A mother has opened up about her heartbreak after she had to endure a traumatic 52-hour labor to deliver her stillborn baby boy after he died of complications in the womb.
Mother-of-three Megan Stiles, 26, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, found out she was expecting a fourth child in February 2019, revealing she and her husband Davy, 30, were overwhelmed with joy at the news – especially after experiencing a miscarriage three months before.
However, at their 20-week scan, the pair were given the heartbreaking news that their baby was terminally ill and had multiple genetic anomalies and hydrops fetalis, a serious life-threatening condition where a fetus has an abnormal build-up of fluid in the tissue around the lungs, heart, abdomen or under the skin.
Heartache: Megan Stiles, 26, and her husband Davy, 30, were overjoyed to learn that they were pregnant with their fourth child – but soon learned he had a terminal illness
Family first: The couple, who have three children, Luka, Leland, and Elliot, were told their baby had multiple genetic anomalies and hydrops fetalis, a serious life-threatening condition
Heartbreaking: Six months into her pregnancy, Megan was told that her baby did not have a heartbeat, and she then had to be induced to deliver the fetus, who she named David
Initially it seemed as though the pregnancy was going well, and – while Megan and Davy, who are parents to Luka, six, Leland, three, and Elliot, two, admit they were fearful of having another miscarriage, their unborn baby seemed to be growing stronger and healthier.
Heartbreakingly, things changed for the couple at 20 weeks at a routine anatomy scan where they were due to find out their baby’s gender. Instead they were given the news about the child’s devastating illness.
Doctors explained to Megan and Davy that hydrops fetalis had a 90 per cent fatality rate and were advised to come back the next day to undergo a fetal blood transfusion and amniocentesis because without it their baby would not survive.
The procedure went as well as expected but a week later Megan found out that it hadn’t worked to improve their unborn son’s condition and was told that he would pass away within two weeks.
Megan was offered a termination, which she refused, deciding instead to give her baby every fighting chance at survival. As a result, she had to visit the hospital twice a week because her pregnancy was considered very high risk and the likelihood of developing complications grew with each day that passed.
Megan’s baby defied doctors and remained stable for seven and a half weeks until on August 10, 2019, Megan could no longer feel him moving. At the hospital, nurses confirmed that there was no longer a heartbeat and Megan was told that she would have to deliver her baby – this would be her first vaginal birth.
Megan was induced at 27 weeks and six days pregnant and after 52 hours in labour, her son David Carl Stiles was born sleeping on August 12, 2019, weighing 1lb 2oz and 11in long. In that moment Megan and her family instantly fell in love.
As heartbreaking as it was to leave the hospital without David, Megan decided that she had to keep her son’s memory alive and she created David’s Hearts, where she knits keepsake hats for bereaved parents, and through this she has become an advocate for bereaved parents. By sharing David’s story she hopes to break the ‘taboo’ surrounding baby loss.
‘I cried tears of joy [when I found out we were pregnant]. We were ecstatic to find out that after our miscarriage we’d be expecting our rainbow baby so soon. I was scared of the potential of a second miscarriage, but so thrilled,’ said Megan.
‘They detected that he had multiple genetic abnormalities and a condition called hydrops fetalis.
‘Some of the genetic anomalies that we were told about were the hydrops fetalis, severe anaemia and blood flow restriction to his brain, a portion of his brain was missing, he had severe IUGR and cardiomyopathy among other things.
‘They told me that day of what was wrong and explained that hydrops has a 90 per cent fatality rate.
Hopeful: Megan, pictured while pregnant, and Davy were told by doctors that their unborn baby had only a 10 per cent chance of survival
Options: The couple were advised to undergo a fetal blood transfusion and amniocentesis because without it their baby would not survive
Defying the odds: Although their unborn child managed to survive for seven weeks after the procedure, in August 2019, Megan and Davy were told that their baby had passed away
‘We had a fetal blood transfusion and an amniocentesis done. A fetal blood transfusion is similar to an amniocentesis where they stick a needle into your abdomen and draw out amniotic fluid, except they stick the needle through your abdomen, into the placenta and to the umbilical cord and transfuse blood to the baby.
‘I cried [when I was told it hadn’t improved David’s condition]. At that time, they also told me he had one to two weeks to live and I was so mad. I left the hospital screaming and cussing in the car and blaming the doctor who had given me his grim prognosis.
‘I questioned her credentials and ability to determine such a thing. At the appointment, she urged me to terminate my pregnancy and I blatantly told her that it’s not my job to determine who lives and dies.
‘I stayed as positive as I could given the situation. They were prepping me for his death, despite the fact he kept on going week by week and I’m thankful for that, because it hit hard in some ways when he finally did pass, but I never gave up hope that he could make it through.
Faith: Megan credits her faith in Jesus for giving her the strength to deliver David after he had passed away
‘I walked in each week for our ultrasound telling them I’d see them next week with a wiggly baby. My medical team had told me on multiple occasions that they were impressed with the grace and positivity I had through the whole situation.
‘I was hurting, scared and had the worst anxiety of my life, but I took the situation head-on as fearlessly as possible, because to me there was no other option.’
Megan credits her faith in Jesus for giving her the strength to deliver David after he had passed away.
