The Heartbreaking Truths about Stillbirths

When you work in the world of medical malpractice, and especially when your job involves helping the victims of that malpractice, you have to learn to separate your emotions from your work; sometimes it is the only way to effectively help someone. But there are some stories, and some cases, that make it almost impossible to do that.

The New York Times has been running articles on the gut-wrenching topic of stillbirths, perhaps because 1 in 160 pregnancies end in fetal death, and there were close to 4 million children born in 2013 (the latest available data). That puts the potential number of stillborn children in this country at 25,000 that year. Perhaps the Times is hoping to raise awareness, so that families who have suffered this ultimate loss can find the help they need in order to grieve.

Or perhaps it is to tell us that approximately half of all stillbirths happen for no apparent reason at all.

That other 50%

But if 50% of stillbirths seem to happen spontaneously, then the other 50% must be caused by something. The March of Dimes lists a number of causes, from placental abruption to poor health on behalf of the mother, to spreading infections. In some cases, there is nothing that can be done: a woman who loses her child because of a horrific car crash caused by another driver is a victim of circumstance.

In some of the worst cases, however, those fetal deaths came about as a result of medical negligence, 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;
  • Failure to perform a C-section in a timely manner;

Serious medical negligence seems rare, according to most statistics – but rare isn’t impossible, and all doctors make mistakes. If you or your partner senses something “isn’t right” with your baby (lack of kicking or movement, for example) don’t wait; seek your doctor’s advice immediately. If your doctor doesn’t take your concerns seriously, consider a second opinion. One mistake can cost a family everything.

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.