Working To Raise Awareness On Stillbirths

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Stillbirth_042016AStillbirths are a difficult topic. In the movies, childbirth is often portrayed as a rather madcap affair—the dad wildly driving through darkened streets (it’s always the middle of the night), clipping curbs as he turns the corners. The mom is usually huffing and puffing in the front seat, hissing, “Hurry up!” through gritted teeth. At the hospital, there is an uproarious ride in a careening wheelchair down the hall to the delivery room, where the mom—after some more huffing and puffing, and possibly some hilarious cursing at the poor, bumbling dad—gives birth to a squirming, squalling infant. Together mom and dad gaze down at their new baby with loving eyes. Fade to the credits.
But life isn’t a movie.
For Port Washington resident Eleni Michailidis, the aftermath of the delivery of her son, Alexander, in February 2015, can be summed up in a single word—silence. Alexander, at 38 weeks gestation, was a stillbirth. Alexander, whose arrival was blissfully anticipated by Michailidis and her husband, Abraham Chahine, became—in the starkest of terms—a statistic, a stillbirth, over which 50 percent are of unknown etiology, that is, no known cause. What does a mother or a father—or anyone for that matter—do with that, a nearly indescribable tragedy and yet one for which even too many words barely do it justice?
After the stillbirth of Alexander, several weeks passed before the “fog” lifted enough for Michailidis to seek out other parents who had also experienced pregnancy loss. She found an invaluable resource in the Star Legacy Foundation, an organization that was founded by a mother and daughter, Minnesota residents Shauna Libsack and Lindsey Wimmer, both nurses. The two women were inspired to start their foundation 12 years ago after the stillbirth of Wimmer’s son, Garrett, at 38 weeks gestation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the term stillbirth applies to a pregnancy loss after 20 weeks gestation, with an early stillbirth occurring between 20 and 27 completed weeks of pregnancy, a late stillbirth between 28 and 36, and—what Wimmer and Michailidis each experienced—a term stillbirth, after 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. Affecting about one percent of all pregnancies, there are about 24,000 stillbirths in the United States each year. With those unfortunate facts and the widely accepted statistic that about 1 in 4 pregnancies overall end in some type of loss, the Star Legacy Foundation is dedicated to stillbirth awareness, family support, education, research and prevention. Wimmer states through an essay on the foundation’s website that, “Until we have better answers, treatment and prevention for stillbirth, I will support the stillbirth families and the health professionals working tirelessly to reduce the incidence of these tragedies.”
Through her connection with a local support group and Star Legacy, Michailidis was made aware of Oliver’s 5K Run/Walk for Stillbirth Awareness, a tribute to Oliver Cohlan Hughes, who was born still to his parents, Hilary and Tyler, in January 2013 at 34 weeks gestation. Proceeds from the event, held each spring in South Salem, NY, benefit the Star Legacy Foundation to help continue its mission. Michailidis first attended Oliver’s 5K in 2015 as an observer.
A year later, Michailidis speaks of Alexander and the day of his stillbirth with a quiet grace. The profound tragedy of the experience that day was compounded by the inescapability of delivering Alexander—in a room marked “different” by a picture of a single red rose attached to its door—on a busy maternity floor, a place filled with balloons, flowers, stuffed animals, laughter—and screaming babies. Michailidis’ deep concern for her parents, who had to wait amid the happy commotion of other families until they could see their stillborn grandson, is still apparent. Her comments about their experience make clear that the effect of a stillbirth on a family casts a wide net. Michailidis has worked during the past year to help the labor and delivery unit where she delivered to implement some changes to aid other families experiencing a stillbirth. Her goal intends to leave other families like her own as undistracted as possible in order to make the most of the limited time they have with their stillborn baby, whether they choose to dress, hold, photograph or speak to the baby. For Michailidis and her husband, they take continuing solace in the memory of the brief moments that they were able to gaze down at their new baby with loving eyes.
The Star Legacy Foundation now has a New York Metro Chapter, which was established in July 2015. Along with Michailidis, they are a small but motivated group of parents, grandparents and friends of stillborn babies. The group meets every other month. Their mission is to educate the medical community and public about stillbirth, provide support to families dealing with such a loss and to raise funds for research in the belief that many of these tragedies can be prevented. Some stillbirths can be traced to some type of placental malfunction, and research is ongoing. The Human Placenta Project is one such collaborative research effort, launched by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. Its goal is to understand the role of the placenta in health and disease.
The New York Metro chapter’s fundraising began with its first Let’s Not Be Still 5K Run & Walk to Support Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness on Sunday, April 17, at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington.
For more information about the Star Legacy Foundation, its mission and its projects, visit www.starlegacy foundation.org.

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