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Robin Huebner, Published March 22 2014

Robin Huebner Reports: Two-time parents of stillborn babies recall tragic journey

MOORHEAD - The month of April will always be a difficult one for Jason and Tandy Pratt. It’s the month in which they lost two babies – one in 2008, the other in 2011.

Six years have passed since Mary-Alice was stillborn at 36 weeks. Three years have passed since Amelia was stillborn at 22 weeks.

The couple says it’s time to tell their story publicly to help other families in the same situation and to keep other parents-to-be from going through it.

“Now we’re finally ready to be out there with it,” Tandy said.

They’re holding the Mary-Alice & Friends 5K on May 31 in Fargo’s Lindenwood Park to raise money for stillbirth research and education through the Twin Cities-based Star Legacy Foundation.

‘Normal’ pregnancies

Jason, 37, and Tandy, 35, started their family in 2005 when they had a son, Benjamin.

The couple says it seemed like a relatively “normal” pregnancy, but Tandy had morning sickness throughout and was put on bed rest at 38 weeks due to high blood pressure.

While in the hospital after Benjamin’s birth, Jason noticed a small postcard on the door across the hall from them, with a leaf floating on a puddle.

He asked a nurse what that meant, and she said they put those on the door of patients who have lost their baby.

“I thought to myself ‘That’s horrible, how does that happen?’ ” Jason said. “Then when we were in the hospital with Mary-Alice, we were the ones with the leaf on our door.”

They got pregnant with Mary-Alice in 2007, and again, Tandy said it was a good pregnancy, aside from the ever-present nausea from morning sickness.

Then, as she reached the home stretch of her pregnancy, one day she experienced what she described as “a different feeling, different heartburn and different movement.”

The next day, while in the car, she realized she hadn’t felt the baby move in a while. So she sat quietly with her hand on her belly, waiting.

Then, to her relief, “I did feel a tumble or kick,” she said.

But that night, Tandy had unbearable heartburn, and when she woke up the next morning, she said she knew.

“I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Something is really wrong,’ ” she said.

She called her husband at work and they went to the hospital, where a nurse used ultrasound to find the baby’s heartbeat.

After many desperate moments of trying, Tandy put her hand on the nurse’s hand and asked her to stop, realizing her baby had died.

The following hours were a blur.

Tandy had to be induced with medication to go into labor.

At 2:38 a.m. on April 1, 2008, she delivered the 5 pound, 11 ounce baby girl, whom the couple named Mary-Alice Marie Pratt.

“She looked perfect,” Tandy said.

“Had she been born a day before, she’d be here,” Tandy said, in tears.

It was all so abrupt, as the couple had been at home setting up a nursery and friends had been sending gifts.

“We went from having a baby, having a family of four,” Tandy said, “to now planning a funeral.”

On the recommendation of nurses, they had photos taken of Mary-Alice, and plaster molds made of her hands and feet.

“It’s important to have those memories,” Jason said, “because that’s really all you go home with.”

More heartache

It took about three years for the couple to begin feeling “normal” again.

Doctors told Tandy that because she was young and healthy, there was no reason she couldn’t have another baby. They got pregnant again, only to miscarry a few weeks in.

Her doctor told her there was no correlation between the miscarriage and the stillbirth, and she again was reassured that she should be able to go on and have a healthy baby.

When Tandy got pregnant in late 2010, the couple said they were scared from beginning to end.

“We just had a pit in our stomachs every day, for the whole time,” Jason said.

At a 20-week ultrasound, the doctor said while the baby’s heartbeat was good, she was “measuring small” and the umbilical cord “looked twisty,” but neither necessarily meant anything was wrong.

They were referred to a specialist. At the April 11 appointment, a nurse couldn’t pick up a heartbeat during the ultrasound.

“I said, ‘I can’t do this again. We’re supposed to be pregnant!’ ” said Tandy, sobbing.

Tandy delivered the baby, who weighed just a little over a pound.

Benjamin, then 5 years old, was given the honor of naming her. He chose Amelia.

Tandy said the doctor who delivered Amelia was helpful, showing her the umbilical cord and placenta. The couple was given contacts for genetic testing. Jason and Tandy pursued those genetic tests, all of which offered no indication of anything wrong.

Finally, some answers

After having their second stillborn baby, Tandy found herself in a deep, dark hole.

“I was not very well, to say the least,” she said. “It took everything in me to get out of bed in the morning.”

She sought help in local and online support groups, and later heard about a specialist who had helped women who’d experienced stillbirth go on and have healthy babies.

They met with Dr. Joanne Kwak-Kim, a reproductive immunology specialist at Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago.

Through tests, Tandy learned she had a predisposition to having blood flow issues to the uterus and placenta.

The doctor offered a detailed regimen of tests, injections, lab work and careful monitoring to help them have a healthy baby.

But they ultimately decided against it, believing it would be too stressful.

“It’s hard to hear that your body failed your babies,” Tandy said, “but at the same time it’s good because I waited so long to hear an answer.”

Another answer they were waiting to hear had to do with adoption. After Tandy’s miscarriage, the couple applied with Lutheran Social Services to adopt a baby.

Nine months after losing Amelia, they met a birth mother and father through LSS who were willing to put their baby up for adoption. The Pratts’ adopted daughter, Courtney, is now 2 years old.

Turning grief into action

The Pratts are now turning their energies to helping others who are going through the same experience and to prevent stillbirth from happening in the first place.

They felt their doctors didn’t give them all of the tools they needed, and that they focused too much on what might be wrong with baby, instead of what might be wrong with mom.

They believe pregnant women need to talk more often about stillbirth, among themselves and with their doctors, even though it’s a difficult conversation to have.

“You need to count your kicks toward the end there, and if it’s not 10 an hour, you need to go in,” Tandy said.

They’ve teamed up with Star Legacy Foundation to better train doctors, help fund research into why stillbirth happens and what can be done to prevent it.

They hope many people will come out to run or walk on May 31 to honor Mary-Alice and other stillborn babies.

Readers can reach Robin Huebner at rhuebner@forumcomm.com. Huebner is also a 5 p.m. news anchor on WDAY-TV.

For more information on Mary-Alice & Friends, visit starlegacyfoundation.org/mary-alice-friends-5k/