Pregnancy after stillbirth: experience and evidence gaps

In this blog, Susannah Hopkins Leisher shares her experience of the trauma of stillbirth and impact on subsequent pregnancies and, with researcher Aleena Wojcieszek, looks at gaps in the evidence on how to care for such women and their families. Please be aware that some may find the content of this blog upsetting. This blog is part of a series called ‘Maternity Matters’, you can read the rest here.

Aleena Wojcieszek is a researcher at the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth at the Mater Research Institute of the University of Queensland, Australia. She recently submitted her PhD on informing clinical practice for care in pregnancies after stillbirth and co-leads the centre’s subsequent pregnancy research stream.

Aleena: the researcher

Some may assume that conceiving a new pregnancy after stillbirth might be somewhat of a “cure” for the trauma of stillbirth; that it’s the inevitable “happily ever after” for families who endure the death of their child, and nothing more needs to be done for these families. But does this really stack up?

When I started my PhD on care in pregnancies after stillbirth, in late 2015, I knew I was entering relatively unchartered waters. I wasn’t sure what I might find, just that it was an area of enormous need.

From my early reading, a few things were clear: stillbirth has profound and sometimes intergenerational effects on families; most parents who have a stillborn baby do conceive again; these parents have a higher risk of (recurrent) stillbirth than parents who have no history of stillbirth; and many parents go through intense anxiety and fear in their subsequent pregnancies.

So what care do parents currently receive in pregnancies after stillbirth? And what care should they receive?

For our recent Cochrane Review on care for pregnant women and their families following stillbirth, we looked for all relevant clinical trials and found only 10 trials with data from just 222 women. They looked only at medical interventions. Not one looked at ways to help parents and families in terms of their feelings and experiences, or how to reduce parental anxiety or promote attachment between mother and baby, for example. It has confirmed a huge evidence gap, rather than provided any guidance on what quality care for these women and their families might look like.

We have much to learn.

Through my studies I have met many bereaved parents who went through a subsequent pregnancy following perinatal death, mostly due to stillbirth. Their stories are all unique, but there are some common themes across their experiences.

Susannah and Craig Leisher, their sons Wilder and Zimri, and the whole Leisher family, all hold a special place in my heart. Their story has stayed with me throughout my PhD candidature. I’ve even been privileged to share a small part of their story in conference presentations and public research seminars during my PhD, sharing with audiences some of the precious family photos in this blog.

It’s families like The Leishers that this research is ultimately for…

But it would be remiss of me to go on here. I would like to now pass on to Susannah herself to share her story, what this research means, and where to next.

Susannah: the mother

Craig and I started trying for a baby almost as soon as we got married, and I became pregnant quickly and easily. We were living and working in Vietnam at the time. The first time I felt Wilder move, I was in a tiny village in the mountainous region on the border with Laos, doing fieldwork.

I was a new mom, so at first I wasn’t sure – but then it happened again, and I was sure, and thrilled: our baby was real, and making his (or her) presence known! You can see in this photo how excited and happy I was.

Susannah pregnant with Wilder, looking happy

Me at home in Hanoi, Vietnam, about 7 months pregnant with Wilder, 1999 (taken by my husband Craig)

The months went by, and my pregnancy progressed perfectly. I was so careful. I eagerly followed the least bit of advice, giving up coffee and alcohol and tracking my weight gain religiously.

About a month before our due date, Craig and I flew back to the States to stay with my parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as we had decided to have our first baby back home. On a Thursday, I went for my regular midwife appointment. All checked out. On Friday, I treated myself to a pregnancy massage. On Saturday, Craig and I went downtown to buy sheets. That night, for the first time, I felt a hint of concern.

As we prepared for bed, I mentioned to Craig that I had not felt the baby move, whereas his habit was to move around in the evenings. On the morning of Sunday, July 11, 1999, realizing that I still hadn’t felt the baby move, we consulted our bible, “What to expect when you’re expecting”. It said to drink a glass of juice and wait an hour for the baby to respond to the extra sugar. I made it through about 45 minutes and then we agreed to call the midwife. She was friendly but nonchalant, and told us to go on in to the maternity ward to double-check that everything was okay. On the short drive over to Mt Auburn Hospital, I confessed to Craig how silly I felt, worrying like a stereotypical new mom over nothing.

Nothing. Only the penetrating hiss of static…

In a small room on the maternity floor, the technician smeared the familiar jell on my tummy and began to probe. Nothing. Only the penetrating hiss of static, which I will never forget. Troubled, she smeared more jell on my tummy and tried again from a different angle. She then said she was going to fetch a different machine. I hit the concrete wall hard with my palm and yelled “What is going ON??????” A new person appeared, wheeling a small ultrasound machine. She did another exam, telling us in a monotone, “I see the legs. I see the head. I see the heart. The heart should be beating, but it is not.”

That was 20 years ago. Today, as I type these words, my heart is racing. My grief is ever with me, fresh, just below the surface.

I delivered Wilder Daniel after a two-day induction, on July 13, 1999. The physical pain of my labor was infinitely multiplied as I cried out in anguish, “This is so pointless!” Craig cut the cord. Wilder was 6 pounds, 12 ounces, with a full head of hair and a perfect button nose, as you can see.

Me holding Wilder just after he was born, at Mt Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 13, 1999 (taken by my father, John Hopkins)

Wilder Daniel Leisher, July 13, 1999 (taken by my bereavement nurse, Patty Campbell)

The ‘1-2 punch’ of stillbirth

There was little recognition of the trauma I had suffered, let alone what it might mean for a future pregnancy. I received a piece of paper with a list of local support services and a pamphlet whose title skewered me: “When Hello Means Goodbye”.

