Stillbirths are a difficult topic. In the movies, childbirth is portrayed as a madcap affair—the dad wildly driving through streets. The mom is huffing and puffing in the front seat. At the hospital, there is a ride in a careening wheelchair to the delivery room, where the mom—after some more huffing and cursing at the bumbling dad—gives birth to a squalling infant. Together mom and dad gaze lovingly at their new baby. Fade to the credits. But life isn’t a movie.
For Port Washington resident Eleni Michailidis, the aftermath of the delivery of her son, Alexander, in February 2015 can be summed up in a single word—silence. Alexander, at 38 weeks gestation, was a stillbirth. Alexander, whose arrival was blissfully anticipated by Michailidis and her husband, Abraham Chahine, became—in the starkest of terms—a statistic, a stillbirth, of which 50 percent are of unknown etiology, no known cause. After the stillbirth of Alexander, weeks passed before the “fog” lifted enough for Michailidis to seek out other parents who had also experienced pregnancy loss. She found The Star Legacy Foundation, an organization that was founded by a mother and daughter, Minnesota residents Shauna Libsack and Lindsey Wimmer, both nurses. The two women were inspired to start their foundation 12 years ago after the stillbirth of Wimmer’s son, Garrett, at 38 weeks gestation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the term stillbirth applies to a pregnancy loss after 20 weeks, with an early stillbirth occurring between 20 and 27 weeks, a late stillbirth between 28 and 36, and—what Wimmer and Michailidis each experienced—a term stillbirth, after 37 weeks. Affecting about 1 percent of all pregnancies, there are about 24,000 stillbirths in the U.S. each year. With those unfortunate facts and the statistic that about 1 in 4 pregnancies overall end in some type of loss, The Star Legacy Foundation is dedicated to stillbirth awareness, family support, research and prevention.
Through her connection with a local support group and Star Legacy, Michailidis was made aware of Oliver’s 5K Run/Walk for Stillbirth Awareness, a tribute to Oliver Cohlan Hughes, who was born still to his parents, Hilary and Tyler, in January 2013 at 34 weeks. Proceeds from the event, held in South Salem, NY, benefit The Star Legacy Foundation. Michailidis first attended Oliver’s 5K in 2015 as an observer. A year later, Michailidis speaks of Alexander and the day of his stillbirth with a quiet grace. The profound tragedy of the experience was compounded by the inescapability of delivering Alexander in a room marked “different” by a picture of a single red rose attached to its door on a busy maternity floor, a place filled with balloons, stuffed animals, laughter and screaming babies. Michailidis’ concern for her parents, who had to wait amid the happy commotion of other families until they could see their stillborn grandson, is still apparent. Her comments about their experience make clear that the effect of a stillbirth on a family casts a wide net. Michailidis has worked to help the labor and delivery unit where she delivered to implement changes to aid other families experiencing a stillbirth. Her goal is to leave families as undistracted as possible in order to make the most of the limited time they have with their stillborn baby, whether they choose to dress, hold, photograph or speak to the baby. For Michailidis and her husband, they take continuing solace in the memory of the brief moments that they were able to gaze down at their new baby with loving eyes.
The Star Legacy Foundation now has a New York Metro Chapter, established in July 2015. Along with Michailidis, they are a motivated group of parents, grandparents and friends of stillborn babies. The group meets every other month. Their mission is to educate about stillbirth, provide support to families dealing with such a loss and to raise funds for research in the belief that many of these tragedies can be prevented. Some stillbirths can be traced to some type of placental malfunction, and research is ongoing. The Human Placenta Project is one such collaborative research effort, launched by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. Its goal is to understand the role of the placenta in health and disease.
The fundraising for The Star Legacy Foundation New York Metro Chapter begins this year with its first Let’s Not Be Still 5K Run/Walk to Support Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness. This event will be held on Sunday, April 17, at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington. Race time is 9 a.m. Information about registering for the run/walk can be found at www.LetsNotBeStill5K.org. For more information about The Star Legacy Foundation, its mission and its projects, go to www.starlegacy foundation.org.