Ryne Jungling(MANDAN, N.D.) -- It was a normal Thursday morning in January for new mom Rachel Jungling as she took her infant twins to day care.
Both Rachel and her husband, Ryne Jungling, headed to work, and Rachel was on drop-off duty for Anders and Linnea, who were 11 months old at the time. The boy and girl were miracle babies for the Mandan, N.D., couple, who struggled with infertility for seven years.
"When we found out we were having twins, other twin parents said, 'It's awesome. You're going to have the most fun.' They were right," Ryne told Good Morning America.
"Anders, he was the snuggler ... always giving hugs and he really liked being held," he added. "They were pretty inseparable. When they went to bed, if they weren't sleeping, they'd look at each other and make noises until they fell asleep. If Linnea left the room, Anders wasn't OK. He really liked companionship and being around her."
On Jan. 10, Rachel, who was a teacher at the time, brought Anders and Linnea inside their day care facility while strapped into their car seats. Linnea was awake. Anders was close to sleeping.
"With two, Rachel didn't feel comfort leaving one in the car, so she would grab them both in the carriers and bring them in," Ryne said. "It was common practice. Every day, we'd give the day care provider the update -- how they slept the night before, what they ate. [The kids] were usually out of the car seat."
Ryne said the day care provider removed Linnea from her car seat. Anders was still in his car seat when his mother walked out the door.
"Anders looked over at Rachel and Rachel said, 'Bye buddy,'" Ryne said. "He kind of smiled, and she left -- with the assumption that he was going to be taken out of his car seat, and he wasn't."
"It's not something you ever think is going to happen."
A few minutes after 10 a.m., Rachel received a call at work from police.
"They asked her twice, 'Are you sitting down?' And they said they were coming to pick her up and that Anders was being rushed to the hospital," Ryne said.
Ryne, who was also working in education, said his wife called to let him know Anders was being hospitalized.
"She said, something happened to Anders and you need to get to the hospital and I think it's really bad,'" he recalled. "I remember her voice, I never heard it like that. She was really worried, it was tough. She thought it was kind of weird, but she knew it was pretty serious, if something like that was happening."
When Ryne arrived to the hospital he was met by two detectives. Ryne said he learned Anders was left sleeping in his car seat for two hours. The day care provider did not know of the risks involved when leaving a sleeping baby in a car seat, Ryne explained.
Anders was given CPR by the day care provider until paramedics arrived and worked on him for 40 minutes. After 30 minutes in the emergency room, Anders was airlifted from Bismarck to a hospital in Fargo, N.D.
"To actually realize what was happening with our son, that was hard," Ryne said. "We prayed a lot that he would get better, that this would all go away. We were praying for a miracle to happen. At the same time, we started to pray that this story would lead to a miracle. Maybe Anders surviving, maybe that wasn't the miracle. Maybe it was preventing this [from happening] to someone else."
On Jan. 12 at 5:45 p.m., after three days on life support, Anders died. An investigation determined he died from positional asphyxia in the car seat after his airway was cut off from his head slumping over and his chin falling into his chest.
"It's not something that you ever think is going to happen," Ryne said. "Everybody describes it as a parent's worst nightmare. I'll definitely agree with that. You feel helpless when you can't do anything for your child. It's hard to say ... but we really think lots of good has come out of this."
"We need this story to get this out there."
After losing Anders, a friend of the couple connected them to Carma Hanson, coordinator of Safe Kids Worldwide's Grand Forks, N.D., chapter. The organization's mission is to help prevent unintentional injuries or death to children with five E's: education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement and evaluation.
"Carma immediately was like, 'We need this story to get out there,'" Ryne recalled.
In July, Ryne and Rachel attended the 2019 Safe Kids Worldwide Childhood Injury Prevention Convention where they shared their story with other parents who lost a child through tragic events.
"My heart bleeds for them because I know this is a really difficult time," Lorrie Walker, the technical adviser for Safe Kids, told GMA. "The fact that they want to help other families is amazing and I can't thank them enough."
Ryne and Rachel now have their own mission to spread awareness about positional asphyxia and overall safe sleep practices for children.
"We know it's not the car seat's fault, it's an education issue," Ryne said. "The old adage of 'Don't wake a sleeping baby' is so wrong when it's not safe sleep."
In 2017, there were 3,600 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) in infants less than 1 year old in the U.S., according to the CDC. Of these deaths, 1,400 were due to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), about 1,300 were unknown causes, and about 900 deaths were due to scenarios involving accidental suffocation (like positional asphyxia) and strangulation in bed.
Besides positional asphyxia, the AAP says deaths can also happen in car seats due to strangulation from straps that are unbuckled or partially buckled.
Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a primary care pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, told GMA that this happens when the devices are being used for things like unsupervised naps or soothing.
"The vast majority of these tragic deaths are easily preventable by taking infants out of car seats and strollers when you're no longer traveling and placing them in a crib or bassinet," Bracho-Sanchez said. "This may mean bringing a portable bassinet or crib if the place where parents are going does not have an environment where their babies can continue to sleep safely. "
The AAP said babies "should not be placed on an incline to sleep."
"With the head elevated, an infant is in a position that could lead to asphyxia," the AAP noted. "The straps on such products also can strangle infants. In addition, the AAP does not recommend any products for sleep that require restraining a baby, especially if the product also rocks."
Study co-author Dr. Jeffrey D. Colvin said mothers, fathers and other family members should be educated on safe sleep practices.
"They also need to have parents educate anyone who is taking care of their infant, whether it’s a grandparent, babysitter or child care provider, that car seats are not substitutes for cribs and bassinets,” he said.
Baby Anders inspires education for sleep safety
As part of their new safe sleep initiative, Ryne and Rachel, who welcomed a son, Elias, on Oct. 2, helped launch a class for grandparents at Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health on safe sleep, furniture tip-over prevention, nutrition, breastfeeding support and more.
They hope to eventually have car seat manufacturers place a warning directly on their devices, reminding parents and caregivers that it's not for sleeping.
"It's in the pamphlet, but no one reads the instructions besides the installation," Ryne noted.
Here are safe sleep practices from the AAP to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), plus how to prevent positional asphyxiation in car seats:
1) Do not use a car seat as an alternative to a crib or bassinet.
As Bracho-Sanchez said, be sure to bring a portable bassinet so babies can continue safe sleep while traveling.
2) Children who fall asleep in a car safety seat while traveling in a motor vehicle should remain in the car seat until travel ends.
3) After reaching a destination, children who are still sleeping should be removed from the car seat and placed in a crib or bassinet.
4) Avoid use of soft bedding, pillows, crib bumpers or stuffed animals inside a child's crib.
5) If you're getting sleepy or tired, put the baby down on the hard surface to avoid risk for injury or death.