Stillbirth gives a ‘1-2 punch’. First, there is the crazy grief of bereavement, and then there are the follow-on effects. For me, these started immediately after Wilder’s death, when our subsequent pregnancy journey began. Dear but ignorant friends told us, “It was meant to be”, and “It’s okay, you can have another baby,” as though that would magically obliterate the actual child I had borne.

There is no expiration date on grief. Each of us is unique and precious, and just because we could never know Wilder’s uniqueness does not erase this fact. Nonetheless, I desperately wanted a live baby and wanted to get pregnant again immediately.

Why did our son die?

We were determined to find out what had happened to Wilder so that we could prevent another tragedy. Craig and I had blood tests done. Nothing. We made the wrenching choice to allow an autopsy to be performed on Wilder’s body – maybe that would give us some answers. Nothing, other than the cruel enduring worry over whether his body had been respected and treated gently.

We were advised finally to consult with a perinatologist. We eagerly prepared “The List” for our meeting with him. On it, we included every factor we could possibly think of that might have killed our son. In the event, the perinatologist accepted our piece of paper, glanced unseeingly at it but did not even read it, and told us that “sometimes these things happen”. A poster child for fatalism about stillbirth in healthcare professionals!

Ultimately, we have had to live with not knowing why our son died. This fundamentally shook my confidence in what science and medicine can do for me.

The short-lived joy of being pregnant again

I became pregnant again almost immediately. I was full of joy but it was short-lived. Where my first pregnancy was thrilling, secure, and joyful, my second pregnancy was wooden and defenseless. If death could strike randomly once, it could do so again, and there was apparently nothing I could do to stop it.

We again elected to return to the States for the birth, to the same hospital where Wilder had been born dead. I asked for extra monitoring and was told it wouldn’t make any difference but I got it anyway. Wilder had died at 38 ½ weeks. I could not bear to go past this date and asked for early induction. My understanding obstetrician allowed it.

One reason I wanted to return to Mt Auburn was my bereavement nurse, Patty Campbell. Patty was with us when Wilder was born and she was the only person I connected with during my heartbreaking labor. She put Wilder in my arms. She took our precious photos of him. She asked his name, and when it was time, she asked if I was ready to let him go, and she understood when I could not answer her, because what mother could ever answer “yes” to that question. I needed her there when our next child was being born, because maybe that one would die too.

Zimri Bhai – little brother

 Zimri was born on August 7, 2000. Apparently, he was born with the cord around his neck. It took a while for him to cry. I wasn’t surprised. I felt grim.

Then he cried and Patty brought him to me but I couldn’t smile at first. I felt solemn and icy and unemotional. I felt that he was probably going to die. Patty kept at me until I kissed this new living baby and I did smile then. Zimri’s middle name, Bhai, is the Nepali word for “little brother”.

Susannah holding Zimri, looking solemn then smiling

(L) Me gravely holding Zimri just after he was born on August 7, 2000, with my sister Alyson Hopkins solemnly looking on, and my bereavement nurse, Patty Campbell, examining Zimri (taken by Craig); (R) Me finally smiling at Zimri, with my mother Hilary Hopkins looking on (taken by Craig)

It took me months to call the new one by his name. I probably accepted that he was actually going to live when he was about six months old.

I had two more pregnancies with two more living babies, my sons Kai and Ilem. Each pregnancy was less wooden but with the specter of possible death ever-present. No one ever again can tell me “it will be okay”, because I know that sometimes it isn’t.

What we still need to know about pregnancy after stillbirth

This Cochrane Review is important first because its very existence makes a statement to the healthcare community that subsequent pregnancy after stillbirth must be an area of concern. Subsequent pregnancy is not a cure for the trauma of stillbirth. It’s its own new and hugely complex life event.

Today we have a much better understanding of how stillbirth affects families and communities than we did in 1999, when my son died, but there is so much more work left to do, as illuminated in this review.

“It wasn’t meant to be” and other platitudes are not helpful. There is always a cause and it’s science’s job to find out why. We need to know the causes of deaths to help families understand and to help provide care in subsequent pregnancies. As this review shows, though, research on medical interventions to reduce the risk of recurrent loss is incredibly limited. Worse yet, in my view, is the near-complete lack of research on psychosocial interventions that can help women and their families navigate subsequent pregnancy, childbirth, and life with living children beyond.

I am permanently scarred by Wilder’s death. I and my loved ones have done our best to make our way and seek help and advice, but it has sometimes been a hard road. The medical community needs to understand that parents have unique needs in subsequent pregnancies, yet as this review shows, more research is needed to know what’s helpful for different types of families and situations. For instance, for me, planned early birth was crucial (none of my kids went past 38 ½ weeks, thanks to understanding doctors in three countries), and yet this brings its own risks, so we need more research to help understand and compare the risks and benefits of this intervention.

Leisher boys by their brother's special shelf at home

My sons Zimri (left, standing), Ilem (right, standing), and Kai (sitting) tending their eldest brother Wilder’s special shelf on his 18th birthday in 2017 (taken by me)

Wilder’s 20th birthday would have been July 13, 2019, around the time I started writing this blog entry. My three living sons remember him every year as they tend to him on the family altar, a practice we learned from our time in Vietnam. Wilder died so long ago, and yet my trauma remains with me, always just below the surface. This important review illuminates the complex mix of actual tragedy and potential joy that is subsequent pregnancy after loss, the woeful state of knowledge about what can help families, and the importance of action.

