Life after stillbirth

By Scott Lendak

Special to The Vindicator

Andrea Arnio was 35 weeks pregnant as she drove home on Shannon Road on Feb. 10, 2015. For months, Andrea’s unborn daughter, Olivia Grace, had kicked as the car bounced on the bumpy road.

This time, Olivia didn’t move.

In the back seat was a car seat that was already installed for Olivia.

“What if I don’t bring home a baby in that seat?” Andrea thought as she drove home to her husband, Mark, not paying much attention to the speed limit.

She nearly ran through the front door.

Mark helped her calm down, and they sat down to dinner, hoping that would get the baby to kick.

Olivia didn’t move.

“Is it ridiculous to call the doctor?” she asked her husband.

On the phone, the doctor tried to soothe her.

“I can hear the panic in your voice,” the doctor said. “Everything is going to be fine. Drink caffeine, sit on your left side and wait until she kicks 10 times.”

She drank Dr Pepper and sat on her side for 30 minutes with “Amish Mafia” playing on the television.

Thirty minutes passed. Olivia never kicked.

Andrea’s panic began to turn into fear, and Mark gathered things to go to the hospital.

“Do you want me to grab Olivia’s bag?” Mark asked.

“No,” she said, and they left the little suitcase with clothes, blankets and a hat in the living room.

The 30-minute drive to St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital felt like an hour. They called Andrea’s mother, who said she’d meet them at the hospital.

In the passenger’s seat, Andrea began to pull her jewelry off. She took off her shoe, grabbed Mark’s pocket knife and tried to pry open her toe ring that hadn’t come off since high school.

“You can’t have jewelry on in the operating room,” Andrea said, though she had never been in an operating room.

At the hospital, a receptionist pointed them to LD6, a delivery room just down the hall. A nurse hooked her up to a fetal monitor but seemed to struggle to find a heartbeat. Finally, she left the room and came back with the doctor, who wheeled in an ultrasound machine. He looked at the screen for less than 10 seconds, then looked at them.

“There’s nothing there,” he said.

It was 10:29 p.m.

“Is this real?” Andrea asked the nurse. “Is she really gone?”

The nurse leaned over Andrea and grabbed her cheeks. Andrea saw the nurse’s mouth moving but couldn’t hear words.

Mark lay his head on the bed, then put his arm around Andrea.

They sat in silence for five minutes until Andrea’s mother arrived. She comforted Andrea as Mark left to move his car from a 30-minute parking space. Outside he called his father.

“There’s no heartbeat,” Mark said.

“You don’t have to come,” Mark told him. “There is nothing that anyone can do for us now.”

“We’ll be there,” his father insisted.

After Mark returned to the room, a nurse told them the options: Have a C-section to remove the baby or wait until Andrea went into labor, which could be hours or days.

They talked. They thought. They cried.

Finally Andrea said, “I need to get this C-section.”

Was she sure? Mark asked. The scar would be a constant reminder.

“I don’t think I can ever have a baby again if I have to push her out,” Andrea said.

Because Andrea had that Dr Pepper, she had to wait three more hours for surgery. During the wait, the nurse asked whether they wanted to hold Olivia after the procedure.

“Yes,” Mark said.

“No,” Andrea said.

They looked at each other.

“If you don’t want to, it’s OK,” Mark said. “But I have to.”

Andrea wasn’t sure what she wanted.

At 2:45 a.m., the nurse brought Andrea into the operating room in a wheelchair. Mark put on scrubs and joined them.

At 3:28 a.m., Olivia was born.

Mark was asked to wait down the hall in Room LD1 as Andrea came out of the anesthesia.

‘I want her’

A nurse was about to wheel her bed out of the room when Andrea asked, “Where is Olivia?”

“I’m holding her,” the nurse said.

“I want her,” said Andrea.

Andrea was holding Olivia when they entered LD1. Mark saw them together with relief.

They spent almost seven hours with Olivia. Family joined them. Everyone held Olivia as they took pictures with cellphones.

At 10:50, a nurse asked them if they wanted to hold her longer.

It was time, they decided. Olivia lips had started to change color, and they wanted to say goodbye while there were only good memories.

Andrea and Mark sent the family and the nurse away. They wanted to be alone with Olivia one last time, for a last kiss.

Finally, the nurse came to take Olivia away.

She reached for the baby and tried to pull her away gently.

Andrea held on for a few seconds, and finally the nurse carried Olivia away.

Andrea and Mark remained in LD1. They didn’t speak for 10 minutes.

“It’s not fair,” Andrea said. “I did everything right. Why did this happen?”

To herself, Andrea thought:

“I failed her. I failed my pregnancy. I failed myself.”

coming home

Andrea and Mark arrived home from the hospital three days later.

They went to Olivia’s room and sat. They prayed. They cried. They held each other.

“Where is she?” Andrea kept thinking. “Is she safe? Is she upset with me?”

For the four days between then and the funeral, they visited the nursery almost every hour.

