By Maureen Vander Sanden

Elkhorn Independent Editor

      When she was pregnant with her third child just one year ago, Krystal Kaye of Rochester, said everything was perfect.

Krystal Kaye and her son Elijah.

      Stella Grace would be what she and husband Matt were calling the final addition to their family, joining 12-year-old Briana and little Elijah, 4, to make the family whole.

      Thirty-seven weeks into her pregnancy, Krystal said the nursery was prepped and ready for Stella’s arrival.

      She was a healthy, and very active baby.

      “The whole pregnancy was excellent. She was my most active baby that I carried, I thought she would be huge, or maybe even had a twin,” the 28-year-old mom recalled.

      The family was excited to soon welcome her home.

      But on Oct. 28, just two weeks before her due date, the unthinkable happened.

      In the morning hours, Krystal sensed something might be wrong. Her usually rambunctious baby had little movement.

      When she called the hospital, she was reassured that the baby was simply getting in position for arrival, but the nurse still insisted Krystal come in to get some tests run. So she dropped off her kids, and called Matt to meet her.

Joy, then sorrow

      At the hospital, when she was hooked up to a Doppler, the baby’s heartbeat sounded great – much to the relief of the too-anxious parents.

      “We sat there for a minute listening to the sweet sound of our child’s heartbeat, feeling relieved she was still kicking in there,” Krystal recalled.

      But suddenly Stella’s heartbeat dropped, picked up, and then dropped back down.

      Shortly after the machine alarm sounded and when doctors responded, they could not find Stella’s heartbeat.

      Krystal was quickly rushed to the Labor and Delivery unit, where she was put under to have an emergency C-section.

      She remembers sobbing and praying while doctors stripped her belly and began to administer anesthesia.

      Then it all went black.

      Hours later she awoke, still heavily medicated but ready to hold her baby for the first time. But something was off.

      “I knew something wasn’t right, and then managed to ask if my baby was OK.”

      Without even looking at the distressed mother to respond, the nurse told Krystal that the doctor would be in to talk with her.

      Stella didn’t make it. She was stillborn at 11:27 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2010, at 7 pounds, one ounce, and 19 inches long.

      The baby who never took a breath became known as the family’s “Star in Heaven.”

      The teary-eyed doctor told Krystal that her team tried everything they could to start Stella’s heart back up when she was born, but to no avail.

      “All I could do was cry. I asked God to put me back to sleep,” Krystal said, remembering the minute her heart had broken.

Sharing her pain

      She has since blogged about the tragedy.

      “My child was no longer with me, happily kicking my ribs and poking my hips. She wasn’t in my arms or suckling my breasts. She was cold and alone in a separate nursery from all the living babies. She was gone and I was left in pain, cut open, emptied and heartbroken,” the saddened mother wrote.

      The pain worsened for Krystal, upon coming home to an empty nursery, and a home filled with flowers – not as a token of congratulations on her new arrival, but an expression of deep sympathy to the family.

      Depression would continue to consume her after the innocent child, who so much resembled the other Kaye kids, was laid to rest.

      Weeks would drag on, and questions would linger.

      Their perfectly healthy and beautiful baby was gone before she even had a chance, and her death would always be defined as a medical mystery.

      “You feel punished in some way, or responsible,” Krystal explained. “You always ponder, ‘what if I slept on my left side,’ or had gone in earlier.”

      The family will never know.

      According to First Candle, a national health organization dedicated to the advancement of infant health and survival, more than 25,000 babies are stillborn in the U.S. every year – nearly half of whom are at or near full term and often seem to be otherwise healthy babies.

      It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of all stillbirth deaths are unexplained. Researchers, however, believe that more aggressive investigations when they occur, would lead to better explanations.

Comfort in others

      Though her grief has yet to subside, Krystal has found comfort in reaching out to other mothers who have been affected by the death of their children.

      They call themselves Angel Moms.

      Mothers like Burlington native Kim Aguilar who lost her daughter Nataleigha on Jan. 5, 2011.

      At 28 weeks into her pregnancy, Aguilar went in for a routine checkup, and discovered the baby’s heart had stopped beating. She delivered Nataleigha knowing her heart had stopped beating.

      The doctors attributed the loss to an improperly connected umbilical cord.

      The baby’s death was devastating, for the family, and has changed her and husband Luis’ outlook on life forever.

      “To know that life can be taken away at any moment makes you more grateful for each minute,” she said.

      Knowing she isn’t alone in her sorrow has helped.

      She and Krystal connected online after Nataleigha’s stillbirth, and have since become great friends.

      The two want nothing more than to talk of their daughters and remember their short lives.

      “It brightens your day just to hear that child’s name Aguilar said.

      For the two moms, it’s even harder that few people are willing to speak about tragedies.

      “People feel it’s easier not to talk about it,” Aguilar said.

      Krystal chimed in: “No one wants to, it’s uncomfortable to speak about the loss of a child, because no one wants to think about it – it’s not normal for kids to die before their parents,”

      But to suffer in silence is not an option for either.

Walk to Remember

      So the two Angel Moms have spearheaded the area’s first “Walk to Remember” Saturday, Oct. 15 starting at 11 a.m. at Case Eagle Park in Rochester and ending at Riverside Park in Burlington.

      At the conclusion of the near five-mile walk, balloons for each of the area babies lost due to miscarriage, stillbirth or sudden infant death will be released. The remembrance will be followed by a potluck picnic with music by Matt, a professional DJ.

      “This is the beginning of a beautiful thing,” Krystal said.

      The two hope the walk will raise awareness of the severity in the statistics of stillbirth all over the world in addition to creating a local support system for Angel Moms and bereaved families.

      “It’s important to remember and celebrate our children,” Krystal stressed. “As little of a life as they had, they made a footprint on our hearts that last a lifetime.

      “We will forever have a child missing from each family photo, from each bedtime routine of kissing and tucking in, from each head count in the morning and member at the dinner table at night. We will walk, because they never had the chance to.”