Every year, 26,000 babies are stillborn in America. In 2003, one of them was my son.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What You Should Know About Stillbirth and Miscarriage

Because there is a difference, and yes, it matters. At least it matters to me, as someone referred to the loss of Ben yesterday, and the loss of a friend's full-term son, as "miscarriages."

And I am not here to talk about whose grief is worse, that of a mother who had a miscarriage or that of a mother who had a stillbirth. We get so competetive about grief: my loss was worse than yours, I lost more than you did.

That is not a place I want to go. But I do want to clarify, for any reader who may have come here not understanding that a miscarriage is not a stillbirth. Calling Ben's death a miscarriage takes away some of his reality--for he was a full-term child with a name, a weight (7 lbs, 10 ozs.), a height (19.5"), and hair (brown). I will never know the color of his eyes. He was long and lean, had long fingers like mine, narrow feet like his father's. I held him. My husband took pictures of him, we undressed him, we kissed him and rocked him. You cannot do this with a miscarriage.

So, what IS the difference, you ask? These are the basics:

* A miscarriage is the loss of a child before 20 weeks gestation. (This is the US definition; I realize in other countries, like the UK, a miscarriage is a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks.)
* More than 80% of miscarriages occur before 12 weeks gestation.
(For more info, go to BabyCenter.)

* A stillbirth is the loss of a pregnancy after 20 weeks, or 24 weeks in the UK.
* In a stillbirth, the baby has died in utero before delivery or during delivery.
* Yes, a woman who has a stillbirth has to deliver her child, most often vaginally as doctors prefer not to do a cesearean in these cases, if possible. (Did you get that? I went into labor and delivered my son just as if he were alive.)

Yesterday I also found an article online, from England's Daily Mail newspaper. This paper is not exactly, er, known for its journalistic integrity, and the article reflected that. A British actress, Kym Marsh, discussed the "stillbirth" of her son, Archie Jay, in the article.

The thing is, Archie Jay was BORN ALIVE. He died shortly after birth.

I believe accuracy matters. Perhaps I'm being pedantic angry anal, but that's who I am. Words matter. Accuracy matters. My son's life mattered.


Monica H said...

I'm glad you shared this, but I also have to add something to it.

Both Sam and Jack were born at 17 weeks gestation. Technically they are considered miscarriages because they were born before 20 weeks, BUT I gave birth to them vaginally. They had heartbeats up until they came out. They had weights, and lengths, hearts, feet, hands and toe nails.

They were not miscarried yet they aren't considered stillbirths either. Yet they were born still.

Catherine W said...

It is all so complicated and with so much potential for hurt. My girls were born at 23 weeks which, technically in the UK, means they were miscarried.

But G lived for too long (although for far, far too short a time for her mother) to be treated as a miscarriage so she is actually classified as a neonatal death and was issued birth and death certificates. And J is a miscarried child who is now two years old. I lost my pregnancy before 24 weeks but she is still alive. What gives?

I think there needs to be some serious reclassification of all these terms. Although miscarriage / stillbirth / pregnancy loss / infant loss are all devastating events, they cover a multitude of experiences.

Virginia said...

Thank you Monica & Catherine for adding in your experiences. I had a feeling Sam & Jack were earlier than 20 weeks but I could not remember - and I do so hope I haven't offended you, Monica, for that was not my intent. There are more shades of gray in this area than are fathomable.

These are things we need to know and as a society, we do such an appallingly bad job at discussing all things death-related. My intent with this post was more for those who have no clue than for those who have been through it. But thank you, both, for clarifying.

Becky said...

I was going to comment the same as Monica. Dylan was born at 17 weeks and Riley at 16 weeks. I saw and felt them move. They had heartbeats. Riley took one breath. They were boys with heights and weights. They were born vaginally...but they are technically miscarriages. I have their hand and foot prints. They were babies, without baby fat.

Anyway, you didn't offend me but I felt compelled to clarify too. It's a fine line with lots of gray areas. There does need to be some sort of reclassification.

Monica H said...

No no, I'm not offended in the least. I just hate that that's how their births/deaths are classified. It's almost as if they didn't exist or matter to anyone but me.

I just wanted to share that despite their gestation, they fell somewhere in between miscarriage and still birth. In the gray area, as you say.