It’s Time We Started Treating Stillbirths Seriously

It’s Time We Started Treating Stillbirths SeriouslyPerhaps the only greater pain of losing a child is knowing that the loss could have been prevented. Stillbirths happen more often than we might believe, and education on when to be concerned about it is not as thorough as it should be. The concerns of mothers-to-be are too often overlooked or waved-off, dismissing them as the normal anxieties of a pregnant person. Unfortunately, it is sometimes when these concerns are ignored that tragedy strikes.

It is critically important that medical professionals listen to the worries and concerns of the patient, as they may be indicative of a greater problem. Early action can save the lives of both the mother and the child. When it comes to stillbirths, both the care provider and the mother should know the signs to look out for that may be a precursor that something is wrong. Should a physician make such a mistake, and cause the stillbirth of your child, it is your right to seek restitution for your tragedy and suffering.

One woman’s story

In a recent ProPublica article, investigative journalist Duaa Eldeib goes in depth on the muted stories of stillbirths in America, and how little is being done at a federal level or among medical research agencies to discover more on how to predict and prevent these tragedies.

The article details the stories of several women, but focuses mostly on one mother, Amanda Duffy, who lost one of her children when the infant was born a stillbirth just a day before the scheduled delivery. The story is tragic and unbelievably heartbreaking, as anyone who has lost a child would understand. What is worse is that throughout her pregnancy, Duffy had raised concerns about the lack of fetal movement, but had been reassured that it was a condition called polyhydramnios. Her doctors scheduled increased check-ups. At one point, it was noted that the umbilical cord could be seen wrapped around the fetus’ neck, but again the doctor reassured her that this occurs in about 20% of normal deliveries.

Despite signs the fetus had “failed a portion of a test that measures fetal breathing movements” time and again, Duffy was given reasons as to why her concerns were normal for her situation. Duffy became even further worried when the baby’s movements had begun to feel different, and wanted to schedule an early delivery at around 37 weeks, but she was told that wouldn’t be possible, and she would have to wait until 39 weeks. On top of that, she would have to wait one day more than that, as her doctors didn’t do deliveries on weekends.

The final sign that not everything was as it should be happened at her final 30-minute ultrasound appointment, which “combined a number of assessments to check amniotic fluid, fetal muscle tone, breathing and body movement.” For 29 minutes, there was no fetal movement detected – and then the baby moved a hand. Yet no medical professionals thought this was problematic in any way.

With fewer than 24 hours to go before her scheduled delivery, Duffy’s daughter was stillborn.

Fetal movement and stillbirths

It is perhaps easy for us to see where the care providers in the story above could have done more, or should have done things differently; but to Duffy, they were the experts, the ones who knew what they were talking about. They had her trust. Doctors are meant to have our trust, but when tragedies like this occur, we need to trust what our bodies are feeling, and to do what we can to ensure our worries are properly assuaged.

In Duffy’s case, the care providers truly made a mistake when they did not flag that final ultrasound appointment. The baby had moved in the 29th minute of the allotted 30 minutes, and so they had been told that the fetus had passed the required exam. The fact is that, upon later review, three movements should have been required to pass that exam, and if the child had been delivered after that exam at 37 weeks, she may have lived.

Emily Price, chief executive officer of Healthy Birth Day (a non-profit group formed to raise awareness around fetal movement) pointed out that “‘there are still doctors who brush women off or send them home when they come in with a complaint of a change in their baby’s movements. And babies are dying because of it.”

St. Joseph’s County Department of Health’s Fetal Infant Mortality Review program noted that 74% of 65 stillbirths recorded in one Indiana county could likely have  been prevented. Per ProPublica, “For mothers who experienced decreased fetal movement in the few hours or days before the stillbirth, that estimate jumped to 90%.”

How medical malpractice can lead to stillbirths

Stillbirth statistics are staggering: “In 2020, the CDC reported 861 mothers died either while pregnant or within six weeks of giving birth. That same year, 20,854 babies were stillborn.” According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are many causes of stillbirths, including: problems with the placenta or umbilical cord, high blood pressure, infections, birth defects, or lifestyle choices.

However, one of the major precursors to stillbirths is that the concerns of the mothers-to-be are dismissed or ignored. An agency spokesperson of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told ProPublica, “Listening and taking the concerns of pregnant and recently pregnant people seriously is a simple, yet powerful action to prevent serious health complications and even death.”

Outside of negligence of the pregnant person’s concerns, there are many ways in which the actions of medical professionals can lead to stillbirths, including:

  • Failure to warn a mother about potential health risks associated with her age, weight, or chronic conditions;
  • Failure to monitor a patient who is high-risk;
  • Failure to monitor a pregnancy with multiple gestations, like twins;
  • Failure to diagnose or a delayed diagnosis of infections;
  • Failure to address problems with the umbilical cord; and
  • Failure to perform a C-section in a timely manner.

If you believe that the life of your child could have been saved had the medical professionals acted differently, then you should seek the counsel of a birth injury lawyer.

We hear a lot in the news about pregnancies and the lives of fetuses, but we hardly hear about the shocking prevalence of stillbirths across the country. Very little is being done – including simple research by organizations such as the CDC – to combat this national tragedy. Research needs to happen, medical professionals need to be better educated and trained on the warning signs of a stillbirth, and doctors need to listen seriously to the mother-to-be. She knows her body, and ignoring her concerns could lead to the ultimate tragedy.

If you are grieving the loss of your baby, you can find help through the Washington, D.C. Department of Health: 202.442.9124. You might wish to try the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, also located here in D.C.: 202.204.5016 or 202.204.5016.

Please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC through this contact form or by calling our offices today.