‘Having the subconscious awareness of his passing I think was a tremendous help. Having them do the hard work of perinatal hospice care while I clung onto the hope and fight for his life is another thing that helped. And just knowing that we didn’t give up and did everything we could,’ she said.
‘I don’t have any “what ifs” because of that. I know that every step we took was everything we could do. And ultimately, my faith held me together. I couldn’t make it through any of this without my faith in Jesus.
‘When I walked into the labor and delivery, I walked in with the body of a first-time mother, despite having three other children. I had never given birth vaginally before, which meant my body was learning this as it went, to put it into simple terms.
‘Because I was only in the twenty-seventh week of pregnancy, my body was not ready to give birth. My cervix wasn’t dilated or softened in anyway and in a situation of ideal birth, the odds we stacked against me.
‘They did a total of four types of inductions over a 50-hour period. The first three giving me intense and painful contractions, but literally doing nothing to change my cervix in order to move me further along in labour like they were supposed to. Essentially it was like having false labour with real contractions.
Painful: Megan had only ever given brith via C-section, and David’s delivery was her first vaginal birth – and after he arrived, she and Davy spent time holding their son’s body
Upset: ‘Because I was only in the twenty-seventh week of pregnancy, my body was not ready to give birth,’ Megan explained, describing the 52-hour labor as ‘traumatic and excruciating’
‘The last two hours were a mix of the most intense labor and pains I’ve ever experienced in my life, getting an epidural because we learned in a little over fifty-one hours I had finally dilated to three centimeters and then going from three centimeters to seven centimeters and ready to push in less than an hour.
‘My epidural didn’t have time to fully kick in, but it was just enough to give me enough mental stability to push. David was born in less than five minutes and two pushes. Birth itself was a breeze. Labor was traumatic and excruciating.
‘When he came out, they wiped him off and immediately laid him on my chest. This was a big deal, because given the fact I’ve had all C-section births, this was the first time I was the first to hold my baby.
‘I sat there soaking in every inch of him trying to retain his features into my memory and telling him how beautiful he was. I don’t think there was a dry eye in that room. It was a bittersweet moment and I don’t think full reality had set in.
‘I knew he wasn’t alive, but every bit of me was still sitting there just waiting for him to make a sound or movement. I was so happy to meet him, but not nearly ready to say goodbye.’
Adjusting to life at home without David was difficult for Megan and she is thankful to both her family and church family for supporting her.
Sharing her family’s story so openly has helped Megan to grieve and has been an incredible cathartic process for her and through this she has started David’s Hearts.
‘It was strange. I had all the instincts and reactions of what you would have with a new-born, but my arms were empty,’ she said.
‘My anxiety was really high and I couldn’t handle hearing any child cry, or be loud. I spent most of my time laying in my bed clung to his little blanket. I had a hard time making any types of decisions or holding a conversation.
‘Being able to outwardly express how I feel was a tremendous help. It was like a weight lifted off my chest. Instead of bottling everything up, I got to release it. I validated those feelings for myself, but also made them real to the world.
‘This subject is so taboo for people. It makes them uncomfortable and they don’t like to talk about, nor do they know how. I want to change that. The language a bereaved parent uses to speak about their child gives others permission to speak the same way.
Speaking out: The mother-of-three says that sharing her family’s story so openly has helped Megan to grieve and has been an incredible cathartic process for her
Looking ahead: Adjusting to life at home without David was difficult for Megan and she is thankful to both her family and church family for supporting her
Tributes: Megan decided that she had to keep her son’s memory alive and she created David’s Hearts, where she knits keepsake hats for bereaved parents
‘Some people still are careful about bringing him up but having conversations with others about him as if he’s a part of our family is a huge part of the healing process, because he is a part of our family.
‘One thing that I was bummed out about was that I couldn’t find anything to dress David in that was his size. I had no type of keepsake to show how tiny he really was. And I spent a good two to three weeks really thinking about that fact. How many other parents felt the same way having micro preemies and smaller? It started because I wanted something to represent his size and I knew that this entire journey couldn’t be for nothing.
‘We couldn’t just endure seven and a half months of pregnancy to go home empty handed and just leave it at that. I didn’t want my son’s life to be for nothing and I didn’t want parents to go home completely empty handed.
‘Keepsakes are a huge part of navigating grief for me and I wanted to help others as well. I’ve been crocheting since I was nine years old and I knew I could make hats the size of these tiny little babies by doing this. Thus, David’s Hearts Bloomed.
‘Helping others is probably one of the biggest components in my healing journey. The stories these families tell me of heartbreak and learning to deal with their grief.
‘How me sharing my story and using David’s life to bring healing and hope to others, is helping them. How can that not bring some joy back in your life? My son is changing lives that never got to meet him.’
Finally, Megan shared some words of advice to parents.
‘Cherish those babies, they’re extra special. One child does not replace another, and one child doesn’t fix the loss of another. Let your children you’ve lost be a part of your daily family dynamic,’ she said.
‘Don’t be afraid to talk about that child with your rainbow. Every child whether here on earth or in heaven should be a huge part of the family.
‘We don’t have any rainbow babies yet, but our children we do have living know exactly who their brother is and we talk about him daily. His photos are displayed proudly on our walls and we each have special keepsakes representing him.
‘Any future children will just roll into that same dynamic.’
You can find out more about Megan’s initiative to keep David’s memory alive on Facebook and on Instagram.