6) Share a bedroom with parents, but no co-sleeping, preferably until the baby turns 1 but at least for the first six months. The AAP says that room sharing decreases the risk of SIDS "by as much as 50 percent."
7) Avoid overheating.
8) Follow car seat manufacturer's guidelines, and make sure the device is installed at a 45-degree angle in the vehicle.
9) Do not place car seats on elevated surfaces or on soft surfaces like a bed, mattress, or couch.
10) Be sure the car seat's shoulder straps and hip straps are positioned tightly, and the chest clip is buckled at under arm level.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Paolo_Toffanin/iStock(NEW YORK) -- When 29-year-old Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, a second-year family resident at the University of Minnesota Medical School, first found out about TikTok, she did what every other millennial did and downloaded the app to try it out.
“I had seen other TikTok videos on other social media platforms and they were always really funny and creative and made me laugh a lot,” she told ABC News' Good Morning America.
She’s only been on the app for six months, but she caught on to the trend quickly by first using the app to depict how chaotic life is as a resident.
Perhaps what helped her gain a larger following was when she started sharing informational videos about medical facts.
“I realized the most likes and the most comments were on these specific medical videos,” she said. “The demographic that was using TikTok maybe was not getting as much health information at home or at school and was seeking it out in other places.”
Now she takes her office to the app to talk about things like tuberculosis, mental health and even sex education.
And she still tries to teach her followers a thing or two about health while keeping it fun.
“It’s been a great way for me to understand what health topics are important to youth and young adults,” she said.
She added, “I share health information the way I would to one of my friends. I really think that’s the most effective way about talking about a health topic and getting people to listen.”
Recently, Leslie’s videos have been focusing on a more serious topic: vaping.
In a story first reported by Rolling Stone, the doctor was featured after she started sharing TikTok videos about the epidemic.
In one video that has over 600K views, Leslie shows a lung X-ray, explaining in detail how lungs look like for someone who vapes.
“If you’re thinking about quitting, now’s the time to do it,” she says in the video.
She told GMA, “I have been following all the reports on this new disease related to vaping and thought it would be really important for teens who are on TikTok to hear so I decided to take that information and spread it on TikTok in a palatable and easy to understand way.”
Vaping-related illnesses in the U.S. has reached an all-time high with more than two dozen deaths confirmed, and more than 1,000 lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarette products reported in 49 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Recently, the CDC found that most patients with vaping-related illnesses report a history of using THC vaping-related products which suggest they were either obtained off the street or from other informal sources.
So far, the response to Leslie’s videos has been overwhelmingly positive. And teens are taking note.
Martin Wolk, a teen who follows Leslie on TikTok, was inspired to quit vaping after being an avid smoker for five years.
“I was scrolling through her videos and watching her vaping videos and it was really informative,” Wolk told GMA. “She showed you damage to the lungs and I’ve never really seen like X-ray photos of damage to people’s lungs after vaping so it kind of scared me and I wanted to do something about it.”
Like many teens, Wolk started smoking in middle school after being drawn to the variety of flavors. He described how hard it was for him to quit, but how important it is for people like Leslie to use social media to reach youth about the issue.
“There are a lot of kids right now who are vaping and it’s good to reach them through social media which they are always on,” he said.
“I’ve been pretty surprised that a lot of followers are asking me pretty basic health questions,” Leslie said. “I really feel like continuing to make videos on TikTok will help address a lot of the questions that people have.”
As the CDC continues to investigate vaping-related illnesses and lung-related injuries, Leslie said that getting information to teens is critical and doctors like her will start to use platforms like TikTok to reach them.
“As time goes on it’s just going to be more popular that medical professionals are using social media as a way to spread public health information and get connected to large groups of people,” Leslie said.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Courtesy Maria Alves(NEW YORK) -- Maria Alves thought the crippling anxiety and worry she said she felt after the birth of her son three years ago were simply “baby blues” that would go away.
When the feelings continued weeks post-delivery and got worse, Alves asked her then-employer, Boston University, for an extension of her maternity leave, which she was granted.
Alves, of Brockton, Massachusetts, was eventually diagnosed with postpartum depression. When she asked Boston University for additional medical leave to give her more time to recover, she was denied the leave and then terminated from her job.
Alves, a single mom, had worked in administrative roles at Boston University for nine years. Her son, Luis, was 4 months old at the time.
"It was a compound effect because you have the postpartum depression and next thing you know I was terminated," Alves told ABC News' Good Morning America. "Financially it was drastic. I was maxing out credit cards because I had a newborn I had to feed, and clothes and diapers to buy."
Alves said she isolated herself while suffering from postpartum depression and had only told her sister and a cousin about her struggles. Her cousin happened to work in human resources in another field, and when she learned Alves had been fired, she encouraged her to seek legal help.
Last month, three years after her firing, a jury awarded Alves, now 40, a total of $144,000 in compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress at the end of a six-day trial in Suffolk Superior Court.
The 10-person jury ruled that Boston University violated the Massachusetts discrimination laws, specifically disability and medical condition discrimination, based on Alves’ diagnosis of postpartum depression.
"I believe I did the right thing in holding [Boston University] accountable," Alves said. "Postpartum depression is really real but unfortunately when you have it you don’t want to talk about it and you don’t want to expose yourself for fear of losing your job."
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that affects one in nine new mothers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Office on Women's Health. It is considered a serious mental illness during which feelings of sadness and anxiety may be extreme and may interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family
"It’s difficult to explain for someone who has never gone through it," said Alves. "I really didn’t even know what it was. I just knew that my sister had gone through the 'baby blues' and I figured it was going to go away for me in a few weeks and it didn’t."
While many women do not know what to expect with postpartum depression, even more women don't know what their employee rights are when they are pregnant or suffering from postpartum complications, according to Joan C. Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law, a California-based research and advocacy organization.
"Women who are pregnant and women who have postpartum depression often have a qualifying disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)," said Williams. "The ADA imposes a whole new set of duties on the employer."
The ADA, signed into law in 1990, requires employers to work with employees to see if they can create a reasonable accommodation to allow the employee to do the essential parts of the job without creating an undue hardship for the employer, according to Williams.
If, for instance, a woman who is pregnant is a cashier, she could request under the ADA that her employer provide a stool to sit on so she would not have to stand for her entire shift, explained Williams.
"The ADA requires the employer to work with the employee in an interactive process, like, 'Would this work for you?''" said Williams. "And then the employer would come back with another proposal and say, 'Well, would this work for you?'"
Alves, who had just been promoted months before her pregnancy, claimed in her lawsuit against Boston University that the university did not work with her to provide a reasonable accommodation. Her attorneys, Matthew Fogelman and Jeff Simons, presented email evidence during the trial and called Alves' therapist to the stand.
