By Cristian Ortiz
Back in April, as my partner Crystal was researching and educating herself on stillbirths, she came across this non-profit organization called Push for Empowered Pregnancy. Before our daughter, Valentina, was born still on Dec. 8, 2021, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Crystal had never heard of “stillbirth.”
I had but thought it was a sporadic act of God, one you never want to be aligned with. Instead, it is a consequence of poor prenatal care 50% of the time.
Then it happened to us. After 37 weeks of being told we had a healthy baby, ready for delivery around Christmas; she wasn’t. Not only was she born still, but she also looked sick, underdeveloped, and like she had suffered on the way to her demise.
The doctor recorded the cause of death as “strangulation by the umbilical cord.” It was plausible to my untrained eye. I just couldn’t reconcile the disparity in her weight against what the American College of Obstetrics guideline is for a full-term baby.
At the time of birth, Valentina was eight weeks behind her gestational age. Something shifted in the third trimester, the final leg of expectation, where the public narrative is: if a pregnancy made it that far, it was smooth sailing to labor. It wasn’t.
Because of her weight and the story the doctor gave me of how she was probably 8 pounds at some point in the womb and lost 4-5 pounds post-mortem, I was suspicious. I ordered an independent autopsy since the hospital refused to provide one and an independent review of Crystal’s medical records.
All the reports that we received from the pathologist to the three obstetric specialists offered the same narrative. Valentina’s death was preventable, and if identified and treated she would be with me, alive and thriving today.
The most profound experience that I took away from The Big Push to End Preventable Stillbirth March on Oct. 15 was that these children are never forgotten and that parents manage their grief over a wide spectrum. There were parents there who lost their child 5, 10, 15, even 40 years ago and now have families and other children, yet, they still actively and openly grieve for their lost child.
I hear all types of comments from people trying to relate to my tragedy, to people encouraging me to move on. “This too shall pass” is one that gets under my skin.
Before I was introduced to this community of stillbirth parents, a club that none of us want to be a part of, when a person asked me if I had kids, I would say “no.” Now, I say, “Yes, I have a daughter, her name is Valentina,” and I navigate the conversation from there.
Cristian Ortiz is a tech account developmental manager at DeSales Media Group.