This article originally appeared in the November 28, 2004 issue of the Hudson County NJ Hudson Reporter, and on the Hudson Reporter web site.
Life touching life
UC-born writer shares experience of coping with stillbirth
"It was a sparrow that caught my attention. I watched him as he hovered at the window, studying me. As I looked and returned his gaze, I rubbed my belly, bursting with child at nine months...These were the final days of waiting for my precious baby Victoria."
This was the opening chapter of Lorraine Ash's book "Life Touches Life," as she recounts the final days before her first child was to be born.
However, for a percentage of women like Ash, the time that for most women is full of joy and anticipation can suddenly be taken away in an instant with little explanation.
In America, 71 babies a day are stillborn - or 26,000 babies a year due to a whole range of complications that can arise even up to the final stages.
Ash, who conceived her first child at 39, had a healthy pregnancy with no complications, but within the days of her due date, she had realized her baby was no longer moving. After test and ultrasounds were performed, it was discovered that her baby girl had died in the womb.
"I wrote the book to honor the experience. It's an experience that happens a lot more often than people realize," said Ash, 45, feature writer for the Daily Record. "I hope it will help heal some people and give the situation the attention it deserves. Parents who are grieving and the babies' lives deserve to be acknowledged a lot more than they are right now."
Losing her daughter
On June 2, 1999, Ash and her husband went to their obstetrician's office after Ash had experienced some labor pains the night before. She was already a week past her due date, and the doctor had planned to induce labor. After visiting with their doctor, the plan was to go to the hospital, but while in the office, Ash had mentioned she had not felt her daughter move in about a day - words that no obstetrician ever wants to hear.
They immediately attempted to establish the baby's vitals, but the doctor could not find the heartbeat.
Ash and her husband calmly went to the hospital, and trying not to make any assumptions. After many ultrasounds using the hospital's best equipment available, their worst fears had been confirmed. Their daughter, whom they had named Victoria Helen Ash, was dead.
"I automatically tried to separate things in my mind, my husband was hysterically crying, and I said, I can't let myself be in that emotional phase until I deliver," said Ash. "This is a classic scenario in stillbirth, everything is going fine, and then they couldn't find the heart beat."
At first, no one seemed to be able to explain how this could have happened, but the first priority was to get Ash delivered. The doctors had attempted to induce labor anyway, but it didn't work, so they performed a C-section in order to bring Victoria out.
At that time, Ash herself became incredibly sick with a fever of 104 that would not come down. She had developed an infection known as Group B Streptococcus bacteria, which occurs naturally in about a quarter of American women. The bacteria can then travel into the uterus through microscopic tears, and can develop up to the final stage of the pregnancy. It is a very quiet infection with no symptoms to indicate there's anything wrong.
Victoria's autopsy indicated that the infection had caused her to prematurely release meconium, the baby's first bowel movement that occurs after birth. It had been sealed in the uterus and contaminated the amniotic fluid, which the baby ingested, causing her to slip away.
At first doctors began to fear that the mother would be lost too, but after discovering the problem, they treated her appropriately.
"Doctors do the test ahead of the 37th week, but it can happen afterwards," said Ash. "Here I am a completely healthy woman with a completely healthy pregnancy, and it can happen."
Throughout the whole ordeal, Ash was writing down her thoughts and the experience as she lived it, even during hallucinogenic stages where she was on antibiotics to fight the infection.
"When you're a writer you want to put words to what's happening, and I write all the time," said Ash. "Even when I was at the hospital in the middle of the night, I wrote down images and thoughts. It helped with the memoir."
Once she was released from the hospital, all Ash and her husband could do was begin to cope and make peace with their loss. Ash continued to write, which brought about bouts of tears as she relived the joy of her daughter and the pain of losing her before she came into the world.
"I was in a state of shock for five weeks," said Ash. "It takes a while for your mind to absorb it, for your heart to absorb it. What does that mean, how could she be dead, why, and that's when I started writing to understand."
As it is common in human nature, when traumatic experiences suddenly occur, overtime everything gets questioned; life and moral values. However, after the outpouring of the emotional side, Ash dove into the comforts of her spiritual side and began to heal.
"You can't control what's coming at you, but you can control how you deal with what's coming," said Ash.
Ash had attempted to find some literature on stillbirth online, and although she found beautiful poetry and scientific explanations, she could not find what she needed. She wanted to know another woman's story; she wanted to relate to another stillbirth mother. About five weeks after her loss, Ash began to piece her thoughts together and began writing her book from the point of her own experience. Writing it down is also what helped her heal, and brought her voice to other mothers who possibly needed what she could not find.
As a matter of fact, that was exactly the type of reaction Ash received to her book, which was just released last summer.
"I have heard from stillbirth mothers from London to Ohio," said Ash. "Clearly 'Life Touches Life' has created a safe place for people."
Touching other lives
‘Life Touches Life: A Mother's Story of Stillbirth and Healing’ was released throughout North America and other places in the world last May by NewSage Press. There are already talks about translating the book into other languages as well.
Since then, Ash has been out and about promoting her book and raising awareness on the matters of stillbirth, especially with her particular infection.
"Even for the sake of a very small number of people, it's worth it," said Ash.
Ash has continued to hear from women all over the world who share their stories of stillbirth and passing along any information they have.
Ash continues to have a spiritual relationship with her daughter, which she notes in the book. Throughout her pregnancy she would go on long walks and just talk to Victoria about all the things they would do and about how much both she and her husband adored their little "sweetlet," as they called her.
"There are other dimensions that life exists on, and the message that love transcends death is a helpful one, and it’s true," said Ash. "There’s a section in the book where I’m in the nursery and I told her, ‘Victoria, I’m still your mother, and if you need anything I’ll always be here.’"
Ash, who now lives in Allendale, N.J., was born in Union City. She spent a lot of time between there and Hoboken. She continues to write and raise awareness on stillbirth, and has a website with updated information and support groups people may need it: www.lorraineash.com.