"Their reason [to fire Alves] was that they just couldn’t hold the job any longer, that the department was busy and they needed to fill the position," said Fogelman. "They tried to argue in the case that there would have been undue hardship on the company but the jury did not find that persuasive."
Boston University said in a statement to GMA in response to the lawsuit, "The University respects the jurors’ verdict and wishes Ms. Alves the best going forward. Thank you."
Alves will take home around $182,000 after accounting for interest, according to Fogelman.
"I think it’s notable," he said of the jury's ruling. "Employers have to be equipped to know how to handle not only maternity leave but other complications, whether it’s a mental condition or a physical condition after birth. Maybe you have to hire a [temporary employee] for another month or maybe you have to borrow someone else from another department or maybe the person can work part-time or from home."
Williams' Center for WorkLife Law has established a website, PregnantatWork.org, and a hotline -- (415) 703-8276 -- as resources for women to know their rights in the workplace.
Williams wants women to know that even beyond paid maternity leave -- which only about 35% of women in the U.S. have, according to the Society for Human Resource Management -- and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) -- which only covers about 50% of workers in the U.S. , according to Williams -- they have rights through the ADA.
"That is the big news here," she said. "What we have found is that OBGYNs often didn’t know that, employers didn’t know that and pregnant women didn’t know that."
"Not everyone has a cousin in human resources to talk to," Williams said, referring to Alves.
Alves' son, Luis, is now 3 and she's back to work now at a law firm.
Although she has not recovered financially from her termination, Alves said she is on the other side of postpartum depression, no longer isolating herself or living with crippling anxiety.
"Luis is happy. I’m happy. We’re doing good," she said. "I would hope people with postpartum depression reach out and get help because it is real."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
(Courtesy University of New Mexico) The University of New Mexico is handing out coasters that will test for drugs.(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) -- Students at the University of New Mexico can now pick up coasters that will alert them if any drugs are in their drinks, the school announced.
The university's Campus Office of Substance Abuse Prevention said they are handing out the coasters, which test for GHB and ketamine, drugs commonly referred to as "date rape drugs."
Students can place a drop of their drink onto a dot on the coaster, using their finger or a straw, and if a blue dot appears, it means the drinks tested positive for a detectable amount of either GHB or ketamine.
A "drug detector" built into the coaster reacts to the chemicals in the drink and produces the blue dot, according to Dr. Randall Starling, a senior research scientist at the office.
Amber Greene, a marketing assistant in the office, told ABC News that there are about 200 coasters left.
A few students have personally come to the office to pick them up, while other coasters were sent to fraternities and sororities on campus.
"We're always doing prevention work to try to keep students safe when they're out drinking," Greene said.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
RyanJLane/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A new yoga craze is all the rage and a bit of an oxymoron.
Rage yoga has started to stretch across the U.S. where more new instructors are adopting the practice that includes alcohol, profanity and some not so family-friendly poses.
The seemingly off-brand flow, which first took roots in Canada, may be the antithesis of what most yogis expect from a dimly lit room with soft music and calming poses.
Lindsay Istace, the founder of Rage Yoga, told Health.com that "It's meant to be a different approach to yoga for those who find their peaceful center in a different way."
The practice is more chaotic and involves ones sense of humor.
Students are encouraged to let it all out with screams, curse words and hand gestures, Istace explained, but it still incorporates traditional yoga postures and breathing, just with alternative principles.
Some of-age participants are even served an alcoholic drink that they can enjoy throughout the class.
According to rageyoga.com, there are online training programs available for people interested in becoming a Rage yoga instructor that start at $800.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Savany/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Halloween is around the corner and parents have a sweet way to make trick-or-treating more inclusive and fun for everyone, especially children with autism.
The tradition at the end of the month when kids dress up and go door-to-door can be daunting for someone with autism, especially when prompted to boast, "trick or treat!"
One mother took to Facebook and shared the story of her 3-year-old son who is nonverbal and said they will be trying a new technique to ensure people who hand out candy understand he has a disability.
"This year we will be trying the blue bucket to signify he has autism. Please allow him (or any other person with a blue bucket) to enjoy this day and don't worry I'll still say 'trick or treat' for him," she wrote. "This holiday is hard enough without any added stress. Thank you in advance."
The post went viral and quickly garnered mass attention, which has helped spread the word.
Another Pennsylvania mother, Michelle Koenig, told ABC Scranton affiliate WNEP this is her 5-year-old son's first year trick or treating.
"I think it's hard for them, but it's getting easier. People are becoming more accepting of it and people are aware," she explained. "It's good and it's getting better."
Rachel Brnilovich, a clinical director for the Pennsylvania Autism Action Center, said she thinks the blue bucket idea is a great one.
"We love this campaign. It really gives our kids an opportunity to go out, no matter their age and experience Halloween," Brnilovich told the station. "Taking notice of the blue bucket and then just treating them like a child, how any child would be, give them the candy and just move on."
Koenig said, "It gives people a chance to understand -- and it opens everyone's eyes."
The idea is to have a blue bucket, or at least something blue, but there are no special logos or tags.
Other Halloween trends like the "Teal Pumpkin Project" have successfully caught on and raised awareness for food allergies. Read more about that here.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Jody Davidson(ULSTER, Pa.) -- In a typical year, Ariah Cook's grandparents are the first house in Ulster, Pa., to put up holiday decorations.
But this hasn't been a typical year.
Ariah, 6, is battling stage 3 glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, and her grandmother with whom she lives just hasn't had the time to get into the holiday spirit -- for any holiday. She's simply been too busy taking Ariah to appointments.
So neighbors Jody Davidson and Amber Gray decided to do it for them.
"Amber and I came up with the idea to light the town up from one end of Main Street to the other and all in between," Davidson told Good Morning America. Gray came up with a flier asking the whole town to decorate for any and all holidays, and within two days it was done.
The two women's children attend school with Ariah and her sister Selene.
"She is one of the happiest girls we have ever met -- she always has a smile on her face and that helps all of us to keep a smile on ours," Davidson said.
The little girl arrived home last week from a week-long treatment at Geisinger Janet Weis Children's Hospital in Danville, Pa., and rode into town on a firetruck.
"It was accompanied by several other trucks from surrounding communities who had heard of her homecoming just hours before," Davidson said.
The Halloween-Christmas-Easter-purple decorations were a hit.
"She loves it -- everyday there is a new decoration that pops up in town," Davidson said. "She absolutely loves Christmas, and with the unknowns of her time here on earth with us, most of the decorations are Christmas and her favorite color purple. She enjoys her family pushing her around town to see all the lights and decorations and it helps to ease the bad days."
The support for Ariah has moved well beyond Ulster, Gray told GMA.