Join in the conversation on Twitter with @aleenawoj @shleisher @CochraneUK #MaternityMatters or leave a comment on the blog. 

Reference and further information:

Wojcieszek  AM, Shepherd  E, Middleton  P, Lassi  ZS, Wilson  T, Murphy  MM, Heazell  AEP, Ellwood  DA, Silver  RM, Flenady  V. Care prior to and during subsequent pregnancies following stillbirth for improving outcomes. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD012203. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012203.pub2.

Sands is a stillbirth and neonatal death charity providing support, as well as a list of organisations for anyone affected by the death of a baby:

Susannah Hopkins Leisher and Aleena Wojcieszek have nothing to disclose.

Susannah Hopkins Leisher

About Susannah Hopkins Leisher

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Susannah Hopkins Leisher is a fourth-year doctoral student in epidemiology at Columbia University, focused on stillbirth. She is also an honorary research fellow at the Stillbirth Centre for Research Excellence at the Mater Research Institute of the University of Queensland, Australia; a board member of the International Stillbirth Alliance; and co-chair of the Stillbirth Advocacy Working Group founded by WHO’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. Prior to moving to perinatal epidemiology, she spent over 20 years working on global poverty alleviation in Asia, Africa and Central America, including ten years living and working in Vietnam. Ms. Leisher lives in New Jersey with her husband Craig and three teenaged sons. She is also the mother of Wilder Daniel, stillborn at 38½ weeks on July 13, 1999, with no cause found.

48 Comments on this post

  1. Avatar

    Hello Susannah. I gave birth to my son recently after being diagnosed with sudden onset pre eclampsia. My story starts a week exactly before I went into the ER to have been told Atlas’ heart was no longer beating. My beloved dog of 15 years was taken to the vet after shortness of breath, lethargy and a terrible cough. I was told he had fluid in his pluerial cavity from cancer and a weak heart. He was in extreme discomfort and I decided to put him down the next day. That night I stayed up all night in intense pain that my best bud was no longer going to be in existence with me as I listened to his labored breathing. The next day I went through the agony of doing what I knew was right but could not control my immense sorrow. The following week to the day I noticed decreased movement in Atlas, and an on and off again headache and swelling all over my body. Immediately the ER put me on magnesium for seizures due to my high blood pressure. I started my induction that night and the next night at 8:59pm I gave birth to Atlas. He was 35 weeks and his head was already down so four good pushes was all it took. He was such a handsomely formed babe. All they could tell me was that I had pre eclampsia but I know that the extreme sadness and the stress related to my pooch dying caused my high blood pressure that subsequently decreased his blood oxygen intake. I simply wanted to give you a case study where the relationship between extreme loss of a loved one brought about such stress and/or my fight or flight response that it caused my precious boy to perish inside me. I’m so sorry to women who have no answers at all. And I’m sorry I was ignorant to what my greif did to my Atlas. Thank you for your work my fellow mother.

    Nicole / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Hello Nicole,
      I am so very sorry to know of the death of your precious son Atlas. Please also accept my sympathy for the loss of your dear canine companion. Grief is such a powerful emotion that can overtake us and overpower us. I have learned that very often it is a multitude of complex and intertwined factors at many levels, from social to biological, that can sometimes lead to death. For myself, I still wonder and ponder over what factors led to Wilder’s death, and this is a strong guiding force in my current doctoral studies. Wilder died nearly 21 years ago, and what doctors know now about risk factors such as cholestasis of pregnancy were not well-known then, and this helps me understand how medical and clinical knowledge are constantly evolving. I try to play a tiny part in urging for increased research of causes, as a way of trying to prevent stillbirths in other families. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Wishing you peace and the passage of time to support you in your great loss,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Nicole) Reply
  2. Avatar

    Hi Susannah. This is probably the first place I am sharing my story at. I delivered my baby girl Dyuthi (meaning radiant light) on Feb 6,2020 at 39w 2 days. I did not have any sort of complications or problems throughout my pregnancy. I did not have any stress and was super happy all the time. At 39w 0 days, on a Tuesday night, I started getting contractions which came and went every 20 minutes or so. I was asked to wait till it became stronger. And after waiting for around 24 hours, we headed to the hospital (till this time we were not aware that the baby was gone). We stepped into the hospital, I was asked to change into the gown and when the fetal monitor was wrapped around, there was notHing we could hear. She was alive with her heart beating at 148 just the previous Wednesday on my regular OBGYN routine checkup. This picture of getting to know that she is gone has been constant in my mind since then and it’s a fight every morning and night with myself to wake up and try to function normally. Till now we haven’t found any reason as to why she left us. I become clueless and helpless. I’m not sure if I will be normal ever again. I chose not to see her since I had this imaginary picture of her perfect face set in my mind and did not want to disturb it. I am now guilty of not seeing her which comes and goes in waves. The grief has been too much to handle and I am just continuing with the hope of having a live baby in hands in future. Your story made me write my heart out here, Thank you so much, Susannah. Much Love!

