Meet a Mom: Kathy Gardner - Newtown Moms

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, with 10/15 marked as Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day not only in Newtown, but worldwide. Experts state that stillbirth is one of the most understudied issues in medicine, happening much more frequently than people realize. Today, stillbirth occurs in 1 in 160 pregnancies, amounting to 70 babies every day and approximately 26,000 babies each year. While progress has been made to bring stillbirth out of the darkness, many families still lack the support they need after losing a child. Local mom of 5, Kathy Gardner experienced the stillbirth of her daughter Tinsley on December 4, 2017. Since then, Kathy has worked to raise awareness around infant loss, volunteering with the Star Legacy Foundation (she now serves as the Vice Chair of the New York Metro chapter.) Thanks  to all of Kathy’s advocacy work, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal proclaimed 10/15 as Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day in Newtown. 

Kathy, thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this! Let’s start out finding out  a little bit about you & your family. Children and Ages?
I have five wonderful children! Charlie (9), James (7), Tinsley (stillborn 2017), Henry (2), and George (10 months).  My husband Charlie and I were married in 2009 and have been living in Sandy Hook for the last five years. He’s an attorney and I work in communications.

One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, but I don’t have a Southern accent anymore!

Favorite things to do with your family?
We enjoy going on walks, running around playgrounds, practicing baseball, and attending the various fun events around town!  This is such a great community to raise a family.

Favorite spot in Newtown?
Probably a tie between Dickinson Park and Holy Cow.  A great end to the weekend is playing at Dickinson and then grabbing some ice cream at Holy Cow on the way home. Or as my kids would say, Holy Cows.

Best thing about being a mom?
I think it’s just the opportunity to be a mom.  Motherhood has always been my calling, but I didn’t see it as the incredible privilege it truly is until Tinsley died.  Even in the messiest, scariest, or most frustrating moments — being a mom in and of itself is the best thing about being a mom. What a gift.

You are an amazing advocate and resource for parents who have experienced pregnancy  and infant loss. Since 2018, you have worked to connect moms who have lost a  pregnancy or an infant in a number of different ways. Can you share how you started  connecting with other women in Newtown back in 2018?
First of all, thank you for the compliment! Being an advocate and resource is how I channel my love for Tinsley and honor her life 🙂

I started connecting with local moms through the Star Legacy Foundation, which I hooked into shortly after Tinsley died at 32 weeks from a true knot in her umbilical cord.  The support I received from SLF was critical — I don’t know how I would have survived without a) talking to other moms that had also experienced stillbirth and b) getting active as a volunteer.

I was inspired after attending my first fundraiser for the NY Metro chapter, and pretty quickly became very vocal and visible about being a stillbirth mom.  After a short while, moms started reaching out to me directly or were referred to me for support through other friends. Social media has played a big role in continued outreach and connection.

The Newtown Bee was also kind in covering Dan’s proclamation of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day in Newtown and the virtual wave of light event Jessi Ruotolo and I organized last October, which helped widen the circle (and big shoutout to Dan for his ongoing support!).  I’ve also managed the NY chapter’s Peer Companion program since 2019, which connects trained stillbirth moms to new stillbirth moms to help them along their grief journey.  And then I admin a Facebook group called Umbilical Cord Accidents Support & Education, so I’ve met other local moms through those avenues as well.

But in addition to stillbirth, many moms have also opened up about their heartaches from miscarraige and infertility struggles… The journey to motherhood is so complicated for so many of us.  I think when we create the space to share about the pain that can accompany trying to bring life into the world, people will speak up.  Some have told me about stillbirths in their families’ histories, such as a grandmother or great-aunt, that were never talked about. Thank goodness these losses don’t have to be hidden anymore, like they once were. Today we can speak their names.

I know you have a number of things planned for this week, especially on Friday. Can you  share details on the virtual gathering, as well as the two walks that are planned? Where  can we find full details?
Of course! Here’s what Jessi and I have cooking this year.  We hope these events help foster more connection among the local loss community.

  1. Walk to Remember at Fairfield Hills, Friday, October 15th 6pm -6:30pm
    Meet in front of the Community Center
    **Anyone wanting to honor a baby lost, no matter at what age, is welcome to join**

  2. Northern Fairfield’s Wave of Light (part of the Global Wave of Light), Friday, October 15th at 7pm
    Gather virtually to share pictures of your burning candles. Join here.

  3. 2021 Let’s Not Be Still! Virtual Walk, Saturday, October 16th
    Fundraise virtually:
    Create a Team on the website in honor of a baby
    Virtual Ceremony/Baby Name Reading that morning
    Walk/Run Share on Social Media #NeverBeStill @Star Legacy

  4. And Edmond Town Hall will light up in blue and pink the week of Oct 11th!

Can you share more about the Star Legacy Foundation for those who are unfamiliar?  How can someone who is going through the loss of a baby connect with Star Legacy?
Star Legacy Foundation is the nation’s premier nonprofit devoted to stillbirth, focusing on conducting research, promoting education, encouraging advocacy, and helping bereaved families.  If you want to connect with Star Legacy, you can reach out to me ([email protected]) or our family support coordinator Kelly Pullford ([email protected]) or you can call 952-715.7731; ext 1 which is staffed by certified grief counselors.  We also offer a number of virtual support groups:

Looking back on all of the advocacy, volunteering, & support you’ve given others since  Tinsley’s loss, what has been your biggest triumph and your biggest challenge?
The ultimate triumphs are what we call “baby saves.”  This is when a mom advocates for action from her healthcare provider because she has been educated about warning signs or red flags.  After induction or emergency c-section, it’s discovered that yes, there was a problem, and delivering the baby likely saved his or her life.

Just this week I worked with a mom who was concerned about reduced fetal movement very late in the third trimester.  She was sent home from the hospital even after her baby had difficulty passing her NSTs and BPPs.  She didn’t know she could ask questions or demand an evaluation from a high-risk doctor or request to be monitored overnight. As women, it can be difficult for us to stand up for ourselves but this is where it’s most critical!  Tommy’s in the UK has a great Always Ask campaign around this. So a triumph is receiving a message like this: “I’m calling the hospital now and telling them I’m coming in and I won’t be leaving this time until I have her in my arms.”

The greatest challenge is creating systemic change in how the healthcare profession approaches the risk of stillbirth, as well as the management of pregnancy after stillbirth.  Change happens slowly.  The ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) maintains some recommendations that are serious headscratchers… So while we work on building more research to push those protocol changes, we also focus on educating the moms directly.

Speaking of, we have some tips on having a safer pregnancy, but my biggest message to expectant moms is this:

Trust your instincts! Go to L&D any time you are uneasy or have a feeling that something might be wrong, even if you don’t have a specific symptom!  You know your child better than anyone, and mother’s intuition starts in the womb.

Any change in your baby’s normal movements could be a sign that he or she is not well (babies do not normally slow down at the end of pregnancy!). So know your baby’s normal (types of movements, time of day, duration, etc). If you notice a change, go to the hospital to be evaluated immediately.   DO NOT wait until the next day, or try waking the baby with a sugary beverage, or worry you are bothering the health professionals.

Thank you so much for letting me share — for letting me show my love for my daughter— with Newtown Moms. And many prayers to all those who are missing a child this month… today…and always. Xoxo

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