"We get messages from states away of people lighting up a corner of their homes in support of her -- it's just truly amazing," Gray said. "There is just no way to possibly thank everyone for what they have done to keep Ariah fighting. While her prognosis isn't the brightest, our town's love for her is."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Mikumi/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Quayla Harris knew exactly how she wanted the delivery of her third child to go: a natural birth in the hospital with her husband by her side.
Only one of those things happened.
Harris' husband was, in fact, by her side -- but she gave birth in the passenger seat of their car after being sent home from the hospital less than two hours earlier, the couple told ABC News.
Harris' experience is not unique for women in labor, though it's unclear how common it is for the nearly four million babies that are born in the U.S. every year. Earlier this month, a woman in Virginia gave birth in her bathtub hours after she says she was turned away from a hospital there. Similar stories have played out elsewhere in the U.S. and the U.K. as well.
While there are no statistics as to how often and how many women are sent home from the hospital in the early stages of labor, the issue appears to be front of mind for many. Numerous online message boards offer tips for women to avoid being sent home and online articles share advice for those who have been.
ABC News' Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who has delivered more than 1,500 babies, said that "obstetric management of early labor and active labor is both a science as well as an art."
Doctors consider numerous factors, including if it's a woman's first labor, if the pregnancy is high-risk and whether fetal heartbeat patterns are reassuring, as well as how far away the patient lives, according to Ashton.
“If you think of labor and delivery as an ICU for pregnant women with continuous monitoring and often 1-to-1 nursing, it’s easy to understand how sometimes there are not free beds to admit women who don’t yet meet the above criteria.” said Ashton.“To be clear, it’s never ideal to send a women home and have her deliver outside of the hospital.”
Some research also indicates that there are benefits to delaying admission to labor and delivery wards, including fewer medical interventions as well as better outcomes.
Women who spoke to ABC News regarding the difficulties in their labor experience said they understood the procedures in place when it comes to admitting pregnant women and each had known that not being admitted because of early labor was a possibility. However, they felt they weren't being heard when it came to their own feelings.
“Sometimes it's not about policy and procedures," Harris said. "It's about doing what's right. Women know their bodies ... Why are we being dismissed?"
'See you next week'
Harris, 30, said she was sent home from a Dallas hospital after a doctor told her she was “rushing things” because she wasn’t 4 cm dilated, she told ABC News. She was 40 weeks along at the time.
A number of factors come into play as to whether a hospital admits a woman in labor, depending on risk and other parameters. Among them is whether the woman is in active labor, which is gauged by cervical dilation. Guidelines changed in 2014 from 4 cm to 6 cm dilation to help avoid unnecessary C-sections.
“He said it could be another week and we were just kind of looking confused. I’m like ‘OK. No, this is not another week,’” she said.
Her contractions were consistently 5 minutes apart, had reached a point of being unbearable, and the nurse said she her cervix was 95% effaced, according to Harris -- all indicators of how far along labor is.
“I have two other children," she remembered thinking that day, July 1, 2017. "I think I know when my body is ready."
Even so, she still left the hospital -- a decision she now regrets.
Harris said staff sent her off with drugs to relieve the pain and a nurse told her, “see you next week, probably.”
Less than two hours after leaving, they rushed back to the hospital, with Harris giving birth to a baby boy just as they pulled up. Harris' son had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck when he was delivered, she said. Nurses rushed out and managed to successfully unwrap the cord, but Harris remembers being terrified.
"I don't remember hearing him fully cry until we got into the room in the hospital," she said.
Her son’s birth time was listed as 11:45 a.m., but Harris thought it was closer to 11:35 a.m.
“They didn’t know what time to put because they weren’t there,” she said.
Active labor guidelines
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said active labor for most women does not occur until 5 to 6 cm dilation, according to the association’s guidelines.
ACOG said, per its guidelines, which are not mandatory, that if a woman is not admitted to a labor unit, “a process of shared decision making is recommended to create a plan for self-care activities and coping techniques.”
Dr. Wendy Wilcox, an OB-GYN in Brooklyn, New York, said the process of admitting a woman in labor goes far beyond just one factor, such as their cervix dilation or contractions.
Doctors also check the mom's vital signs, baby's heartbeat, the patient's medical and birthing history and if there is any vaginal bleeding, Wilcox told ABC News.
Dr. Rade Vukmir, an emergency medicine physician in Michigan, said about 30% to 50% of women in the obstetrics triage unit experience early labor, also known as the latent phase. Physicians are supposed to provide proper medical care to determine if a woman is actually near labor or in the latent phase. If it's the latter, those women are then sent home, he said.
"Labor starts at this early, so-called latent phase ... so we say, 'OK, you're in labor until we prove you're not in labor.' That's where things get kind of complicated," Vukmir told ABC News.
Studies concerning admitting women in early labor have produced different results, according to an ACOG committee opinion from February 2019. Some observational studies have found that doing so led to more medical interventions as well as C-sections, but the studies weren't able to discern if that was attributable to longer exposure to the hospital environment or a "propensity for dysfunctional labor," according to ACOG.
On the other hand, a 1998 randomized controlled trial cited by ACOG found that delayed admission produced better outcomes, including "lower epidural use and augmentation" as well as greater satisfaction in the experience.
And a 2015 study found that, in addition to potentially saving $694 million, delayed admission to labor wards would result in 672,000 fewer epidurals as well as 67,000 fewer C-sections in a theoretical cohort of 3.2 million low-risk women.
"Admission to labor and delivery may be delayed for women in the latent phase of labor when their status and their fetuses’ status are reassuring," ACOG said in its 2019 opinion. "The women can be offered frequent contact and support, as well as nonpharmacologic pain management measures."
Some instances of not providing appropriate care for women in labor have resulted in fines and violations of law. Over the years, hospitals that participate in Medicare have been fined under the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which regulates medical screening and patient transfer in emergency situations.
About 6% to 8.5% of the more than 2,800 EMTALA complaints from 2014 to 2018 were related to labor in hospitals, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Of those complaints, the majority (53% to 82%) were determined to be EMTALA violations, the data showed.
It was not clear how many of those cases were for women being turned away in labor, and the cases represent just a fraction of the total number of live births in the country each year. Officials did not provide the details of the cases and ABC News has not reviewed them.
But some of the most egregious EMTALA violations are listed on the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General's website.
In a 2015 case, for instance, a Kansas hospital "did not record the patient’s medical history, take any vitals, conduct fetal monitoring, test for fetal movement, or perform any exam on the patient," who was 38 weeks pregnant and complaining of abdominal and lower back pain. She delivered a stillborn baby at another hospital, according to a report from the HHS OIG.
The hospital in the Virginia case where the mother gave birth in a bathtub is not required to comply with EMTALA as it is a military facility, a Health and Human Services official said.
'I think I know'
Two other women spoke to ABC News about being sent home from the hospital after reading about the Virginia couple's story.
