Wichita resident Sapphire Garcia Lies knew something was wrong with her pregnancy when she went to the hospital in July 2013. After months of reliable kicking, the baby that she had carried to full-term had suddenly gone still in her womb.
But she was not prepared for what happened later that day, when she delivered her daughter. Ella was dead, the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her neck. It was devastating.
“She would have started kindergarten this week,” Garcia Lies said Monday in a phone interview. “If I had known to monitor her movements we would have gone to the hospital sooner and may have had a different outcome.”
Out of the intense grief, Garcia Lies gained a new mission: working with other parents of stillborn babies to promote a simple program they say can save the littlest lives.
It’s called Count the Kicks, and it’s about to get a boost from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The program teaches expectant mothers how to track the movement of their fetus every day during the third trimester of pregnancy.
According to research, they should start to notice patterns in how long it takes for the fetus to reach 10 movements in a day. Then they will be able to tell day-to-day whether the fetus is unusually lethargic, an indication that something might be wrong and they should call their doctor.
KDHE announced last week it is using federal grant money to make Count the Kicks materials available free to all maternal health providers, birthing hospitals and social service agencies in Kansas. The materials will be available for order on the Count the Kicks website.
“KDHE’s Bureau of Family Health remains committed to collaborative efforts to support the healthiest outcome for mothers and infants,” the bureau’s director, Rachel Sisson, said in a statement released by KDHE.
Kansas is the fifth state to subsidize the materials, joining Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services started participating July 1.
Expectant mothers worldwide can already download the Count the Kicks smartphone app, which helps them track movements, for free.
Count the Kicks started in Iowa and that state reduced its infant mortality rate by 26 percent between 2012 and 2017.
It’s not known how much of that decrease can be attributed to the program, but the national rate remained about the same during that time, and several Iowa women reported anecdotally that Count the Kicks saved their babies.
KDHE officials said Kansas has about 232 stillbirths a year and a 26 percent reduction would mean about 60 more babies delivered successfully each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Kansas suffers about 5.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which is right in line with the national average, and Missouri suffers about 6.5 per 1,000. But the infant mortality rate is 7 per 1,000 live births in the Kansas City area, according to the Mother & Child Health Coalition, and women of color are at greater risk.
Stillbirth is only one form of infant mortality.
But Garcia Lies, the Kansas ambassador for Count the Kicks, said the organization’s materials will help medical providers talk to expectant mothers about how to minimize the risks of stillbirth.
“It’s oftentimes a difficult conversation to have,” Garcia Lies said. “Nobody wants to think anything can happen to their baby in the last few months of their pregnancy.”