    Kruthi Bhat / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Kruthi,
      Thank you so much for sharing the story of your precious daughter Dyuthi. Your story is so familiar to me. I know the feeling of a perfect happy pregnancy that inexplicably ends with death. The grief and devastation are overwhelming. For my part, I found sustenance in tending Wilder’s memory. Just two weeks after he died, my husband and I held a small ceremony with some friends and family. We spoke about Wilder and scattered his ashes in a place special to us. We sent out a card to many many of our friends and family to announce Wilder’s birth and death. I carefully created a notebook with memories of Wilder, and for nearly two years I kept a journal of the daily reminders and memories related to Wilder’s birth and death. These acts were soothing to me, and they helped me to progress through time. I also read everything I could find about stillbirth, even though there was not much. I read about other types of devastating losses as well, of newborn babies and children, as reading about how others coped, and the stories of other mothers and fathers, somehow was soothing and helpful to me; instead of increasing my pain, these these reduced my pain. Everyone is different though. Honestly, nearly 21 years after losing Wilder, I’m not sure I ever became normal again. My whole life changed, my career, everything. At the same time, I did have three living sons, and I did laugh again, and smile again, and feel joy again. I always think of it this way: There is the death of my firstborn, Wilder, which can never be anything other than grief, devastation, blackness. Yet alongside this grief, next to it, maybe in some parallel universe, there has been happiness, new life, and even the joys of the new career in epidemiology that I only came to because of Wilder’s death and my laser focus on stillbirth. It is so strange to have grief and happiness coexist in one body, but I have found that they do. Regarding your feeling of guilt over not seeing your daughter, perhaps you can consider that you “saw” her every single day in your mind’s eye and your heart, and held her strongly in your body’s arms. I try to let the pain of not seeing Wilder’s eyes and feet slip away from me like little soft waves on the surface of a great ocean that I am sailing slowly away from. Peace to you,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Kruthi Bhat) Reply
  3. Avatar

    Hi Elizabeth. I instantly connected and share the feelings
    of frustration and uncertainty of not knowing what went wrong with the pregnancy, the questions and all the blame of wht did I not do right to prevent my Aidan’s death. I was admitted to our local hospital for two long weeks just to come home without our precious bundle. Crying,feeling miserable,full of unanswered questions the constant reminder of breasts tht are crying out for relief!!!!
    Aidan was stillborn at 26 weeks as I was told due to my blood pressure being too high, blood penetrated his brain and he suffered receiving oxygen. His heart stopped beating on the 3 Dec 2019.
    We r still coming to terms with his death but it’s very difficult as people always want to sympathize with us.
    God’s grace is keeping me, i’m living each day second by second,constantly staying in prayer.
    Thank you for sharing your story. It reminded me that other women are also experiencing this trauma and made me want to support them in every possible way I can even if I can only pray for them.

    Rosa Theifane / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Rosa,
      So many thanks for sharing a part of your story and your loss of your precious baby Aidan. I remember that reminder of the baby I should be holding in my arms when my milk leaked even while we were scattering Wilder’s ashes in the grass. So very poignant. I agree with you that it somehow helps to share our stories, so that at least we know that we are not alone. Someone else has gone through what we went through and are going through. Someone else feels or felt the way we feel or felt. We all grieve differently and hearing the many stories of women and men who have suffered the stillbirth of their babies does help us to forge ahead, day by day.
      Wishing you peace.

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Rosa Theifane) Reply
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    Hello my name is lisa,
    Our daughter poppy Sunshine was born sleeping 20.11.18 at 34 weeks. Her autopsy was also unexplained, I find this such a hard pill to swallow as what’s there to look out for next time? We are still trying for not a replacement but a baby to hold we are left with such empty hearts and arms. I had gone to the hospital with reduced movements and was put on the ctg machine. Her heart rate was unreasuring so a obstetrician was called in who went over my results and found it wasn’t cause for an a emergency and to go home. When I replied and said I still hadn’t felt movements he said to go home and have a moro bar and to come back in the morning if I was still concerned. Well I did go back in the morning and it was to late.
    So heartbreaking thinking about the what ifs. What if I had further monitoring what if I just refused to leave. Waht if the concerned midwifes called me back as they didn’t want me to leave.
    I also remember the sound on that heart monitor picking up my own racing heart. It’s a pain that will always be there

    Lisa Crerar / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Lisa,
      I am so very sorry for the loss of your beautiful daughter Poppy Sunshine. What a lovely name. We also tried everything to find an explanation. The decision to allow an autopsy was hard but we felt we had to do it, and of course there was no cause still. Years later, I wrote a letter to the two people whose names were on the autopsy report as having performed it, just to tell them that I hoped and assumed they treated Wilder’s body with respect. Some of the only people who ever touched him… I am so sorry for your agony. The what ifs are very hard. I think there is only time which marches forward and carries us forward with it and eventually gives us a little tiny bit of peace, somehow. With you in spirit,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Lisa Crerar) Reply
    • Avatar

      We lost our baby mukundi at 23 weeks and a day on 26 December 2019.I suddenly had a runny tummy and vomiting,I also had abdominal pain .So I was rushed to the emergency room,I was given antibiotics on a drip and I requested for a scan,they did a scan and baby was in breach position,and my cervix was closed at 17:30pm.The pains I assumed was my uterus stretching worsened and I went back to the emergency room at 10:30pm,then I was taken to ward the pain increased then I had no Idea I was in labor,4:30am I went to the loo and saw some unsual discharge which I learnt was the mucus plug,pushed my baby boy out,he was too small 490g they could not save him…It’s been such a hard time for me,they showed me my baby but he was sleeping…Everything happens sooo fast

      K / (in reply to Lisa Crerar) Reply
      • Susannah Leisher

        Dear friend,
        I am so sorry for the loss of your little Mukundi. Such a whirlwind of action that happened around your baby’s birth, with you and Mukundi at the center of it. Thinking of you and sending strength and hope for the days to come,

        Susannah Leisher / (in reply to K) Reply
    • Avatar

      Hi Susannah, I lost my baby boy Neel last month. He was ok till 15th Feb 20 but on 18th my sonography doctor declared that his cardiac activity stopped. I am still finding a reason, as I had completed 37 weeks and everything was normal. I delivered him on 19th Feb 20.. But I refused to see him as I didn’t have courage to see him. I hav this guilt that I didn’t even see him but I never wanted to see my baby who was so active in my womb for 9 months like this… I miss him like anything… I loved him before I saw his face so I wanted to keep those memories alive… I hope he is not angry on me.

