Amanda and Mitch Feltmann knew their first child was struggling in the womb.
Their 20-week scan showed she was underweight, and by week 26 they confirmed she had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), a poor growth caused by placental insufficiency.
They held out hope, but a day before Amanda’s scheduled induction, in September 2018, her waters broke, and their little girl, Juniper, arrived, stillborn.
The emotional pain was indescribable. They felt helpless, not knowing how to pay tribute to Juniper, or whether they could ever consider moving on.
Then, four months later, in December 2018, Amanda had missed a period, took a test, and found out she was pregnant again.
Now, the couple from Minnesota are sharing their story of grief and reparation to help others facing the same agonizing, under-discussed traumas.
Amanda and Mitch while pregnant with Juniper. They knew she was underweight but doctors assured them they would catch any life-threatening complications
Juniper (pictured) had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), a poor growth caused by placental insufficiency
‘Being told “there is no heartbeat” at full term is an experience unlike no other,’ Amanda, 30, said.
‘Giving birth to her, knowing I wouldn’t get to keep her at the end of it all, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to unwillingly participate in.
‘Holding her in my arms for the first time; I tried so hard not to fall in love with her but that was impossible.’
They had been braced for it, but were assured not to worry.
Once Juniper was given the IUGR diagnosis, Amanda and Mitch, 31, were under close and constant monitoring. All of their doctors assuring us they would catch anything before it happened.
‘I was being seen twice a week,’ Amanda said. ‘Twice a week she passed her health assessments that she was healthy in my womb. I trusted my doctors. I didn’t ask questions, but I wish I would have. I took things for granted. Things fell through the cracks.’
Her doctor hadn’t done an earlier due date ultrasound, which meant that her due date was changed from August 25, 2018, to September 3, 2018, because of a typo.
They believe that, had Juniper been delivered earlier, she might have survived.
Looking back, Amanda says, it is easy to be consumed by regrets, looking for things she could have picked up on.
‘There were a lot of issues in our pregnancy care, including typos. I wish I would’ve pushed harder to get those cleared up. I wish I had been in general more informed about pregnancy and being my own health advocate, rather than just sitting back and rolling with the punches. I wish I would’ve sought out more opinions.’
That feedback loop was cut short by their surprise pregnancy, as Amanda and Mitchell were forced to look ahead.
They were ecstatic, and nervous.
‘We always wanted more than one child. It was the weirdest sensation to cry tears wrought with happiness rather than just sorrow for the first time in months when I saw that positive test,’ Amanda said.
‘It brought me happiness and hope, but also so many new levels of grief and longing.
‘I tried to read articles about second pregnancies, but it was tough.
‘Life after loss sucks there is no sugar coating that.
‘Pregnancy after loss is a mind-whiplash.’
‘I think it’s jarring to some people that I’m breaking the stillbirth mold – we surrounded our daughter in a blanket with a bright, cheery pattern,’ Amanda said
When Juniper was born they spent almost 24 hours with her, marveling at her beauty with both their families, with a Christian dedication ceremony, and photos of her
After careful deliberation, Amanda and Mitch decided to share their story online, with their family, their close friends, their acquaintances, and anyone else who needed to hear how one couple navigated this uncomfortable journey.
When Juniper was born they spent almost 24 hours with her, marveling at her beauty with both their families, with a Christian dedication ceremony, and photos of her.
‘Her face was so round and perfect. She had the most beautiful lips I had ever seen and looked just like her daddy. Although sad and heartbroken, we tried to surround our baby with laughter and happiness.
‘Once my blood pressure was to an acceptable level, we did the hardest thing in the world and said goodbye to our girl and left the hospital empty handed and came home to a quiet, empty house.’
Pregnant again, they decided to go ahead with a pregnancy photo shoot – and share those pictures they took in their few moments with their first daughter.
‘We chose to share our Juniper with pride, with photos, on social media soon after we got home. We didn’t want anyone to think for a second that we were ashamed or scared of her life.
‘It’s so important to me that Juniper’s life doesn’t just fade into existence. Every parent loves to show off and brag about their baby. I’m doing the same.’
Amanda finds solace speaking with other mothers who’ve experienced stillbirth on forums and Instagram.
Amanda and Mitch’s photoshoot while pregnant with Juniper
Amanda while 20 weeks pregnant with her second baby
For her, she says, taking an active role in researching her healthcare has helped her feel grounded.
‘I don’t take a single day for granted. After Junie died, I pushed for lots of follow up appointments, I wanted more info, wanted to know as much as we could about why and how she died and how we prevent this in the future,’ Amanda said.
‘I have learned to be a strong advocate now for mine and my baby’s health and treatment. Before I was pregnant again, I told these doctors how my care would go in the future, and asked for their insight on other things.
‘I was able to find the right care team this time that allows me to call the shots within reason.’
The feedback she’s received from others who’ve seen her story, Amanda says, has been incredible, and testament to the need to share these experiences.
‘I’d like to think I’m changing the world of stillbirth,’ Amanda said.
A picture of the clothes Juniper would have worn alongside a sonogram picture of their second baby and their clothes
‘I think it’s jarring to some people that I’m breaking the stillbirth mold – we surrounded our daughter in a blanket with a bright, cheery pattern.
‘People think having your baby die, since they are young, is easier to get over. But that can’t be farther from the truth.
‘When an older person such as a grandparent dies, there are so many years of their life and shared experiences to talk about and remember.
‘But with losing your baby, their whole life of memories is what is lost, what is grieved. Your grieving a future you and your child never got to experience.
‘We are still mamas and our babies are still our babies. Our babies’ lives can be remembered with smiles and happiness. Their death does not have to completely define them or us.’
She adds: ‘Be kind and considerate, you never know what battle someone may be facing.’