We talk with Oliver about his baby brother often, and he openly tells people that his baby brother died. Usually when he meets another baby, he'll say something like, "I love babies!" and dote all other them. At some point, he will take a step back and tell them his baby brother died. He is 3 now and is very blunt. It definitely takes people back. People don't know what to say to him - or us for that matter.
“We have had wonderful support from the bereavement counselors at Hospice of Chattanooga,” she said gratefully. “Hospice has a perinatal and pediatric bereavement team who provide counseling to women and families who have experienced the loss of their baby or child. They provide it free of charge for 13 months after the loss. I cannot imagine the state I would be in today if it had not been for Hospice and, in particular, the loving guidance of Susan Latta.”
That interaction was important, she said, because she also encountered many people who had no idea how to respond when told someone’s baby did not survive.
“Moms who have miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths are always asked about their babies,” she explained. “You bump into just someone you saw at the grocery store or, even worse, someone at work you don't see often . . . they always ask (about the baby), expecting good news and maybe a picture or two. I still run into people at work who don't know our story. You're in this awkward place of trying to support someone else through hearing your tragedy . . . I've had people simply become silent and kind of slink away.”
A year after losing Miles, she said, “I now have a great support network of moms who have lost children and sometimes they simply lie – say the baby is doing great and move on. Sometimes a lie is just easier than sharing the reality with everyone you see.”