      Swati Talvadekar / (in reply to Lisa Crerar) Reply
      • Susannah Leisher

        Dear Swati,
        Please see my comment in reply to your other comment farther down, but I just wanted to say it makes me glad to know your son’s name. I will think about Neel. I think that babies are not angry, they only felt relaxation in our wombs as we carried, fed and rocked them while they were alive. Wishing you time and comfort and peace,

        Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Swati Talvadekar) Reply
  5. Avatar

    Today is Christmas eve 2019. Our daughter would have been 8 days old today. It would’ve been her first Christmas. Instead my husband and i are still in bed just hoping to get through another day. I lost my baby girl Zalayah at 37 weeks and 3 days. We found out on December 15th that her heart had stopped beating. I was induced and gave birth to her on Decembee 16th. I can’t help but think of how i failed her as her mother. How could i not know something was wrong and she needed me. I know God has a plan and i have to accept that this is part of it. I thank you for sharing your story. Knowing wilder has 3 healthy brothers who celebrate him gives me comfort and peace. I already am thinking about Zalayah’s baby sister or brother. I know she will never be replaced but i think it may help us to fill the empty holes in our hearts.

    T Frey / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      I am so very sorry for your loss of your baby daughter Zalayah. I remember so well finding out when Wilder had died, and the time between when we knew and when he was born. Craig and I went through so many thoughts as you describe, wondering over and over what we might inadvertently have done and how this possibly could have happened. I do believe that I did all I could to care for Wilder during pregnancy and I am sure that you did too. Having Wilder’s younger brothers has been just as you say, not a replacement for him, yet on the other hand, an immeasurable comfort. The holidays are a particularly hard time for many of us whose babies have died, because we think so poignantly about what might have been. This would have been Zalayah’s first Christmas, yes. I light a stick of incense for Wilder on the holidays as a way of remembering him, and I decorate his shelf with some of our Christmas ornaments. He is there with the rest of us and is always in my heart. Wishing you peace and strength as you move forward day by day,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to T Frey) Reply
  6. Avatar

    Now im pregnant again after 4 month delivery. I delivered in 4 aug 2019, now im 7 weeks pregnant. I dont know what to do, is it safe for the baby?

    Sandhya / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Sandhya,
      Thank you so much for posting. I am not a doctor and I am sure that you know that the best person to answer your questions about safety in this pregnancy is your doctor. Sometimes it can be hard to find a doctor with whom you feel really comfortable. And sometimes we don’t really have a choice about the doctor we see. Whether or not you have a choice about your doctor, I think it is really important to ask a lot of questions. Don’t be shy about asking many questions, or asking the same question over and over. Maybe we don’t understand the answer the first time, or we do understand, but we just need to keep talking about our concerns. There are unfortunately many risk factors for stillbirth, and it is also true that having had one stillborn baby does increase the risk that this will happen again. But this depends on many other things, such as the reason for the stillbirth happening in the first place. For me, we never found out the reason for Wilder’s being stillborn, so we could not rule anything out for my next pregnancy. This really increased my anxiety. In the event, you can see that I did go on to have three more babies, all liveborn and healthy. The chances that this next pregnancy will be fine are very good… but we know, who have suffered the loss of our babies from stillbirth, that good chances do not always translate into good outcomes. Stress and anxiety during a subsequent pregnancy are so normal and understandable. Sometimes doctors don’t want to talk about the possibility that “it might happen again” because they don’t want to alarm us. But, we are already alarmed and stressed. It is my feeling that the best thing you can do is to talk to your doctor (or doctors) and also if possible, to other moms who are going through, or have gone through, the same things. The next pregnancy is challenging, no matter what the outcome. Talking through your concerns, and knowing that being anxious is a normal feeling, can maybe help a little bit. Other than that, we can only keep moving forward in time, taking care of ourselves the best way possible.
      Wishing you strength and courage,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Sandhya) Reply
  7. Avatar

    Thank you to everyone who speak up openly about their pregnancy loss. I am happy that Wilder got to have 3 more brother that gives us hope that pregnancy and life after a stillbirth is possible. I was 26 weeks and gave birth to my stillborn baby girl on 20 August 2019 after a miscarry on 3rd December 2018. The umbilical cord got twisted and tangled like a telephone line nd took my babies oxygen support. It has been 3 month and 1 year altogether since our first lost of miscarry at 8 weeks. The year has not been easy…doctors have no answer as to why this happened I had no blood issues was perfectly healthy nd bby too. This breaks my heart to see that some women has to go through what we do…I am married fr 2 years and we don’t have children yet and Wilder’s existence and his brothers that came thereafter gives me hope. Lord please bless our wombs in childbearing….

