Aren't You Tired of Hearing the "F" Word?
By Richard K. Olsen, founder and Executive Director of The National Stillbirth Society

Recently I wrote to the March of Dimes with a question. "If your stated goal is to 'Save children, together' why are you not doing something about stillbirth?" To their credit they answered our e-mail, but we found their answer more disturbing than the question.

They referred us to their website and a page on it that explained stillbirth, or so they thought. I will spare you the ignominy of reading what they posted by not supplying the address. Go find it if you wish, but this opening sentence from that page underscores our belief that they haven't a clue… and have probably never spoken to a stillbirth parent.

"When parents hear the heartbreaking news that their fetus
has died, their grief can be overwhelming."

What we found 'overwhelming' was the insensitivity they demonstrated by the use of a medical term to explain a personal experience. We have heard of insensitive doctors before but never has one has told a woman her 'fetus' had died. The correct word is 'baby'. Obviously the March of Dimes page was written by someone who didn't understand the hurtful affect words could have. It would be roughly the equivalent to our referring to polio victims as 'cripples'.

"Have you picked a name for your fetus?"

"Are you having a fetus shower?"

"When is your fetus due?"

Absurd? Yes! But its only symptomatic of the larger problem and that is the general lack of understanding of stillbirth throughout our society. It is an ignorance to which I plead guilty too.

Before August 17, 2000 I had no idea that stillbirth was a possible outcome of pregnancy. Even when told that our baby had no heartbeat my first thought was, OK, she's still 'connected' - like an astronaut on a space walk - lets get her delivered and let the doctors do what they need to start her heart. It wasn't until our doctor said, "Richard, you're daughter is dead" that my toes turned cold. Even then I could not comprehend what I was hearing. "How is that possible", I thought. She hadn't even been born yet.

Camille is our only child. For my wife Sharon, then 39, and myself a hearty 60, Camille was a miracle. That we would never get to bring her home to the beautiful nursery we had so lovingly prepared was unbearable. But I like to look at the bright side of things. At least at my age no one said to me, "You're young, you can have another." Instead they asked, "Are you going to try to have another?" With heavy emphasis on the word 'try'.

We are fortunate to live in Phoenix, not far from Joanne Cacciatore and the MISS family. She came to our rescue and got us through those awful first days that turned into awful first weeks. As months passed and the raw wound to my soul scabbed over I looked for a way to help others. I searched the Internet trying to find the stillbirth equivalent of the SIDS Alliance. Discovering that none existed I founded The National Stillbirth Society.

Unlike support groups, whose primary focus is comforting the bereaved, the National Stillbirth Society seeks to 'educate and agitate' both public and private sectors about the desperate need for stillbirth research and reform. It's shameful that almost two-thirds of mothers can't be told why their babies died. In the absence of causality they tend to blame themselves, even though there is practically nothing a mother can do to cause her own stillbirth. There's no such thing as an unexplained stillbirth, there are just unexplored stillbirths.

In 1994 Joanne Cacciatore applied for a birth certificate for her daughter Cheyenne who had been stillborn at full term. She was told she couldn't get one because she hadn't given birth, she had merely had a "fetus". There is that dreaded "F" word again. How did an 8 pound 21 inch baby girl with 10 fingers and 10 toes and a turned up nose become a fetus?

Further down on the same March of Dimes webpage the words "baby" and "fetus" are used in the same sentence, in a way that makes it sound as though they are two different entities. That sentence states that the mother knows something is wrong with her baby …."if the fetus stops kicking and moving around".

How are we ever going to raise awareness of stillbirth if we do not challenge indiscriminate use of the "F" word to refer to our lost babies? When our daughter Camille died my wife didn't lose a 'fetus'. We lost our future as we dreamed it would be. And I got a new mission in life, one that will last me the rest of my life. And every time I hear someone use the "F" word to describe one of the 26,000 babies lost to stillbirth each year I stop and explain to the speaker - or writer - why that word is so offensive to stillbirth parents. It trivializes our loss, and is a factor in preventing a true dialogue from taking place on the need for medical research. Hey, it was only a "fetus".

It is as wrong to say 'fetus' as it is to say 'cripple' or 'kike' or 'dago' or 'nigger' or 'spic'. They are all derisive words that fall hard on the ears of those they refer to. Please consider yourself a soldier in the war on ignorance and help us to change the way we think about stillbirth in society. The place to start is by explaining to people that you lost a baby, not a 'fetus' and help them to understand why using the term 'fetus' - except in a medical context - is always wrong.


Author Biography
Richard Olsen is a stillbirth father married to Sharon Arnold, mother of Camille Rayana Olsen, stillborn on August 17, 2000 at full term. Their memorial website is at Richard is the founder and Executive Director of both The National Stillbirth Society and The Missing Angel Foundation. He lives and works in Phoenix Arizona as a real estate developer. His e-mail address is

National Stillbirth Society
Post Office Box 10273, Phoenix, AZ 85064
Tel: 1-800-611-SADS

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