Lesli Newton, a 39-year-old Cincinnati resident, said she was 37 weeks pregnant when she began experiencing contractions on the night of Feb. 7, 2015. She had two other children at the time, two girls with her third on the way, and knew what labor felt like.
She and her husband went to a local hospital around 10 p.m. where the nurses performed a cervical check (she was 4 cm) and put a fetal monitor on her stomach. Ultimately, Newton said, they told her she wasn't in labor.
Newton asked the nurses to call the OB-GYN, but she said she was told he was on a golf retreat. When they did phone him, according to Newton, the nurses said the doctor maintained what they had said: She wasn't ready.
"This is baby number three, I think I know ... but I was still going to take their word because they're the nurses and he's the doctor," she said.
By the time she got home, the contractions became "really heavy and really painful." Just minutes after they walked in the door and Newton managed to make it upstairs, she began to feel a sensation of needing to push.
Her husband called for an ambulance and Newton began pushing. By the time EMTs arrived, her daughter was crowning.
She managed to safely give birth to a baby girl in her room upstairs.
Liz Kimller, 33, of Orlando, said she remembers her contractions felt like a "9 out of 10" in terms of pain by the time she arrived at the hospital in February of this year.
The nurses, she said, wouldn’t admit her because she was only 2 cm dilated but they checked on her periodically in the triage at a local hospital.
At one point, Kimller said a nurse told her if she were in true labor, she wouldn’t be able to talk through the contractions.
“I felt like I couldn’t talk because when she was asking me questions, I had to put my hand up as if to say ‘Hold on a minute,’ and I was, like, screaming in pain,” Kimller said.
After being in the hospital for about two hours, she and her fiance were sent home. Kimller’s water broke about an hour after that.
Her pain, she said, had increased to beyond a 10 at that point.
“I felt like they should have known that if I’m in too much pain then that means something. That means I’m very close,” she said. “Which I was.”
Kimller and her fiance chose to drive to a different hospital, where she delivered a healthy baby girl.
But the experience still weighs on her.
"For me, this is my first time and I honestly felt as if I was dying and they don't believe me," Kimller said.
ACOG did not comment on specific cases. While the association’s guidelines recommend doctors and patients engage in shared decision making, those guidelines are not mandated and are followed at the discretion of the hospital and provider.
'I've had patients push back'
Dr. Elizabeth Langen, an obstetrician at University of Michigan’s Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, told ABC News that she got into the profession because she thinks "birth is a beautiful process."
"I want to help women and babies come through birth physically and emotionally healthy," said Langen, who is also a member of the Michigan Obstetrics Initiative, a data driven quality-improvement project that includes 73 maternity hospitals throughout the state trying to increase the safety of childbirth.
She cited studies that suggest admitting women in early stages of labor are associated with higher risk of C-section. Langen also said that delayed admission led to higher patient satisfaction and a lower rate of other medical intervention.
"Our goal for delayed admission is to optimize women’s outcomes," she said.
Langen suggests working on a birth partnership document with their doctor or midwife prior to labor and if she finds herself wanting admission when it’s not recommended, she says “express her needs to the team."
"The team may not understand the concerns she has about discharge and she may not fully understand the reasons the team is recommending that she not be admitted," Langen added. "Coming to a shared understanding of her goals for her birth is essential."
Wilcox similarly said that "no one comes to work wanting to do a bad job."
But she offered advice to any woman who feels as though they aren't being heard by their doctors: Advocate for yourself.
"I've had patients push back," she said. "I've said, 'I don't think you're ready yet,' and a patient said, 'I'm not going home.'"
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
technotr/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Pauline Dowell may never be able to drive a car, but she can sail a boat around the world.
Dowell is legally blind and is one of many athletes with disabilities who competes in the C. Thomas Clagett Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta, an event she has competed in since losing her sight nearly a decade ago.
Each year, dozens of athletes with disabilities participate in the twice-a-year event, which is held in both Newport, Rhode Island, and Oyster Bay, New York. The mission is to provide a space for sailors with disabilities to train and compete at an elite level, and sailors of various abilities -- ranging from paraplegia to those missing limbs to those who are blind -- are invited to show off their skills.
Since its founding in 2002, 20 of the regatta’s sailors have gone on to win medals at the Paralympics.
“These sailors have done very well,” Clagett president, chair and co-founder Judy Clagett McLennan told ABC News' Good Morning America. “Just because you may not have a leg or you have a disease-driven issue doesn’t mean that you are not a whole person inside and that you need to expel that competitive energy somewhere and sailing is one of the many ways they can do this.”
Perhaps no one is more competitive than Dowell, who has a degenerative eye disease that has left her legally blind.
“I’m very passionate about every aspect of sailing, and it’s growing every year,” she told GMA.
Dowell loves sailing so much, she even resides on a sailboat in Boston Harbor with her guide dog.
“It was always a dream to live on a boat,” she said. “I live year-round [on the boat] and yes, the boat is heated.”
She says that sailing has given her a new beginning.
“I’m not allowed to drive. Even robots will have jobs driving but I will never do that,” she said. “I can drive the boat. I can make the boat go. I am able to be an integral part of a team and that’s huge for me.”
Jodi Munden is one of Dowell’s closest teammates. Munden, who is blind herself, found sailing six years ago when a friend invited her to a sailing event in Ontario, Canada.
“It gave me a whole new world of freedom and self-confidence,” Munden said. “It gives a new meaning to the word independence and showing individuals what you can do as a blind athlete."
The duo has competed in a multitude of competitions all over the world against sighted and non-sighted athletes. They find the sport of sailing to be fairly equal for all participants, regardless of physical ability.
“It’s this great equalizer where we can play on, basically, an even playing field... Off the water, it’s not an even playing field,” Munden explained.
More than certain other sports, sailing can be adapted based on competitors' physical abilities. For Dowell and Munden, they compete with the assistance of a sighted guide whose only job is to alert them if there is an obstacle or safety hazard.
For other competitors, equipment can be altered on the vessel to accommodate an athlete’s physical needs.
This is the case for Sarah Everhart Skeels, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a spinal cord injury in the early 1990s.
“I will be sitting in a seat that keeps me in the boat, but my job is to still sail the boat,” she said.
Her teammate, Cindy Walker, also suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving her unable to walk since the age of 14. Today, Walker has regained some movement in her legs but uses adaptive equipment to help her balance while sailing.
“Sailing is the only sport where there’s no barriers,” Walker said. “I can take my family out in a sailboat, but I can’t necessarily take my family to play wheelchair basketball.”
At the end of the day, sailing comes down to skill.
“Everyone out on the water has a different ability. We happen to have abilities that are more identifiable to people, not necessarily on the water but here on land,” Skeels said. “It’s about capitalizing on what your abilities are and not worrying about what abilities you don’t have.”
