The Heartache of Stillbirth Became the Courage That Spurred Legislation
I was 39 weeks pregnant to the day, just 16 hours shy of my scheduled c-section, when I gave birth to my daughter Reese Christine Duffy on November 2, 2014. We went to the hospital because I hadn't felt Reese kick in several hours.
Mother's intuition was screaming in me that something was horribly wrong. No heartbeat was found, but the doctor detected traces of brain activity. I was rushed in for an emergency c-section. Reese was stillborn due to a nuchal cord x2 at 4:47 p.m., weighing 8lbs 3oz, and looking like a perfect red-headed sleeping baby. I hope and pray that was the worst day of my life.
Having a perfectly healthy child die in the womb opened my previously-ignorant eyes to the fact that really bad things can happen to good people and we have little control over it, but we can control how we respond. A few weeks after Reese was (still)born my husband, Chris and I both realized that we are active grievers.
We immediately started digging. "We cannot be the only one’s who have experienced this. No one talks about this; we want to change that." Our doctors, nurses and staff were amazing but something that many of them said just didn’t sit right. “Sometimes these things just happen. We did everything we could.” We weren't satisfied with that response.
Perfectly healthy babies should not be dying weeks, days, hours, minutes before their due date. Shortly thereafter, we connected with the Star Legacy Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to stillbirth research and advocacy located in Minnesota. We quickly learned that many stillbirths are preventable but little research is conducted to help prevent the 26,000 stillbirths that happen each year in the United States--but why?
Could it be because these babies, my child, never reached personhood in the eyes of many large institutions? They never took a breath therefore they are fetuses and not people. Due to this technicality, autopsies of stillborn children are not covered by health insurance companies, and many families elect to forego an autopsy to avoid costly out-of-pocket costs.
Additionally, we never received a birth or death certificate, I didn't qualify for FMLA because "technically" I didn't give birth, because my baby didn't take a breath. I could go on and on.
Thanks to the Star Legacy Foundation we were connected to Dale and Carrie Fuller, a fellow loss couple who lost their little boy, Landon Dale to a true knot in his cord in May of 2014. I cannot tell you how thankful Chris and I were to meet this family. It's sad that we are in this club together, but like us, the Fullers are active grievers. The conversations began.
There is a lot we want to accomplish to put stillbirth in the spotlight.
As a first step we decided to pursue a small one-time tax credit for families of stillborn children in Minnesota. The "Stillbirth Family Relief Act" would allow parents of stillborn babies to receive a $2,000 tax credit for the birth of their child to help offset funeral costs, grief counseling, lack of leave, and other related expenses.
Now, I am not a political person. I have no experience drafting bills and talking with local and state lawmakers. But one thing I have learned from losing my daughter is that grief and love are a very powerful concoction that drove me and my husband to be brave. I have Reese to thank for giving me this courage. Once we decided to pursue this legislation we began to meet with our local lawmakers and used them as sounding boards and mentors. Along the way, we continued to share Reese and Landon's stories and received great support.
This journey was not without its roadblocks; many believed that it wouldn't pass in 2016 because it was a year of legislative inactivity in Minnesota. But our love for our babies and desire to help families who would one day have to experience the loss of their baby due to a stillbirth kept us going.
We kept pushing.
Chris works with a couple of lobbyists who volunteered their time to help us come up with a game plan. We reached out to the tax committees and we were lucky enough to testify in front both committees to briefly share Reese and Landon's stories. Lindsey Wimmer from the Star Legacy Foundation also shared a powerful testimony about how such a bill would be so meaningful because it would make stillbirth families feel like their children are recognized by the State of Minnesota.
Our stories regularly brought lawmakers to tears. We had their attention; our kids had their attention.
As the session crept closer to the end we were getting nervous. Our bill was just sitting there and nothing was happening. But my gut knew this was going to pass. A mother's intuition never lies.
It came down to (literally) the final minutes of the session when we got the news that our bill had PASSED! Because of our babies, the state of Minnesota heard us.
Because of our babies, hundreds of Minnesota families will have their children recognized by the state of Minnesota. Although money will not bring our babies back, the recognition that our children matter means the world.
Amanda Duffy shared her story with this production in September 2015, and it has since been viewed nearly 17,000 times. Her bravery, her words and her ambition to change the world in Reese's honor have done all that and more. You can watch her tell Reese's story here.