'There is zero shame in pregnancy loss,’ Jill Knox Powell on healing after a heartbreaking stillbirth

·5-min read

Last July, Jill Knox Powell and her husband Keith Powell, both actors (he formerly of 30 Rock), welcomed their son, Satcher. Now he and his big sister Dolyn, born in 2019, are the two rainbow babies that Knox Powell prayed for after experiencing a stillbirth with her first child, Greyson.

Jill Knox Powell
Jill Knox Powell with son Satcher and Keith Powell with daughter Dolyn (Photo courtesy of Jill Knox Powell)

“I have worries about what Greyson's existence will do to their lives, how they will feel, you know,” Knox Powell tells Yahoo Life. “I've spoken to a lot of adults who are rainbow babies after stillbirth, and they all express that it was definitely a factor in their existence.”

The road to fertility was a winding one for Knox Powell. At 31, an obstetrician gave her the all-clear, informing her that she had the fertility of a 20-year-old. Her husband's fertility tests also came back with positive results but still, conceiving a child didn't come easily.

“We were set, we were ready to go. They said you'll be pregnant in six months. Six months came and went... a year came and went,” says Knox Powell.

The couple tried for five years before opting to use IVF. The process resulted in several healthy embryos, and they got pregnant on the first attempt. “I was completely beside myself. I wanted to be a mom ever since I was little. I've always known that I wanted to be a mom,” says Knox Powell.

Jill Knox Powell
Jill Knox Powell, with husband Keith, pregnant with baby Greyson. (Photo courtesy of Jill Knox Powell)

Other than regular bouts of morning sickness, Knox Powell had a healthy and fairly uneventful pregnancy with Greyson. At the age of 36, she was considered a geriatric pregnancy, so she visited with specialists and did growth scans. At 39 weeks and three days, Knox Powell went to the doctor for her last appointment before Greyson’s due date. She heard his heartbeat at the appointment, but by the next day, she noticed that the baby had stopped moving.

“I called my obstetrician, I told him what I was experiencing, and he said, ‘Oh, you're so close to the end. He's probably sliding into position,’” remembers Knox Powell.

She was instructed to drink something with caffeine, lie on her side and wait for the baby to move. “So I did that and I think he moved, I told myself he moved. I wanted so badly to believe that he was still active. It could have been Braxton Hicks or it could have been gas...I don't know,” says Knox Powell. “So I didn't go to the hospital, which for a long time was a big regret that I've worked really hard to not blame myself for.”

That evening, the couple went to see the movie Black Panther in the theater. After they got home, Powell sensed something was wrong. “We went to the hospital in the middle of the night and they did a scan and an ultrasound, and they said they couldn't detect a heartbeat,” says Knox Powell.

According to the CDC, 1 in 160 pregnancies, or 24,000 babies, are stillborn in the U.S. every year. There’s no way to predict the outcome, but common causes of stillbirth can include issues with the placenta or umbilical cord, high blood pressure, or infections.

“My placenta wasn't producing enough red blood cells to oxygenate him. My placenta just couldn't oxygenate him, so he suffocated,” says Knox Powell. "I thought maybe having a reason would make me feel better, but it didn't. But it definitely took away some of the blame, some of the self blame.”

As Jill and Keith grieved the loss of Greyson, they turned to each other for healing.

“I have the best husband in the world,” she says. And I'm so grateful to him because I don't think I would've made it.”

The couple also found support in family, friends and a new community of people who understood the pain they were feeling. After losing Greyson in February 2018, they were contacted by the Star Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing pregnancy loss and improving care for families.

“Sharing often was very helpful for me, because burying a child is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy,” says Knox Powell. “It's a wonderful community of women that I've found, that have found me, I should say.”

Jill and Keith made the decision to try for another baby, and in March 2019 they welcomed their daughter Dolyn. “I just couldn't believe it. So many years had passed and we tried so hard and I finally got to be a mom,” says Knox Powell.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss awareness month, which also sheds light on the 1 in 4 women who will experience a miscarriage. Throughout her three pregnancies, Knox Powell says she’s learned a lot. She doesn’t blame her obstetrician, who delivered Dolyn and Satcher, for what happened with Greyson. She does, however, encourage women to advocate for themselves, especially Black women who experience infant mortality at rates 2.3 times higher than white women.

"I've seen lots of specialists. I've gone to many different facilities for various forms of pregnancy care, and I have been dismissed without a thought because I expressed fear or emotion,” says Knox Powell. "I've realized that in order to get care and be respected, I have to stay level-headed. I have to be very clear with what I need. I need to be very clear about the questions that I'm asking, and I need to stay in the room until I'm satisfied.”

At home, Jill and Keith take joy in the little moments with their children. There are diaper changes, toddler adventures and lots of cuddles and kisses. As Dolyn and Satcher grow, Knox Powell wants to make sure that they know their brother and how much he was loved.

"We have a tree we planted a tree for him at our house and Dolyn and I paint rocks for Greyson's tree every once in a while," says Knox Powell. "They know that he's a part of our lives, their lives."

— Video produced by Stacy Jackman

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