“It’s more about being in the moment than it is about abilities,” she added. “The disability is just another aspect of who we are, but we are sailors out on the water.”
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Janet Weinstein/ABC News(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- Treatment facilities and employers are working to tackle the opioid epidemic in central Ohio, which has been particularly hard hit by the growing national crisis.
House of Hope in downtown Columbus has helped an increasing number of opiate addicts through recovery. Hot Chicken Takeover, a Nashville-style chicken restaurant chain headquartered in Columbus, hires recovering addicts as well as other formerly incarcerated and homeless people.
House of Hope has provided addiction recovery services to city residents for 60 years, originally treating mostly alcoholics. But as the drug crisis has slammed Central Ohio particularly hard, they have seen more recovering opiate addicts.
"We treat the disease of addiction. We don't treat a drug," Carolyn Ireland, House of Hope’s CEO, told ABC News. "We are here to help people get sober, you know, and live a life of sobriety."
Twenty-four men at a time can join House of Hope’s six-month residential treatment program where they go through individual and group counseling as well as cognitive behavioral therapy. Graduates may continue to live in recovery residences after completing the program.
Kyle Harden entered House of Hope’s doors two years ago as he was battling alcohol and opiate addictions. Now he works as the organization’s outreach director.
"Two years ago I couldn't stop using drugs and alcohol, was living in a homeless shelter. I was in and out of jail, couldn't hold down a job. No money, no hope. No friends, family wanted nothing to do with me," Harden said. "Now because of my time here, I work for the House of Hope."
While Harden found employment at House of Hope, the program also helps place graduates into jobs at other local businesses, including Hot Chicken Takeover.
Hot Chicken Takeover considers itself a "second chance employer," meaning people with employment barriers, like past drug addiction or incarceration, have a fair shot at jobs.
"A large percentage of our workforce are men and women in some state of recovery," Joe DeLoss, the founder and co-owner of Hot Chicken Takeover, said. "There's a sense of ownership, often an aspiration for what life could look like."
Approximately 70% of the restaurant chain's employees are formerly incarcerated or homeless. DeLoss said they have found second-chance applicants through a variety of local treatment centers and other community partners.
Jamila Perry began working at Hot Chicken Takeover’s North Market location last month after going through treatment for a years-long addiction to opioids. She can now provide for her children, whom she has recently reunited with, and has found a community in her coworkers.
"Our team is like family. Wherever one slacks, we pick it right back up and they don't complain about it. I just love it here," she said.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
rmcguirk/iStock(NEW YORK) -- High school athletes are more likely to have concussions during games than in practice, according to a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In the new study, 20 high school sports, including football, wrestling, field hockey and cheerleading, were examined over the course of five years to see trends in concussion incidences and found that athletes were more likely to get concussions during games than practices.
"This is alarming since greater impact forces during the heat of competition may result in more severe head injuries and post-concussive effects over the short- and long-term," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not connected with the study.
The study, which took a sample of 9,542 reported concussions across a variety of sports, showed that 63.7 percent of concussions occurred during competitions and 36.3 percent occurred during practices.
Football had the highest concussion rate followed by girls’ soccer and boys’ ice hockey.
Glatter said, "The game of football is inherently dangerous and unpredictable, making the risk of serious head trauma, along with bodily injury, always a concern."
As a former sideline physician for the NFL's New York Jets, Glatter is no stranger to head injuries and has seen the effects firsthand.
"The pressure to perform and excel in competition may lead athletes to ‘overplay’ or push themselves beyond their natural capabilities, leading to a higher risk for head injuries and concussions," Glatter said.
For years, concussions have been a growing concern among student athletes, especially in high-contact sports, like soccer, where concussions are mainly posed by "heading," when players use their heads to control the ball to pass, shoot or clear.
Glatter said that repetitive subconcussive impacts can lead to lasting neurocognitive effects that affect teens and children more.
Just last week, the Concussion Legacy Foundation compared football to smoking in a dramatic PSA video and said that kids who play tackle football at an early age versus later in their teen years are 10 times more likely to get CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease common among former football players.
Glatter pointed out that preventative efforts, like the use of a helmet, may reduce the risk of skull fractures and intracranial bleeding, but no helmets exist that can prevent or reduce the risk of concussions.
On soccer, he said, "While a recommendation to avoid heading exists for those under the age of 14, there seems to be no solid effort to make an all-out ban on this practice a reality anytime soon."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Licensed psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins Goodman. (ABC News)(NEW YORK) -- We've all heard of the power of positive thinking. We're told to be positive. Think positively.
So when someone we love is feeling down or facing a challenge, many of us often turn to positivity to comfort and console.
But being positive may not always be the right approach, according to licensed psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins Goodman, who uses the phrase "toxic positivity" to describe the phenomenon.
"Toxic positivity is when we meet somebody with a platitude, advice or a statement, and it leaves them feeling like they don't have room to be vulnerable, explain themselves or share how they're feeling," Goodman said. "This might be when somebody comes to you with a problem and you say, 'Come on, it's not that bad. Get over it ... everything's gonna be fine.'"
"I think as a society we really enjoy this type of positivity because it makes us feel like everything is OK," Goodman said. "It also puts a lot of responsibility on the individual. It lets us be able to say, 'This is your issue and if you could just be a little bit more positive, you would be able to fix it.'"
In reality, life is more complicated than that. Goodman explained via a viral social media post how some positivity can be "dismissive," while "validation and hope" can be better mechanisms for helping people cope.
"Toxic positivity has become such a popular concept with people because positivity has become so popular lately," Goodman said. "I think social media has played a huge role in how much we see positivity being pushed on us in our daily lives -- that everybody else is doing so great and they're so happy, and we're not."
Goodman said your interactions with others can be more helpful when you validate their statements and feelings.
To do that, she has provided tips for how to engage better with our loved ones:
1. Validate the experience that the person is going through. Say things like, "I hear what you're saying;" "I'm here for you;" and "That sounds really hard."
2. Ask them questions, such as, "Can you tell me more about that?" or "Can you tell me a little bit more about what this feels like for you?"
3. Ask the person if they want space to vent about their issue or if they want advice. If the person tells you that they want advice, it's OK to step in and share with them. If they tell you they are looking to share, then this is where you stop and continue to ask questions and be there with them.
"If you're the recipient of toxic positivity, it might make you feel really emotional and like the other person doesn't understand you," Goodman said. "It's OK to tell that person what you need in the moment, and if they're not able to offer it to you, it's OK to say, 'This is about me.'"
If that happens, Goodman suggested going to talk about the issue with another person who might be able to validate you in the moment.
"Toxic positivity is a scary word," Goodman said. "We want you to have more positivity in your life. What's important is that you're able to feel a wide variety of emotions and get to that positive adaptive thought on your own without being pushed there."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Braille Institute(NEW YORK) -- "When my son was born, he was the first blind person I’d ever met," Emily Coleman told ABC News' Good Morning America.
