From Tragedy, a Mission of Hope
Woman whose child was stillborn now with MOD, helping others cope with loss
By HEATHER PYLES, CJ Staff Writer
Mattie Wells began suspecting something was wrong with her unborn daughter when she stopped kicking and moving in her womb in late August 2009.
A visit was scheduled with Mattie’s doctor, and on August 31, Mattie and her husband Ben discovered what Mattie had begun to fear when Shyla Joy Wells had suddenly stilled.
“As soon as they turned on the ultrasound, I could see there wasn’t a heartbeat,” Mattie said. “That she had already passed.”
Shyla was nearly 28 weeks along when she died. Shyla’s older brother, Ethan, who is nearly three years old now, had to be told that his little sister had gone to be with Jesus. He wouldn’t be able to watch his sister grow and become a part of their family.
Doctors began running tests on Mattie — who had experienced a normal pregnancy with Ethan — to determine what may have gone wrong.
“We didn’t know why it happened,” Mattie said.
Mattie was told she would have to carry Shyla for two days before going into surgery. The family, numb, went home to await the surgery in which doctors would deliver Mattie’s stillborn daughter. It was during those two days that Mattie began searching online for resources for mothers who have gone through the loss of a newborn child.
“There’s kind of a network for women who have experienced loss,” Mattie said.
It was all Mattie could do as she mourned the death of Shyla, who she still carried.
On September 2, 2009, doctors at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital delivered Shyla via C-section, and Mattie and Ben took some time to hold their daughter and grieve her passing. The tiny baby measured 13 inches long and weighed in at one pound, 11 ounces.
“I don’t think it was really real until they ... wrapped her (Shyla) in a blanket and handed her to him (Ben),” Mattie said.
Shyla’s funeral would follow only four days later, and there, Mattie and her family released 28 pink balloons — one balloon for each week Mattie carried Shyla. Instead of flowers, the family asked that baby items like blankets, clothes and toys be donated to the local pregnancy help center in Monticello.
“He (Ethan) said ‘Bye bye, Shyla. I see you later,’” Mattie said about her son, noting that he knew he’d lost a little sister. “He understands more than I thought.”
Items poured in for the help center, and Mattie began thinking about reaching out to other mothers who had experienced a loss like hers.
“Unless you’ve been there, you can’t imagine the devastation,” Mattie said.
Four weeks later, the family discovered what had happened. A blood test showed that Mattie tested positive for Factor V Leiden, a hereditary blood coagulation disorder that increases a person’s risk of developing a blood clot.
The disorder hadn’t presented during Mattie’s pregnancy with Ethan, but it had led to the death of Shyla.
One blood test would’ve pinpointed the disorder, and Mattie said an anticoagulant regimen would’ve prevented Shyla’s death.
“A simple blood test could prevent death,” Mattie said.
The blood test specifically developed to pinpoint Factor V Leiden is not required for pregnant women, but Mattie is working with the March of Dimes, a non-profit organization dedicated to funding research into pre-natal and post-natal health for babies and their mothers alike, to help advocate making the test a requirement.
But Mattie’s work with grieving mothers is also immensely important. Mattie said she was shocked to discover there wasn’t a support group for mothers dealing with the loss of their newborns in the area. She said much of her healing came about with the help of other mothers she connected with on the internet who had lost their own children. But there was no local network to help her through her loss.
So she’s set about to changing that, with the help of the March of Dimes. Mattie serves as a head of a support group through the March of Dimes meant to provide a network of resources and support for grieving mothers and mothers who have delivered premature children.
One mission of the March of Dimes is to reach out to bereaved families after the loss of a child, and to provide support for mothers and their families who currently have premature babies in prenatal intensive care in hospitals.
While traumas such as a loss of a child have been discussed more openly now than in the past, Mattie said more dialogue is necessary for grieving families to truly heal and move on. One of the most common sentiments Mattie said grieving mothers with other children run into is the idea that they still have their other children — and that they should move on quickly for them.
“That doesn’t take away the grief of losing my daughter,” Mattie said.
And Mattie takes comfort in the few items that remind them of Shyla — the few pictures taken of her and her family before she was whisked away, the blanket she was wrapped in, and pink Gerbera daisies, which were used in her funeral.
“This is all I have of her,” Mattie said about those precious items, as she touched a locket she often wears that features a print of Shyla’s tiny foot prints.
The Wells family was asked recently to serve as the Ambassador Family for the 2010 March of Dimes March for Babies, and Mattie said she jumped at the chance because she saw it as another tool to let families know that a support system does exist.
And there are families out there who need that support system. Mattie said that just last week, she was told about two families in the region who are struggling with the loss of a baby. Mattie, a social worker at Monticello Independent School, has made herself available to those families, and she has started putting together care packages for families who have been suddenly faced with the loss of their child.
“It’s just a very different kind of loss,” Mattie said. “There’s nothing you can compare it to.”
With Mattie’s involvement, this year the March for Babies, scheduled for April 24 in downtown Somerset, will feature boards decorated with the keepsakes, pictures and names of babies who have passed on. Those parents who have lost babies interested in participating in that project can stop by the March of Dimes Somerset office, located at 44 Office Park Drive or call 606-679-6514.
The boards will be set up at the start and finish of the walk, at Rocky Hollow Park.
“We’re celebrating the premature babies who have survived, but we’re also remembering the ones who didn’t,” Mattie said.
And Mattie is also spearheading a “Pages for Preemies” fundraiser for mothers and families who have lost newborns. The event is scheduled for Saturday, April 10. Participants can bring pictures of their children and supplies for scrapbooking to create memorial keepsakes of their lost loved ones. It’s $15 to participate and all proceeds go to the March of Dimes.
Mattie will always remember the daughter that she only knew in the womb, and while she and her husband haven’t yet begun to try again to expand their family, she said they will soon.
But she’ll always grieve the loss of her child, and she said she’ll continue reaching out to those who have gone through the same thing her family did — because there’s nothing more comforting in your darkest hours than knowing someone who has gone through the same thing.
“Just hearing these stories is encouraging for women who have been there,” Mattie said.