2012-10-04 / Front Page

Mother still envisions stillborn son’s milestones

By Marc Filippino
Staff Writer

Lindsay and Mark Shuenke started a family after their first child, Noah, was stillborn. Lindsay holds 2- year-old Asher James, who shares a middle name with Noah, and 10-monthold Caelyn. (Marc Filippino photo) Lindsay and Mark Shuenke started a family after their first child, Noah, was stillborn. Lindsay holds 2- year-old Asher James, who shares a middle name with Noah, and 10-monthold Caelyn. (Marc Filippino photo) BIDDEFORD – As Lindsay and Mark Shuenke prepare for the third annual Noah’s Walk this weekend, the couple still wonders what their family would be like if their first child had not been stillborn.

Lindsay and Mark have a 14-monthold daughter, Caelyn, and a 2-year-old son, Asher, but before they were born the Shuenkes were preparing Sept. 16, 2008 for their first-born son, Noah.

“We often think about our family with a 4-year-old running around the house,” Mark said.

Lindsay said the grieving process was separated into two parts for her: the emotional and physical bonding she shared with Noah stopped abruptly at his birth and could never blossom into what she had hoped. Lindsay also said she and Mark were so ready to be parents, their hearts were broken when it didn’t become a reality.

“It was something we had to work through,” Lindsay said. “I’m struck by how much I’m still grieving.”

Every year since Noah’s birth, the Shuenkes hold Noah’s Walk to help spread awareness of stillbirths. This year the walk will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13. Registration will be held at Union House Pizza and Perk Coffee Bar (both located in Biddeford’s North Dam Mill) will donate a portion of its proceeds to the Noah’s Walk Fund. The route will travel through both Saco and Biddeford’s downtowns.

Lindsay and Mark still project the future of a son who will never grow up with his little brother or sister or live a life of his own.

“I imagine myself dancing with Asher at his wedding,” Lindsay said. “And it makes me sad to think, because that should have happened for Noah too.”

Although the Shuenkes said it was hard to think of any good coming from what happened to Noah, they were inspired to learn more about fetal death syndrome and stillborn deaths.

According to firstcandle.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating families about the tragedy of stillborn deaths, there are 2.6 million stillborn babies each year. Lindsay said roughly one in every three pregnancies result in a stillbirth.

Looking for ways to cope with their loss, Mark and Lindsay befriended Kathy O’Connor, a registered nurse at Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford. Together they found ways Lindsay could come to terms with her loss, while still helping others.

They turned to donation of breast milk, a practice that many are unaware of, O’Connor said. Donating also helped Lindsay feel needed by a family while keeping her occupied.

“Nursing was something I had looked forward to during the pregnancy,” Lindsay said. “Donating breast milk was something that gave me a project and gave myself a purpose.”

After Noah’s birth, with help from O’Connor, the Shuenkes also channeled their grief by promoting state legislation that would recognize stillbirths. Before 2009, all parents of stillborn children were only given a death certificate. But after the testimony before the Maine Legislature, parents of stillborn children are now given a both a birth and a death certificate.

“It didn’t make much sense before,” O’Connor said. “How could you have a death certificate without a birth certificate?”

It also gave Lindsay a sense of comfort, knowing her son wouldn’t be forgotten.

“For a long time when people asked us if we were parents, we didn’t know what to tell them. Yes we had nursed a full term baby for nine months but we had no child,” Lindsay said. “It gave us a sense of acknowledgment of being a parent.”

“It’s an issue not many people want to talk about,” Lindsay said. “We want to break down the walls to help people process their loss better.”

There is no registration fee for the walk, but donations are being accepted.

The Shuenkes are also encouraging people to come out to the kiosk on Jordan Point on the University of New England campus in Biddeford on Monday, Oct. 15 at 6:30 p.m. for a candlelight vigil to recognize Pregnancy Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

For more information, visit noahswalk.com and firstcandle.org.

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