    Georgia / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Georgia,
      I am so happy that my story gives you hope. I am very lucky to have my three beautiful living boys. It is not easy and it is made so much harder not to know why. This is why I went back to school, to study and learn more so that I can try to make a difference by uncovering some of the “why” so that maybe some day, fewer people suffer the loss of our babies from stillbirth. But I still have to face the fact that I will never know why Wilder died at the very end of a perfect pregnancy. I wish you peace and strength,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Georgia) Reply
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    I delivered my sweet baby boy Kaden on 11/27/2019 at 37 weeks 2 days. I went in for a routine visit alongside my husband the day prior. Our doctor had us watch a delivery video in the waiting room because of my intense fear of childbirth (I’m 26 and this is my first pregnancy). It never crosses my mind that I wouldn’t be taking Kaden home healthy and well. I had a very easy pregnancy no complications – however I always had decreased movement. During our visit our doctor commented my stomach suddenly was measuring almost five weeks behind. He went to listen to the heartbeat – and nothing but static filled the room. I felt a hotness of nervousness overwhelm me as I looked in my husbands anxious eyes. We were sent to the hospital where it was official. I was immediately started on my induction – as I screamed out in pain for what felt like hours. I spent some time with Kaden but I was so hard on me. I am back home now and in disbelief. I don’t know who I am now. I don’t know what to do with myself. I am experiencing my breast filled with milk with no baby. I cry myself to sleep – filled with guilt. Kaden was someone’s son , someone’s grandchild , someone’s nephew. I feel I let him and so many others down. I desperately want to try again but my faith is shaken.

    Mariah / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Mariah,
      You are not alone. I am so sorry for the loss of your son Kaden. I remember also when my milk came in, during our ceremony for Wilder on a hilltop at sunset where my husband asked me to marry him. This is such a raw time that you are in. Every person is different. For me, one way that I moved forward in time during those first terrible days and weeks was to find actions to take that related to Wilder. It was soothing to get books and read them to educate myself. It was soothing to create his ceremony. It was soothing and purposeful to write the announcement of his birth and death. We sent it to many people. I carefully chose the stationery and the ink for our signatures. Every detail was selected so carefully because these were the only actions that I could take as Wilder’s mother, instead of feeding and changing and burping him. Seek what soothes you and feels purposeful. Move forward in time. Strength and courage to you,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Mariah) Reply
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    I had my baby on 28th May 2019. I had a very normal pregnancy on the 35th week of my pregnancy I started having contractions and when we decided to go to the hospital and later they were checking my belly and the doctor told us that they couldn’t find the heartbeat of my baby and she softly said your baby is dead. Our life literally shattered into pieces. It has been 6 months and I don’t know how to feel. Somedays I am fine and I think I need to move on and some days I find myself in the same hospital room where I deliver my baby. I try to keep myself so busy but I don’t know how to move on. I am so unhappy and empty from inside that when I look myself in the mirror I can see that in my face. We are trying to get pregnant again but I feel so guilty. But reading your article and all the comments I feel like I belong somewhere and I am not alone.

    Sunakshi shrestha / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      You are not alone.
      I always say that I unavoidably joined a club when Wilder died. I didn’t want to be in the club but here I am. And here you are. At least I can assure you that as you already see, in this club there is much shared experience, understanding, compassion. I think I mentioned that I met my dear friend Lisa online after our babies died and despite never meeting until years later, in those early hard hard months we got each other through dark days. It was our shared experience that did it. I found that reading, talking, thinking and writing about Wilder’s death and life helped me. And time. Just forward motion in time.
      Thinking of you and wishing you strength,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Sunakshi shrestha) Reply
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      Hi Susannah… I lost my baby too. He was stillborn. The reason is unknown. I keep on asking God why this had as even my doctor dinnt give answer to my question. I did not have courage to see my baby boy with closed eye, so I didn’t see him. But I have this guilt of not seeing him. What to do Susannah I never wanted to see him like this. Nobody can replace him as he is my first child. I loved him before I saw his face so I want to keep him alive in me. He was till 15 Feb 2020 and it he completed 37 weeks in my womb when we went for sonography on 18th Feb 2020 we came to know that he lost cardiac activity… I didn’t accept this that day and we rushed to hospital… I delivered him on 19th Feb 2020 and I refused to see him……

      Swati Talvadekar / (in reply to Sunakshi shrestha) Reply
      • Susannah Leisher

        Dear Swati,

        I am so sorry for the death of your beloved baby boy. I really feel your anguish. Guilt is so painful to feel. It is agony to have your baby die, to not know why, and to miss him so much. My baby boy Wilder was also my first child. I know what you mean. No one could ever replace Wilder in my heart, even though I have three subsequent sons. We also never found out what the cause of Wilder’s death at 38 1/2 weeks was. I have had to live without knowing for nearly 21 years so far. Although I did see and hold Wilder, I was afraid to undress him and look at his body. I was even too afraid to look at his naked feet which were wrapped in blankets. And I was afraid to open his eyes and see what color they were… the fact that I do not know the color of his eyes still haunts me. So, I can have a little idea of your not seeing your son. For me, it is a comfort to know that at least for many months, I did protect Wilder inside my own body, where he heard my voice and the voice of my husband Craig. I know what you mean that you loved him before you saw his face… It took me a while to realize that I did not have to have my son be born alive and grow up in order to know him and thus love him; instead, I finally realized that I had loved him all along, without ever meeting him in life. I have spent my life keeping Wilder’s memory green, and your little baby boy Talvadekar is green now in my thoughts as well. I have found that naming Wilder was a true help to me in grieving for him. But every parent is different in how they manage this dreadful suffering. I can only say that the passage of time provides a little soothing. Your love for your son is so powerful and clear!


        Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Swati Talvadekar) Reply
        • Avatar

          Hi Susannah,
          I am greatful to talk to you and thank you very much for your kind words. I can understand your pain of not knowing the reason… But our babies are special ones, they were so attached to us that they never wanted to be with anyone else, they just came for us, they just came to meet their mom and nobody else. From a wife we became a mom and your Wilder and my Neel did it. My best wishes will be always there with Wilder and I love you Susannah, your words are encouraging to me.

          Swati Talvadekar / (in reply to Susannah Leisher) Reply
          • Susannah Leisher

            Hi Swati
            Thank you so much for your kind words. It makes me very happy to know that Wilder’s memory is green for you, and you know the same is true for Neel. Stay safe and wishing you peace,

            Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Swati Talvadekar)
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    Good sharing ….I just delivered my stillborn son Christopher yesterday too… He was 37 weeks plus… The guilt of thinking whether is it something I ate causing this came to my thought too, is it the pineapple ? Is it the waffle that cause high sugar level ? After birth, doctor show me the super twisted cord that could be the cause of lack of oxygen supply and blood flow which I still asking myself why he can’t untwist it ….but I do accept that he had chose his destiny and our family will move on with the cherish moment he brought to us when he is living with us in my tummy, and I know that I will miss him every night B4 I close my eyes…. I’m glad that the hospital give us the privacy moment after birth, I sing song for him, hug him, kiss him, nap with him, tell story before undertaker take him away… I came to this site when I eagerly hope to get an answer the chances and timing to get pregnant again.. thanks for the sharing and the encouragement that we still have the chance …

    Vvy / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Hello and thank you so much for posting. I am so sorry for your loss of your baby Christopher. It is really good that your hospital gave you and your family private time with Christopher to show him your love and to make memories for your whole lifetime. I wish that I had thought to sing a song for Wilder and tell him a story and this makes me feel teary! After 20 years. I would have sung the song “I gave my love a cherry”. The last line says “the story that I love you, it has no end”, and the words “no end” are inscribed on the insides of my wedding ring and my husband’s. I sang that song for Wilder later on, at a ceremony we had for him in Hanoi, Vietnam, with many of our friends, and I sang it to my other sons when they were little. Courage to you in your road ahead. I think the “answer” to a subsequent pregnancy is to follow what feels right for you and your family.

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Vvy) Reply
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    I lost my baby girl 3 weeks ago. I learned her heart wasn’t beating anymore on October 18th, I was 38 and a half weeks pregnant. On October 21st I had my baby girl, Jenna. She was my first baby. My husband and I are still finding it very hard to cope with the loss of our daughter and we still feel shocked and confused. I still can’t believe this happened to us. Our hearts will forever be broken but your story me gives me hope and comfort to know that there are other people out there that went through this tragedy and got through it. I hope we can too.

    Farah / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Farah,
      I have been there. Wilder was also 38 1/2 weeks when he died. I am so sorry for the loss of your precious daughter Jenna. There are no words but we still try to find words… Yes this is a “forever” condition, and the only way to continue is just to keep moving forward in time. And to keep your daughter’s memory green as you have done here by writing about her. Now others can also think of her. A dear relative of mine was an AA member and from her I tried to learn the wisdom of “one day at a time”. May this forward motion in time help you and your husband.

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Farah) Reply
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      I had a miscarriage in 2014
      My rainbow baby feb 2015
      And my beautiful daughter lilia payge sept 4 2019. Stillborn at 37 weeks 2 days due to a true knot in her umbilical cord. I come across this tonight and i just want to thank you for sharing. Some things you typed it was like you read my mind…felt the pain in my heart ..thank you

      Reilly / (in reply to Farah) Reply
      • Susannah Leisher

        Hi Reilly,
        Yes, I remember reading the words of other moms whose babies died, right after I lost Wilder, and it was like they were me. The words they wrote reflected the thoughts I had, exactly. We don’t want to be part of this community but… we are… and at least we can give each other support.
        Take care,

        Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Reilly) Reply
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    I also lost a baby boy 2 weeks yesterday. His name was Wilder also. He was 28 weeks and they say my placenta ruptured. I am scared to think about trying again but more scared not too. Nothing will ever replace my boy but I have a strong need to be a mother again. We also have an 8 yr old daughter.. she was so excited to be a big sister. So many unanswered questions.. my heart has never hurt more.

    Sarah Fields / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Sarah,
      I’m so sorry for the loss of your precious son Wilder. How amazing that our sons have the same name… I relate to being scared to try again yet also desperately wanting to. One thing I didn’t mention in the blog is that I wasn’t able to try again immediately because I had been exposed to TB at some point, a fact that was discovered when I was pregnant, and it was recommended that I undergo treatment before trying again for a baby. I was lucky that there was a brand-new treatment protocol that lasted only 3 months rather than the older protocol lasting 6-9 months. But even that wait was so hard, and I remember crying in the doctors’ office parking lot after learning that I would have to wait before trying again. Yet also… the utterly different experience of the second time around.

