As I eagerly await a fun and relaxing Father's Day weekend with my three kids and wife, my thoughts -- as they often do -- turn to my daughter that isn't here to celebrate with us. Grace Elizabeth was born still almost 11 years ago. After an otherwise normal and healthy pregnancy, Grace died due to a true knot in her umbilical cord just a few weeks shy of her due date.
My wife called me at work to say she didn't feel quite right and was going to go to our obstetrician's office for a quick check. Having religiously attended every prenatal appointment for all of my children, I offered to meet her at the clinic. "Don't worry about it. It is probably nothing," she told me.
But shortly thereafter I got a another call from my wife, this time panicked, that they couldn't find the baby's heartbeat and were sending her in for a full ultrasound. I raced to the hospital in time for the doctors to confirm that yes, our baby had died.
Less than 24 hours later we numbly drove to the hospital and were met by a somber nurse that escorted us to a desolate corner of the maternity ward. Away from all the other parents there for much happier outcomes. Overly cruel and unfair it seemed to me, but my wife still had to endure the pains of labor. Only this time without a crying baby at the end.
I'll never forget the look on the doctor's face as he peered down at the lifeless body of our newly born daughter. While my wife and I sobbed, he maintained a stoic expression. It seemed like he was reflectively taking in the miracle of birth and fragility of life being presented all in one.
Before even leaving the hospital, we were forced to write an obituary, make funeral plans, and fill out the paperwork that would hopefully take us off the direct mail lists aimed at new parents. We arrived back home to an empty crib and a 2-year-old brother who pointed at my wife's still-swollen belly, innocently and joyfully exclaiming "baby," just as we had taught him.
We were initially led to believe that the umbilical cord knot was nothing more than a rare, tragic accident. No way of predicting or preventing. But we soon found out that stillbirth is still altogether too common, occurring in nearly 1 of 160 births in the United States. Or 26,000 babies per year.
In short order we met several other families in our own community that had suffered the same fate, all within the span of a few months. My wife and four other brave moms banded together and turned their grief into advocacy, ultimately forming Healthy Birth Day, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of stillbirth.
The more we read, the more we learned that tracking fetal movement daily during the third trimester of pregnancy is a simple way for parents to bond with their baby and to help monitor its health. Inspired by influential research from Norway, where that country cut its stillbirth rate by one third, Healthy Birth Day launched the Count the Kicks campaign to educate parents on the importance of monitoring their baby's movements.
One of the best parts of the Count the Kicks program is that it not only empowers expectant moms but also the dads. Creating a daily routine of kick counting allows dads the opportunity to get to know their baby and help act as a first line of defense if they notice a significant change in its movement patterns.
While Father's Day may bring back some painful memories, I'm happy to know that my daughter's memory lives on and has helped inspire a movement that has saved other babies across the country.
As a call to action on this holiday weekend, I ask all dads and expectant-dads to help spread our message about kick counting. We've made tracking baby movements very simple with a free, "Count the Kicks!" smartphone app that you can download from either the Apple or Android app stores. Also be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
This article was written by Brian Pattinson, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, Janet, and their three children. Brian is an active Healthy Birth Day board member.