When Maggie Goodwin lost her daughter, Emma-Méabh Elizabeth, when she was 29 weeks pregnant in 2017, her grief was accompanied by shock. Goodwin, who worked as an emergency medical technician, felt unprepared for the possibility that her pregnancy would end in stillbirth.
“I’ve had two children, and during both pregnancies, it was not something that was discussed,” Goodwin said. “I worked in the medical field and knew that stillbirths could happen, but I didn’t know the statistics and didn’t know anybody personally who had one. I never came across one at work.”
Since learning how common her experience is, the Oceanside resident has worked to spread awareness. She got involved in the Star Legacy Foundation, a Minnesota-based organization that offers support to stillbirth parents, raises awareness and advocates for research, prevention and legislation. According to Star Legacy’s website, more than 26,000 babies are delivered as stillborns each year in the U.S., meaning that they died after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Stillbirth is more common than sudden infant death syndrome, commonly known as SIDS, which takes 2,300 infants’ lives per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There are many cases of stillbirth that are preventable,” Goodwin said. “It’s not all of them, and in my case it wasn’t, but there are a lot of cases where it is. When you have a child and you go to the pediatrician, they talk about SIDS, they tell you about all the things to do to prevent it. When you’re pregnant, they don’t talk about what you can do to prevent negative outcomes. They just don’t. We’re trying to get [obstetricians] to do that.”
In addition to educating others about stillbirth prevention, Goodwin aims to spread awareness of this type of loss. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and a memorial prayer service will take place on Oct. 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, in Rockville Centre. At 7 p.m., people can join a global “wave of light” by attending the service at the Msgr. Kelly Parish Center at St. Agnes Cathedral, or by lighting a candle at home.
“We want to make people aware that there is a community of people who have had stillbirths and miscarriages and infant loss,” Goodwin said, “and we’re there to support each other.”
Janine Sabatino, the chair of Star Legacy’s New York Metro chapter, got involved in the organization in 2017 after her daughter, Diana Hope, was stillborn at 36 weeks. “After that, I was desperately searching for something that could give me answers,” Sabatino recounted, “and I found Star Legacy and knew I needed to do something.”
Sabatino organized a 5K walk in Belmont Park in November 2017, raising more than $25,000 for Star Legacy. Along with walks and an annual golf event to raise money and awareness, the foundation offers a variety of free programs, online groups and educational resources. As Sabatino pointed out, resources are also needed in hospitals, where, she said, doctors and nurses are often not properly prepared to prevent and handle pregnancy and infant loss.
Even one of the most common signs of stillbirth is frequently dismissed as a normal part of pregnancy rather than a cause for concern, Sabatino said. “The misconception is that babies slow down at the end of pregnancy,” she said, “and that is a No.1 warning sign of stillbirth or that it’s about to occur, which is not spoken about by doctors.”
The aftermath of a pregnancy or infant loss can be complicated in many ways for families, and resources to help them are not always readily available, Goodwin said. In her case, explaining the loss to her son, William, was a challenge her family had little help with.
“When we had our loss, the hospital didn’t have enough information about how we should go forward and what we should do,” she said. “Our son was 7 years old at the time, and they didn’t have anything in terms of support for him. He was very much aware of and involved in the pregnancy, and looking forward to being a big brother. We try to make sure people have support for their other children, too.”
Goodwin is also starting a support group with East Rockaway resident Laura Greico. They are still early in the planning process, but they will aim to show families that experience such a loss that they are not alone. Greico lost her daughter, Deena Penelope, at 42 weeks in 2012, and has been attending a support group in Farmingdale for the past nine years. She said that joining the group allowed her to find hope at the start of her journey and continue to help others in a safe space.
“The first time I went to the group, I was a mess,” Greico recalled. “I was crying and didn’t want to get dressed or anything, but I went to the support group and saw this one lady who had lost her child five or 10 years ago. It had been a while for her, and she was wearing makeup and all that. I thought, ‘One day I may be able to wear makeup again, you know, she’s fine. She looks fine.’ It gives you hope.”
Greico emphasized that families need support regardless of how recently they experienced a loss. “This journey isn’t just something you need for the first few months,” she said. “It’s kind of a forever thing. The people who it just happened to are so raw in their emotions, and you went through it and feel like you can help them. Helping others just makes you feel like you’re contributing, like you’re honoring the memory of your child.”
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