Learning from Loss: Reflections from a First-Time Attendee at the AMCHP Conference
September 2022

By Elizabeth O’Donnell, Founder of Aaliyah in Action

This was Aaliyah in Action’s first year attending the AMCHP Annual Conference. The conference theme, “Reflecting on our Past, Shaping our Future,” highly resonated with me, as a mother who experienced loss and is trying to figure out how to shape the future of my daughter’s legacy.

Aaliyah in Action provides women, birthing people, and families with self-care packages after they experience perinatal, neonatal, or infant death. Our organization partners with hospitals who distribute our packages and books to families as tangible bereavement support after loss. I started this organization after my daughter, Aaliyah, was born still at around 32 weeks gestation. As a former teacher turned-nonprofit founder, I have a lot to learn about the maternal-infant health space. Attending conferences, such as the 2022 AMCHP Annual Conference, has afforded me an opportunity to learn about current efforts to support families who have experienced stillbirth loss and what the maternal-infant health field needs to do to prevent loss from happening in the first place.

I believe that shaping a future with better maternal and infant health outcomes will require the field to make continual progress so that perinatal losses stop occurring at the rate that they do. To shape a better future, we need to focus on lowering the number of preventable stillbirths in our country. Did you know that in the United States 23,000 stillbirths occur each year? I didn’t know that. Not until my daughter, Aaliyah, became one of the 23,000. I was healthy, and my pregnancy was considered to be low risk.

Some people in our country are so fixated on the idea of taking away the choice of a woman to bring a life into this world. Yet our health care system is not yet able to even ensure the safe and healthy arrival of babies carried to term for the babies already so deeply loved by their families.

AMCHP conference presentations, such as Count the Kicks: How to Bring This Successful Stillbirth Prevention Program to Your State, are excellent educational resources for health care providers in the maternal-infant health space. Baby Save stories demonstrate how Count the Kicks can be used to identify various perinatal problems and ultimately lower the number of preventable stillbirths. I highly suggest that all individuals who care about saving the lives of babies watch this presentation.

Attending the AMCHP conference also gave me an opportunity to continue my education in the maternal mental health space. Mental health is so closely tied to the work Aaliyah in Action does in providing tangible bereavement support. The session entitled Cherished Futures for Black Moms and Babies allowed me to learn how to become a better ally to Black mothers. The conference also provided my organization with an effective way to network.

As a new organization growing much more quickly than I ever could have anticipated, these networking opportunities are golden. We’re all in this space for a reason. Connecting, discussing, and asking each other questions will strengthen the broader maternal and child health space and create a more inclusive and equitable society. We are all powerful on our own but so much more powerful through collaboration. AMCHP provided an avenue for collaboration in this 2022 conference.

Thank you to AMCHP for extending Aaliyah in Action the opportunity to attend the conference as a community-based organization. I look forward to continuing to network with AMCHP and supporting families in the process.