Coleman, 40, now works as a superintendent for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, in Austin, and is an advocate for Braille education. But before her son, now 14, was born in 2005, she didn't realize the extent of the nation's need for Braille educators and services for blind children.
There is a national shortage of educators who know and can teach braille, and it’s leaving children who need their services in a dire predicament.
The importance of Braille as a code to access literacy
Braille is an essential skill for those without the ability to read and write print due to visual impairment or loss and provides a way for them to access literacy. However, less than 10% of legally blind people in the U.S. read Braille, according to a 2009 report from the National Federation of the Blind.
The lack of Braille education dramatically affects a person with impaired vision's ability to find work. Over 70% of working-age adults with significant vision loss are not employed full time, according to Cornell University’s disability statistics.
About 90% of blind or severely visually impaired people who are employed use Braille, according to the 2012 Report of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Currently, 84% of blind children attend public school and Braille instruction can be offered as little as an hour per week, reports the The National Braille Press.
While technology is inching in the right direction by including services like speech-to-text, standard on some devices, there is still a long way to go to make all the features of the modern world accessible to those with vision impairment or loss.
And misconceptions remain about the importance of Braille.
"Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding on the part of sighted people who think why can’t some people just listen to information? We have audiobooks, we have recorded information. But until we stop teaching print reading and writing to children who are sighted, we have no justification for stopping Braille reading and writing instruction for students who are blind or visually impaired," Cay Holbrook, a professor at the University of British Columbia who has been preparing teachers to instruct Braille for over 20 years, told GMA.
“It’s not just about creating people who can go to a book and find information -- it’s about creating people who love to read, who love to read and write, who gather information as a part of their lives,” she continued. “And certainly employment is dependent on a level of reading and writing and access to information that’s only available if the child has been taught.”
To be clear, Braille is not a language, it’s described as a code to access literacy. By knowing Braille, many students can go on to achieve great things, according to Kateri Gullifor, who has been teaching Braille for a decade and recently won the 2019 Braille Teacher of The Year award from the Braille Institute.
“I have a student who is in AP chemistry and honors calculus ... and legally blind,” Gullifor said, adding that another one of her former students is living in New York and studying law. "To watch someone learn to read with their fingers is one of the most fascinating things you’ll ever watch."
Braille education across the country
There are many different ways Braille education works across the country. For Coleman, she is at a state school for the blind which is a residential program with intensive Braille learning. The goal is to integrate these students into their local school systems with the building blocks they’ll need to succeed in life.
“Some students come here for a few years, and we offer boarding -- and they come home on the weekends. Other students come here for a couple weeks' bootcamp and go back to their local schools,” she said.
Gullifor’s role includes meeting students in their local schools and giving them one-on-one instruction on Braille. Her caseload ranges but she works with approximately 15 students each year and she often helps teach the same students year after year, creating lasting bonds them.
“It’s such a creative job and it’s really all about catering to exactly what each student needs,” she told GMA.
For students with visual impairments, learning Braille is one of the first steps toward independence, and for educators, it’s a rewarding career.
“I feel like if people knew how awesome our job was, [the shortage of Braille educators] would not be the case,” Gulifor said.
“I always tell people who are coming to me to learn how to teach Braille that I can guarantee them a job -- in the city, in the mountains, near the ocean,” Holbrook emphasized. “It’s just that much in demand.”
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Beth James(NEW YORK) -- An Ironman triathlon is considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.
It’s about a 17-hour competition where athletes have to complete a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and then a marathon, which is a 26.2-mile run.
“Enduring 17 hours is quite a bit on the body,” Beth James said.
Beth James, 54, has not only finished one -- an accomplishment by itself -- but she does it with her 23-year-old daughter, Liza James, who is nonverbal and unable to walk.
They are the first mother-daughter duo to compete in the Ironman World Championship, which is, essentially, the Super Bowl of Ironman triathlons. What makes it more incredible is that there is no subdivision for disabled athletes to qualify.
“Our time is no different than the 20-year-olds or the 80-year-olds," Beth James said.
An Ironman race starts with the swimming portion. Liza James, who weighs about 100 pounds, is strapped into a float that is attached to Beth James.
When it comes time for the 122-mile bike ride, Liza James is seated in a racing chair that weighs 21 pounds and is connected to the bike pedaled by Beth James.
Finally, for the marathon portion, Liza James sits in the racing chair that resembles a stroller as Beth James powers through.
Call her “Ironmom.”
“We really need to stop and think what humans are capable of if you can channel something like that maternal love instinct that she has for her daughter,” trainer Peter Defty said.
Beth and Liza James finished the first two portions of the race, but missed the cutoff time for the third in the Ironman World Championship. Still, Beth and Liza James have finished an Ironman race before.
Perhaps Beth James’ physical toughness stems from her mental toughness.
In 2004, Beth James and her three children were making the approximately one-mile drive home from a Fourth of July party when they got into a life-changing accident.
Beth James says she was turning left at a green light when her car got nicked from behind and spun around. Liza James’ head hit the interior of the vehicle and she suffered a severe brain injury.
Liza James, then 6 years old, was in a coma for more than two months. Beth James said doctors had to cut part of her skull -- about the size of Beth James’ palm -- to allow the brain to swell.
That ended up saving her life.
“It’s truly a miracle that they kept her with us,” Beth James said.
Liza James is healthy, but she needs assistance eating and drinking.
Three months after the accident, Beth James developed a noncancerous brain tumor the size of a golf ball. She got it removed in time by the same neurosurgeon who saved Liza James’ life.
Liza James eventually woke up, and Beth James recovered from her brain issue. Beth James was a single mother with three kids. The shock and trauma of it all was hitting her.
“I thought, ‘Beth, you need to get up. You need to care for the children. You need to go for a run. You need to clear your head,’” she said.
She set a goal to run a marathon months after she and her daughter suffered brain injuries. When she finally ran the marathon, she was thinking the whole time about how to include Liza James.
So Beth James got a racing chair for Liza James to sit in while she ran. She started by running a 5-kilometer race, then a 10-kilometer race and continued to work her way up.
“Even though Liza cannot speak, she can communicate,” Beth James said. “She immediately told me, ‘Don’t stop, mom. Don’t slow down, mom. Let’s go.’”
So Beth James kept going. She says Liza James communicates to her through hand gestures and noises.
In the past four years, Beth James has worked her way up to triathlons, sometimes training for up to 10 hours a day. And even though Beth James is not new to Ironman races -- she ran her first one in 1999 -- with the added motivation of competing with Liza James, the race has taken on a whole new meaning.
“Life is a gift,” Beth James said. “Each and every moment of each and every day is priceless. Don’t ever take it for granted. Do not ever complain. There’s always positives surrounding you.”
