Fourteen years ago, my heart was broken. Our first child, a baby girl we named Grace, was born still on a rainy morning in May. My wife, Kerry and I were thrilled to be expecting. We kept a journal; we played our favorite music and read to her. We were excited, yet naïve that anything bad would happen. However, something inexplicitly bad did happen… something life changing.
I was devastated, but I was also worried for my wife. I felt I needed to try to keep it together so she could grieve and heal. I remember the realization that even if you follow all the rules, and do the “right” things, that we still are not fully in control. That understanding was a frightening revelation. I felt helpless. I wanted to take away the pain, but I realized that was not possible. We somehow survived those first few days and weeks, finding our way through the pain.
Then Kerry met four other women who also had recently lost their baby girls either to infant death, or stillbirth. As she formed a friendship with these ladies, I became less worried. She was connecting with others who were experience the same feelings. As Kerry began to heal, so did I.
What is remarkable is these friends didn’t just support each other, they decided to use their pain to prevent it from happening to others, and they didn’t start with little goals. No, they have always aimed high. Initially, they aimed to make Iowa the safest place in the nation to have a baby. They started by passing legislation that created the first-in-the-nation stillbirth registry that collects information regarding a mother’s pregnancy and the baby. This information is collected and studied to help unlock the causes of stillbirth in order to find effective preventative strategies. Soon after this law was passed, they created the public health campaign called Count the Kicks.
Count the Kicks educates expectant parents to monitor their baby’s movements in the third trimester of pregnancy. To say it has been successful is an understatement. Iowa’s stillbirth rate has decreased 26 percent since Count the Kicks launched, taking the stillbirth rate from 33rd worst to third lowest in the country. Iowa’s stillbirth rate has declined each year since Count the Kicks began, while the rest of the nation’s stillbirth rate remains stagnant.
I watched my wife and her friends meet in coffee shops with boxes of Kleenex; to becoming an official non-profit. I have watched their board grow from the original five founding mothers; to nine members, each committed to saving babies. I have watched them attend baby fairs with a few photocopied brochures; to offering a website, app, brochures, posters and how-to videos. I have watched them host a fundraiser with family and friends; to hosting an annual luncheon, that attracts more than 1,000 participants each year. I have watched them write their own grants; to having two employees in an office space. Along the way, I have watched this friendship born out of despair turn into a family. Now I am watching Count the Kicks spread across the country with 18 ambassadors and the Save 6,000 Babies campaign. By spreading this lifesaving message throughout the United States we know we will see a drop in stillbirth rates by 26%, just like in Iowa, which will save 6,000 babies a year across the country.
The growth and success of Count the Kicks fills me with pride. I am proud of my wife, I’m proud of her friends, I’m proud of all those who support the campaign, but most of all I’m proud of Grace and her heavenly friends; Emma, Madeline, Grace and Jayden. They have not only changed my life for the better, they have made an impact for countless others. No parent could ask for anything more.
“How very softly you tiptoed into our world. Almost silently. Only a moment you stayed. But what an imprint your footsteps have left upon our hearts.”—D. Ferguson
Luke Morlan is grateful to be a busy dad this Father’s Day, including to one angel, and three healthy children, including twins. He is an Executive Mail Center Manager. In his spare time, he enjoys his children’s activities, music, his pet Siberian Husky, and cooking for his family.