Columbus Woman Joins Effort to Raise Awareness of Stillbirth

Through her role as a Count the Kicks ambassador, Heather Johnston Welliver wants to educate and empower expectant parents.

Marlie Griffith
Heather Johnston Welliver

Columbus mother Heather Johnston Welliver has taken another step in her mission to raise awareness of stillbirth by joining Count the Kicks, a public health campaign that encourages pregnant women to monitor their baby’s movement by literally counting the kicks.

The initiative, from the nonprofit Healthy Birth Day Inc., offers a free app for mothers to record these counts and share them with their health care providers. Research shows that regularly tracking fetal movement during the third trimester is the best preventative measure against stillbirth, the organization says.

“I always tell moms, ‘You’re going to be advocating for that child for the rest of your life,’” says Welliver, one of four Ohio ambassadors for Count the Kicks. “‘You need to start during pregnancy.’” As an ambassador, Welliver works to raise awareness through webinars for expectant parents and maternal health care providers.

About 24,000 babies are stillborn in the U.S. each year, around 900 of them in Ohio. Count the Kicks started in Iowa, where the stillbirth rate was reduced by 32 percent in the first 10 years of the initiative, according to the organization.

Johnston Welliver knows the heartbreak firsthand: Her daughter Lydie was stillborn in 2014 due to an umbilical cord accident. Welliver says if she had been aware of the importance of tracking fetal movements, her baby’s death might have been prevented.

She and her husband, Justin, channeled their grief and organized Lydie’s Loop: Steps against Stillbirth, which has raised more than $100,000 since 2016 for stillbirth prevention efforts, including Count the Kicks.

Welliver’s favorite aspect of the event is that parents who have lost babies wear name tags in honor of their children. “When you lose a baby who dies before birth, very few people talk about that baby. Very few people end up saying Lydie’s name,” Welliver says. “That’s the one time of year I get to say, ‘I’m Lydie’s mom.’” Though her home and life are full with the love and support of her three other children, Welliver believes she will always feel Lydie’s absence.

The Wellivers decided to partner with Count the Kicks to support its work educating pregnant women. In addition to offering the app, Count the Kicks reaches 30 states, plus Washington, D.C., Canada and India, through seminars, brochures for health providers and other resources.

Learn more about Count the Kicks initiative at countthekicks.org. Connect with Lydie’s Loop at facebook.com/lydiesloop.

A shorter version of this story appears in “Parent Pulse” in the Spring 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.