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Courtesy Kendal Taylor(NEW YORK) -- Miscarriage is a heartbreaking reality for many women in this country, with at least 10 to 20% of pregnancies ending in loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, that number is likely higher, as many miscarriages occur before a woman learns she's expecting.
Stillbirth, a term used to describe a miscarriage after 20 weeks of gestation, is less common, but is believed to impact 1 in 100 pregnancies, or 24,000 babies, each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kendal Taylor, a Colorado native currently based in Alabama, has suffered three losses -- two miscarriages and a stillbirth -- and now aims to raise awareness of these issues and provide grieving parents with resources.
Taylor, who has a background in nonprofit work, maintains The Hopeful Creative, a lifestyle blog, where she's kept readers abreast of her parenthood journey. Now pregnant for the fourth time -- she's due to give birth to a baby boy later this month -- Taylor shared her story with ABC News' Good Morning America:
Like most, our journey to starting a family began with the cheerful wonder of all the possibilities to come. So when heartbreak took over where joy was meant to be, it knocked us off our feet. We thought we would bring home babies, but instead we came home with empty arms and grieving hearts. When we found out we were expecting, we certainly weren’t expecting this.
Our first pregnancy came as a surprise because it happened quick. Nonetheless, we were thrilled. However, just as quickly as it began, it ended a couple short weeks later. It left us devastated. Nothing prepares you for working through a miscarriage, and we were faced with apprehension in our desire to get pregnant again.
A few months later, we found out we were expecting. We were excited, but with that came a new layer of anxiety that we hadn’t felt before. I was on edge at anything that seemed like it might pose a problem: a cramp here or there, a day of relief from morning sickness or getting an ultrasound and not seeing what we should.
Though it never completely left, that anxiety quieted to the background as my husband, a member of the U.S. Army, deployed to a war zone when I was in my second trimester. But before I knew it, I was about 24 weeks pregnant and realized I should start planning a registry and buying our sweet girl more than stylish outfits and matching bows for her hair.
By that time I had been feeling her kicks and movements at least a few times each day. It was exhilarating! I wished my husband could be there to participate in the excitement. Hearing about it on FaceTime just wasn’t the same as feeling a little foot kick for yourself. Despite this, being able to talk daily was a blessing.
I’ll never forget the knot in my stomach that wouldn’t untangle itself when the doctor told me it’s normal for me to have gone without feeling my baby move for an entire day at 25 weeks. Despite this, I went in to be checked anyway. The silence that signaled the absence of fetal heart tones was the loudest noise in the room. The Doppler slid over my belly, but detected nothing but my own racing heart.
The 20-foot walk down the hallway from the exam room to the ultrasound room felt like miles. My eyes brimmed with tears and dread crept into every part of my being as I avoided eye contact with the happy mamas having a normal appointment that day. All I could think of was my first loss, when the ultrasound confirmed that the bleeding was in fact caused by a miscarriage. Through my fear, I grabbed desperately at any shred of hope I could reach, thinking that maybe the Doppler had it all wrong, that we could chuckle in relief after we saw her heartbeat flickering away. Instead, I was met with a still screen and the words that broke me: "There’s no heartbeat."
The anticipation of giving birth, knowing there would be no happy ending after the pain, was devastating.
A couple hours later I found myself in Labor and Delivery preparing to be induced for what would be a stillbirth. My husband and I were about to face the hardest moment of our lives, while nearly 8,000 miles separated us. During this time I had to work with the Red Cross to get his chain of command officially notified. This was necessary so that he could hopefully come home on emergency leave. I had already shared what was happening with him, but we still needed to get through the red tape of the Army if we wanted him home.
About 10 hours after the induction of labor process started, I gave birth to our sweet Paxton Grace. A fully formed little beauty, she was 12 inches long and weighed just 1 pound, 9 ounces. The labor and delivery nurses were a blessing. They helped take pictures of her for me, and even made a mold of her hands and feet. This gave us something tangible to remember our girl with. And I was able to hold her for as long as I wanted. Despite the pure exhaustion I felt, I stayed up all night holding onto my little babe and staring at the precious face I would soon have to let go of. When the funeral home came to make arrangements the next morning, it took every fiber of my being to muster up the strength I needed to set her down and let them take her. Being faced with this situation is so wrong that unfair doesn’t even begin to describe it.
A couple days later, my husband made it back to the States and was able to hold our precious Paxton Grace. It felt so wrong that saying hello and goodbye to her occupied the same moment. That day I had to say my final goodbye as well, which presented a new challenge. Leaving the hospital was hard, but I had been able to cling to the fact that I’d be able to see her again. This time though, it was final. Words will never do justice in describing the grief that comes with letting your child’s body go. No moment would ever be the right time to leave. We would never be ready. But ready or not, we couldn’t stay in that room forever.
In the days, weeks and months following Paxton’s stillbirth, I went back and forth between two extremes. I either wanted to get pregnant immediately or never wanted to conceive again. I never wanted to replace our daughter, and I knew that no baby ever would, but I also wanted to experience the joy of bringing home our children and being able to raise them.
In our situation, there are no indications as to any issues that would make carrying a pregnancy to full term impossible. Unfortunately, miscarriages just happen. And the cause of our stillbirth was due to an extremely rare condition called amniotic band syndrome. ABS is not genetic, nor is it likely to present in a subsequent pregnancy. Medical professionals don’t know what causes the amniotic bands to form, so they say there’s no indication that another pregnancy would be sure to result in loss. My husband and I started discussing the possibility of another pregnancy.
Despite my deep desire for it, the thought of another pregnancy was terrifying. I told my husband over and over that my heart couldn’t take another loss. I wish so badly that I could inform you it didn’t have to, but it did. We experienced another very early miscarriage in our third pregnancy.
There was nothing uncommon about this that would indicate fertility issues. It was just another case of “bad luck." While it was encouraging that there were no issues present, I cringed at this statement. Luck is success or failure brought on by chance. From the medical standpoint, we had simply hit all the bad statistics. From our standpoint, we were grieving three little lives that we wouldn’t get to share in. Naturally, we began to question if trying to get pregnant again, knowing heartbreak could result, was something we were ready for.
Today, we are pregnant with our fourth baby -- a boy -- and are anxiously clinging to the hope that God will bless us with the opportunity to raise this sweet little one of ours. He's due later this month. I’m working to remind myself that regardless of the outcome, this little life -- just like the others -- is a gift. We must cherish every precious minute that we get with him.
While we have experienced healing from our losses, we have acknowledged that this grief is just something that will always be part of us. We’re finding the beauty and joy in life, because it can still exist. But we’re also comfortable with the fact that we are always going to struggle with the pain of losing our children. And that’s OK, because they are worth remembering and longing for.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.