Turning Heartbreak into Action: Star Legacy Foundation Remembers Stillborn Babies

Star Legacy Foundation helps families after stillbirth.
A stone sits at the base of a tree in Staring Lake Park in honor of babies gone too soon.

Chris and Amanda Duffy knew something was wrong long before hearing the horrible news from the doctor. The couple had eagerly awaited the birth of their second child, a girl named Reese, who had been scheduled to be delivered by caesarean section the following day. “I hadn’t felt her kick in a few hours, so I knew something was up,” says Amanda. “I just didn’t want to believe it.”

When doctors confirmed the couple’s suspicion that their child no longer had a heartbeat, medical staff could offer no clear explanation as to why a normal pregnancy went so very wrong. “All of the doctors and nurses were helpful and compassionate,” says Chris. “But the message they kept sharing is, ‘these things just happen.’” Reese was stillborn the day before her scheduled delivery.

After Reese’s funeral, Chris and Amanda decided they wanted to turn their grief into action. They met with some Star Legacy Foundation volunteers over coffee. “We got to tell Reese’s story and our story,” remembers Amanda. “It let us know we aren’t the only ones who have gone through this. We felt proactive and not stuck in our grief.”

The Duffys’ story resonated with Lindsey Wimmer, the executive director of the Star Legacy Foundation. She’s heard many stories like it since giving birth to a stillborn son more than ten years ago. She sought out answers about how a healthy pregnancy could result in a stillbirth and found it happens more often than one would think.

According to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health, the average number of fetal deaths in Minnesota was 384 over the five years ending in 2014. “Those stories are heartbreaking,” Wimmer says. “Families are living with these losses every day. We are trying to educate families about what they can do to help each other as well as help the bigger cause.”

Wimmer launched the development of a foundation dedicated to stillbirth advocacy, research and family support. She saw her grassroots organization quickly grow as more people came forward to talk about a topic that isn’t often discussed. “Our society as a whole is not very good at talking about death and when you talk about the death of a baby, it’s that much harder,” Wimmer says. “We have heard from women who had stillbirths 40 or 50 years ago, and they were told to have another baby and move on. Even if it is 40 years later, they still need to process this.”

The Star Legacy Foundation has grown to include a chapter in New York City as well as an executive board with members from eight other states.

Since the very beginnings of the foundation, part of the funds and mission have been dedicated to research and advocacy. In June, Minnesota became the fifth state in the nation to pass a bill providing a one-time tax credit for families of still-born babies. “Stillborn babies fall in a gap,” Wimmer says. “But yet we know those families incur the some of the same expenses, plus they have to pay for a funeral and burial or cremation fees.”

The Duffys have been open about their support of the bill and about their experience in general. “We’ve shared our story more than the average family,” says Chris, who also says the family talks about Reese with their son Rogan as well as their “rainbow baby” Rhett, who is 11 months old. “Talking about her all the time will help our sons grow up to be better people. It’s an open discussion and always will be.”

They also participate in the annual Let’s Not Be Still Walk/Run in Eden Prairie, which is in its fourth year. Part of the activities includes a ceremony to remember and celebrate the babies lost too soon. “To be surrounded by so many people was really comforting,” Amanda says.

Let’s Not Be Still Walk/Run
Kids Fun Run, 10K, 5K, 1 mile walk
8 a.m. September 24
Staring Lake Park, 14800 Pioneer Trail, Eden Prairie