Sometimes Andrea was fine. Other times she broke down. She would imagine what she, Mark and Olivia would have done together in that room.


Two weeks after the funeral, Andrea’s sister, Ashley, called her from the hospital.

“I’ve got these pictures for you,” she said.

“Pictures?” Andrea thought. “What pictures?”

She then remembered signing a release form. It said commercial photographers sometimes were available to take pictures after a birth. The form gave permission for them to do so.

There was indeed a photographer there that night, They were willing to take Olivia’s pictures. But Andrea and Mark never noticed anyone with a camera in the room.

They met Ashley at a restaurant, where Andrea and Mark were delighted at the professional photograph. She wondered if there were more and called the company the next day.

“Are you sure you want pictures of a dead baby?” the company phone operator asked her. She said Andrea might find them “disturbing.” And, she said, eight different pictures would cost a total of $500.

Andrea was furious – after all she had seen Olivia when the photos were taken. And she argued with the woman until she persuaded her to send a proof sheet of the pictures.

When the proof arrived, the photos were small and covered with a copyright symbol. Mark and Andrea bought them anyway.

But it was that moment Andrea realized that no family should have to go through what she did over the pictures.

shared pain

As Andrea sat through support group meetings for the next months, that thought was reinforced.

Every four weeks, she and Mark met with other couples who had lost children and talked. Some had stillborn children. Others had babies who died within days. All were struggling.

They talked about empty cribs. They talked about being sad every time they were reminded. They talked about the missing feeling in their lives.

Sometimes other families would show photos. Some had them. Some didn’t.

Andrea never brought out her pictures of Olivia.

“Why not?” Mark asked her one day.

Olivia’s pictures and Olivia’s form were perfect, Andrea told him. Some of the others were not. And she felt bad for the couples who had nothing.

moving on

Never far from Andrea and Mark’s minds was whether – and when – they wanted to try to get pregnant again.

“Are you ready?” Andrea would ask Mark that summer.

“Not until you are 100 percent ready,” he told her.

And Andrea would think to herself, “I’m never going to be 100 percent ready.” But she knew that the longer they waited, the harder it would be.

As the summer went on, Mark saw Andrea become more settled. The tears didn’t stop, but they slowed down.

That August, Andrea was pregnant again.

first Birthday

The pregnancy was routine – and nerve-wracking. Every time she went in for a check-up, she worried. And every time, her doctor assured her things were fine.

Andrea was eight months pregnant on Feb. 10 – Olivia’s birthday.

They knew they couldn’t let the day go by. Doing nothing, they thought, would be telling Olivia that they had forgotten her.

They didn’t go to work. In the morning, Andrea and Mark sat around and tried to process their thoughts.

In the afternoon, they picked up balloons and met Andrea’s mom and stepdad at the cemetery where they released the balloons.

They talked to Olivia. They told her that they missed and loved her.

Later, they went to the hospital with food for the nurses who had been with them the night of the stillbirth.

A month later, Andrea went into labor. Hours later, Emma Rose Arnio was born – perfect and crying lustily.

A Foundation is born

Through that year, Andrea plugged away at the paperwork for a foundation that would be there for people like them. It would arrange for remembrance photography and support for parents had lost children through stillbirth, miscarriage or death shortly after birth – “a fragile time,” the foundation’s website would say.

The foundation’s first call came Feb. 10, 2017 – two years to the day after Mark and Andrea had lost Olivia.

The call came to Andrea at her job that afternoon. A nurse at the hospital told her that a family needed Olivia’s Grace – the name of their foundation.

Andrea texted all of her photographers, but no one was able to cover. She knew that she couldn’t deny the family on their first call.

So she drove home for her camera and went to the hospital herself.

“How am I going to do this?” Andrea thought to herself as she drove.

Andrea had prepared herself for the moment, but still she worried about facing that grief again. For a moment, she thought about backing out.

She knew she couldn’t.

Inside the hospital, she told the receptionist why she was there.

“Room LD1”, the receptionist said.

Andrea’s world stopped for a second. Her thoughts flashed back to the night she had lost Olivia in that same room.

She steeled herself again and walked down the hall.

“You have to be strong for this mom,” she told herself. “This is what you’re here for.”

And, finally, “You can’t let Olivia down.”

Once Andrea entered the room, it seemed right that she was there.

Andrea introduced herself to the mother as Olivia’s mother.

The mother’s eyes lit up. She made the connection that Andrea had been in the same situation as her. She began to cry for about a minute.

Andrea gave her a hug of comfort. She explained what she would be doing and began to take pictures.

“How did you get through this?” the mother asked Andrea as she was ready to leave.

Andrea walked to the woman’s bedside, knelt on her knees and reached for the mother’s hand.

“Two years ago I was sitting in this same spot,” Andrea told her. “I was having the same thoughts and emotions. You just have to take it day by day, hour by hour, and things will eventually be OK.”

As Andrea walked back to her car that night, she thought that Olivia must watching proudly from above.

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