LIMA — For those who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss, the feeling stays with them.
Deb Gallmeier and her husband, Mike, lost a set of baby triplets 37 years ago, named Brian, Lisa and Ryan. Born prematurely, one was stillborn, and the other two lived less than a day. Even with three grown sons now, it’s difficult to think about at times, particularly around the holidays.
“We were blessed, but we still have a place in our hearts for those we lost,” said Gallmeier, of Delphos. “It was our first pregnancy, so it was really rough.”
She and her husband, along with about 30 others, gathered at a Hope and Remembrance ceremony at the St. Rita’s Medical Center chapel on Sunday to light a candle for little ones they’ve lost and remember them. There were many parents and siblings there as well as supportive friends. It’s an annual event organized by the SHARE Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support group at the hospital. The group also has monthly meetings. Gallmeier joined because she was so happy to see a resource exist for others that wasn’t there for her when she lost her babies.
“I just loved the idea and being able to help someone else get through it,” she said. She said the expectation back then was to simply move on, and that viewpoint still stands strong today.
For Becky Dershem, director of nursing at the Allen County Health Department, she agrees that simply getting over it is a viewpoint expressed by many, and it shouldn’t be that way.
“We’re numb to it,” Dershem said. “It just happens. But therein lies the problem. We’ve grown to accept that it’s just the way it is.”
Over time, she’s hoping to establish a task force, establish work groups and implement interventions to address the infant mortality issue and hopefully lower infant mortality percentages in Allen County.
Although infant mortality numbers have stayed relatively static in the past decade or so, the Allen County Health Department is looking to decrease the percentages even more. Infant mortality statistics do not include miscarriages and stillborn births, but rather babies who have died during their first year of life.
Members of the health department have researched how Allen County residents have fared when it comes to infant mortality. All in all, while the county had slightly lower mortality rates than trends statewide, things could definitely be better.
The rates are very dependent on background. African-American babies have about double the infant mortality rate in Ohio than average totals. In 2010, there were about 18 deaths for every 1,000 African-American births, while only about nine deaths per 1,000 births across all races and backgrounds in the state, according to the Center for Public Health Statistics and Informatics.
Dershem has looked into things that are known to decrease infant mortality rates: healthy food, clean water, clean environments, sewage systems and prenatal care. These things may seem obvious, but lack of these things for infants is nonetheless a problem for some. More than one-third of infants who die during the first year are born prematurely.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement for things that don’t pertain to medicine,” she said. “We need to make our systems more accessible.”
They will investigate the matter further after health department members attend an Ohio Infant Mortality Summit in Columbus on Nov. 28, presented by the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality.
One place for women to turn to receive quality prenatal care to prevent infant mortality is the local WIC program, providing mothers with nutritional education programs for pregnant women, infants and children up to 5 years of age.
“Clients are re-certified every six months, and for children, we check height and weight and possibly iron level. Growth is monitored on growth charts. Clients fill out a health history form and we do an assessment of how they are eating, with appropriate suggestions given for improvements,” said Lori Nester, breastfeeding coordinator with the Allen County WIC program.
She said that providing breast milk for a baby is also very important.
“A big part of what we provide throughout is breastfeeding education, both prenatally, and then support after baby is born,” Nester said. “Breast milk is protective against many diseases as well as SIDS; things like formula feeding and smoking are risk factors for SIDS.”
Other risk factors of babies who die in their first year of life is if they were born prematurely. In Allen County, between 2006 and 2011, as much 15 and 18 percent of babies born in some communities were born prematurely, including those in Jackson Township, Bath Township and Fort Shawnee.
The Allen County Health Department has helped implement prevention programs over the last decade, like the Caring for Two program, and over the next few months, she said she hopes to establish a task force to address these issues locally.
“We’re going to have to look at different organizations, church groups, community resources,” she said. “We’re losing too many babies.”
Back at St. Rita’s Medical Center, Obstetrics Manager Kim Neuenschwander attended the Hope and Remembrance event over the weekend because part of her job is to comfort others who have suffered a loss.
“I’m with them after the experience, while they’re still at the hospital,” Neuenschwander said, who came to the chapel with her 9-year-old daughter Lexe. “When there’s a loss, it’s really sad because no one envisions that when they’re pregnant.”
It’s a really overwhelming event for parents, she said, and the hospital does as much as they can to bring comfort and closure. They try to provide handprints, footprints, photographs and other mementos. She also often refers individuals to the SHARE Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group. While she’s never suffered a loss herself, she does her best to support them during the initial shock period.
“It’s a hard, hard thing to go through,” Neuenschwander said. “They haven’t had a chance to live their lives.”
Hopefully, with the work of the health department, stories like these over time will become fewer and farther between.