      Two weeks ago yesterday is such a very fresh loss and I send my heartfelt thoughts for strength and courage to you,


      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Sarah Fields) Reply
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    Hello, thank you for your article.
    Our son River was delivered on the 24.09.19 he was stillborn at 42 weeks. I have been frantically searching the internet for baby loss information ever since. I wish I could turn back time and demand there had been intervention at 40 weeks, I was just expecting to go into labour naturally. From what I have read it seems every mum feel a huge guilt; was it something I ate, did, didn’t do? The enormity of our loss is just now really catching up with me but it gives me some comfort knowing people can find a way forward but never forget their sleeping babies.

    Rebecca / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Rebecca,
      Yes. I have been there. I am so so very sorry for the loss of your beloved son River. I went through these same stages of trying to understand what happened–and not being able to have any answers. I ache for your pain right now. There is only one way to manage, and that is to continue to move forward in time with your aching heart. Wishing you strength and fellowship from “the club” of all of us whose babies have died.


      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Rebecca) Reply
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    I had my baby girl at 40+2 , I had a completely normal pregnancy but was booked in for induction at 40+1 because my 2 previous pregnancies (although babies both fine and healthy) I was high risk of bleeding. All through my third pregnancy I waS so anxious and worried I would die, I never once worried about my baby girl emma. I go over and over it, I completely blame myself in lots of different ways. Someone always has an answer for one way I think I caused it and then I think of another. It’s been 2 weeks since I had to have her cremated and I am just struggling. She was our last baby and I’m just utterly devastated. I don’t know how you go on from this, the only thing keeping me going is my other two and even then I’m just hopeless. How do you go on to have any more when she was fine the full pregnancy! I’ve had bloods done and allowed the placenta to be checked but we declined a post mortem for Emma’s sake! I just miss her terribly and having her in my belly, we got to spend some time with her after and have pictures but I just want her! She was perfect and fully grown and beautiful, I just don’t understand

    Stacey gibb / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Dear Stacey,

      I am so so terribly sorry for your loss of your beautiful Emma. My heart goes out to you. This time period in the immediate vicinity of your devastating loss is debilitating and raw. There is nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other, survive, and keep our babies’ memories green. Simply by sharing your story here you have done that. Emma is in my heart now.

      One thing that helped me enormously to manage was finding my dear friend Lisa who had just suffered a loss of her daughter Emily very similar to my loss of Wilder. We got each other through the first few years, and remain special friends, although in 20 years we have only met face-to-face one time. Perhaps there is a support group in person or online that may give you this precious resource.

      Courage and strength to you,


      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Stacey gibb) Reply
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    Thank you for sharing, it helps. My husband and I had a perfectly healthy pregnancy until 35 weeks, 2 days. I passed off the decreased movement as normal/stress-related because of my job as a nurse. My husband (who is a MD) wasn’t too concerned. We waited too long to get checked. Zachary was born 3/13/19. I wish everyday that I could hold him and watch him grow. My heart aches some days more than others, but I always miss my friend.

    Shelby / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Hello Shelby,
      I am so sorry for the death of your son Zachary. There are really no words. My heart goes out to you and your husband.
      With warm regards, and wishes for strength,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Shelby) Reply
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    Thank you so much for your important work.
    My parents had two living children followed by a stillborn son in the Netherlands in the 1970s. It horrifies me to think that they were strongly advised not to look at him, that they didn’t get to name him or have his body buried/cremated. He was born prematurely (I don’t know exactly, but probably between 32 and 35 weeks) and the only explanation my parents ever received for his death was that cycling a lot may have caused the membranes to break — implicitly and ridiculously placing blame on my mother.
    The above is all I know about my parents’ trauma. They hardly ever talk about it, and certainly not voluntarily. I was born about two years after the stillbirth. My two older living siblings have calm and emotionally stable personalities. I do not: I have ADHD (including trouble regulating my emotions and moods), buckle under stress, and have suffered from depression and anxiety. While I realize that a thousand other factors could be involved, I do wonder sometimes if the stress my mother doubtlessly experienced during her last pregnancy influenced my developing brain.

    With all this in mind: I’m happy that family experiences around childbirth receive scientific attention. Thank you so much.

    Elisabeth / Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Hello Elisabeth,
      Thank you so much for your comment. Your parents’ experience sounds so very hard. These days the Netherlands does some wonderful things for stillborn babies and their parents, such as parents bringing their babies home for a while to say farewell. My doctoral research is on the relationship between maternal stress and stillbirth, so your thoughts are really interesting to me. There are so many factors involved, and the bottom line is that we still know very little about why babies die.
      With warm regards,

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Elisabeth) Reply
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    Thanks for sharing just lost my baby boy .it’s more than a week now ,can’t still believe it happend to me I have done a lot of digging and I can’t even understand how it took place.Brian I named him 25/08/2019 the best day and worst day of my life.All I have in mind now it’s how to have a baby an this time a living one.thanks again sites like this gives hope

    Mariama / Reply
    • Sarah Chapman

      Hello Mariama, I am so sorry you lost your precious son Brian… Thinking of you and your family.
      Warmest wishes,
      Sarah [Editor]

      Sarah Chapman / (in reply to Mariama) Reply
    • Susannah Leisher

      Hello Mariama,
      I am so sorry for the loss of your son Brian. I have been there. Sending you hope and strength.

      Susannah Leisher / (in reply to Mariama) Reply
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    Excellent article. I feel like so much is lacking when it comes to treating the whole mother (not just physically) when it comes to pregnancy after loss.

    Teale Yeilding / Reply
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    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for so openly sharing yours and Wilder’s journey; it will help others.

    Muriah / Reply
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    Excellent. Very accurate and honest. Should help others going through the same thing.

    Bronwyn Cooper / Reply

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