Iowa Sen. Janet Petersen is a co-founder of Healthy Birth Day, Inc.

Iowa Sen. Janet Petersen, Co-Founder

The first time I heard the word stillbirth, I was just a little girl in the car with my big sister and mom, heading from Iowa to Missouri to visit my maternal grandma. I was excited to share with my mom that I had memorized all ten of her siblings’ names. When I rattled them off, she informed me that my grandma actually had 11 babies – I was missing baby James who would have been my uncle. She told me he was a stillborn baby, born between my Uncle Huey and Aunt Dorothy in the summer of 1920. I remember how incredibly sad I was for my Grandma, wondering how she lived through that unfathomable heartache and was brave enough to bare seven more kids.

Nearly 83 years to the day after my Grandma Hall lost her baby boy to stillbirth in the family’s farmhouse, my husband Brian and I would experience the same fate. In July 2003, we lost our daughter Grace Elizabeth to a true knot in her umbilical cord when I was nine months pregnant.

How could we have lost our daughter Grace? She was beautiful and perfect. I had had a perfectly healthy pregnancy. I was fully insured. I didn’t have a country doctor; I went to a group of highly educated and experienced OB/GYNs with full access to modern medical technology.

My doctors explained that stillbirths were rare, but we learned otherwise. Brian and I were just two of the 52,000 parents in the U.S. that lost a baby to stillbirth that year. I remember laying in my hospital bed in the maternity ward without my baby, reeling both emotionally and physically … wondering how women could still be losing babies to stillbirth and how the doctors could seem so nonchalant about it, basically writing them off as unpreventable accidents.

I am passionate about preventing stillbirths because I know the pain of losing a baby. I believe wholeheartedly that most stillbirths can be prevented. We are proving just how many babies can be saved just through our fetal monitoring campaign Count the Kicks. Other countries are doing even better, proving stillbirth prevention safety bundles work.

I’m passionate about stillbirth prevention because I know this problem is solvable. I’m fighting with love in my heart for our daughter Grace and our living kids – Maggie, Charlie and Buck. I’m pushing for stillbirth prevention for women and girls and families I don’t know, because I wouldn’t wish the pain on anyone.

I know our country can do better. We must urge those in power to move from silent complicity to moonshot actions to make stillbirth a maternal health tragedy of the past.

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Learn more about the courageous advocates who are helping us raise awareness and push for systemic change.

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