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Owlet's mission is to empower parents to give care at home. Owlet Cares supports our overall mission through advocacy, charitable and research initiatives that support families and communities. We partner with nonprofits all over the world who share in our vision to reach every baby and every parent. We also stand with and support parents who have lost children.
In honor of Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, we are featuring a mom who comes to us through our foundation partner, No Foot Too Small which offers support for families through pregnancy and infant loss.
In her own words, Kirsten Radke shares the story of her daughter, Riley Louise Radke.
By: Kirsten Radke
I live on Bereaved Parents Boulevard. Okay, it’s V Ave. but it might as well be… I’ll get to that later though.
July 10th, 2020 my husband, Scott, myself, and a 24-week bump, all moved into our dream spread of five acres in Boone County, Iowa. It took pandemic prices and the turn of third trimester scaries for us to finally make the leap from our ‘for now home’ to our ‘forever’.
The months leading up to closing day were fit for the crazy that the rest of the world had also been navigating. The world had started grieving right at the point we were having our first glimpse of hope. Scott and I spent Valentine’s Day 2020 in an OB office learning about my newly discovered fibroid tumors. One as large as a grapefruit. After years of infertility, we were uncovering even more obstacles on the road to starting our own family.
We were given next-steps: medications, x-rays, acupuncture, and watchful waiting.
Less than a month later, in March of 2020, I was boarding an American Airlines flight. I was returning from a weekend hiking trip to Sedona with my two best friends. That short hiking trip had been a timely mental break from reality before our world was unknowingly about to change forever. In the terminal, we were surrounded by TVs booming about the first COVID-19 death in the US that had occurred while we were off-grid. The trip, while relaxing, had also left me with an unfortunate, but ridiculous story about how I accidently sat on a cactus. I suppose it was some natural, but prescribed, acupuncture.
Upon my return from that trip and in prep for an upcoming x-ray, I took a pregnancy test. Positive. A miracle. Two years, three tumors, and one cactus later. My first OB appointment was on day one of the ‘15 Days to Slow the Spread’. I spent six weeks living in this alternate reality that every single person around me was also thrust into. All while continuing to work as a physical therapist, growing a life, and sheltering three growing tumors.
Days passed. COVID grew, my tumors doubled in size, the pain intensified, and our daughter became more active.
I learned that masks were great at catching both germs and tears.
As my pregnancy advanced, I experienced difficulty accessing care and meeting with specialists secondary to COVID. Scott watched our first ultrasound from his F-150 in a parking garage via FaceTime. Routine check-ups were over the phone. Concerns about changes in fetal movement were deferred to appointments that were rescheduled ‘due to COVID’. Time continued to pass. One month after moving into our pandemic property, at the same time as our scheduled 28-week appt, Iowa was hit by a land hurricane. The derecho blew through all five of our acres on August 10th, 2020. One month to-the-day we closed on it. Three miles east of us, a town was flattened. There we were in the humid, summer heat, on the eve of my third trimester, without power for 4.5 days.
We spent our afternoons cleaning up our property, assessing damage, and calling in favors to family. Laundry piled up, food spoiled, and we sweat through miserable nights. AC waited for us at work, where we kept showing up to care for the people and places that were also overcoming complete devastation. Neighbors and strangers alike; missing roofs, income, and loved ones.
Headed into my 28-week appt, power was restored. We met with a new OB to talk about delivery options given the growth and size of my tumors. Before leaving, he routinely checked for a heartbeat. I restated, just as I had moments before, about the intense pain I had been having and the lack of movement…citing my tumors as the probable cause. The doppler produced no sound over my abdomen. Maybe the battery was low? He called for another new doppler. Nothing. My heart sank while Scott held on for both of us.
We were transferred into ultrasound. I still feel for that nurse. She had no idea what she was walking into. Seconds after placing the probe. There it was. Or wasn’t. Her heartbeat was gone and so was she. Our daughter, who had no name, was gone. Behind our masks, tears, and cries all I could mutter was, “I’m so sorry, Scott. I’m so sorry.” The nurse cried too. Then, for the first time, we were allowed to take off our soaked masks as Scott kept me from falling off the table.
Details from the OB on what the next steps entailed came fast and in between waves of shock. Our world had ended as we knew it. We were instructed to go home because I would be delivering that day. All I could think was, ‘Go home to collect what? I don’t have any of my postpartum supplies. I don’t even have clean clothes. I haven’t had power in almost 5 days. I don’t have food in my fridge. I literally just got the hole in my roof repaired. There’s still a broken window…’.
We made the hardest phone calls of our lives. Once admitted, induced, and riding waves of contractions, I left Scott to answer the seemingly impossible questions that staff had for us: Her name? The funeral home? Plot? Town? Cremation?
After 12 grueling hours. She was here.
Riley Louise Radke
27 weeks, 5 days
1 lb. 8.3 oz. 15 ¼” long
Riley Louise Radke’s earthly body entered this world.
Holding her, the only words I found again were “I’m so sorry.” I was left with a feeling of complete failure and despair. At 12:02, on August 15th, 2020, I simultaneously felt every piece of my heart fill and then break into pieces that no one would ever be able to repair.
A hurricane of the heart and land, in the heartland.
I watched as Scott met the human I had been carrying around for nearly 6 months. I’d felt the kicks, rolls, and flips he hadn’t. I had months. He had hours.
Riley stayed with us for two nights. In the passing time, rules were bent for the first time since the pandemic started; our parents were able to visit. A photographer was allowed entrance. Both Riley and the stillborn twins across the hall became a physical memory to more people than just us.
The gravity of grief weighed so heavily in the initial hours. The most debilitating being the first night I woke up without her. A night nurse caught my first midnight panic attack and asked if I wanted to hold her. I suppose there is purpose in that practice.
Left with three large tumors, milk coming in, and broken hearts, we made our way home. Scott held me through the recurring nightmares, severe anxiety attacks, and deafening moments of silence. We spent our days outside cleaning up from the derecho. A chainsaw and an ax all the sudden proved to be very therapeutic outlets. Destruction turned constructive to the crazy we had been climbing through.
Between social distancing and our only physical neighbors being about a mile in any direction, our property gave us somewhere to disappear to. A slice of refuge that lent a place to completely fall apart, yet a property that required our daily attention. Grass needed to be mowed, buildings needed fixed, and animals needed fed. Because animal hoarding was less frowned upon than outward grieving, we started covering our feelings in fur and amassed a greenhouse garden that should have fed most of the county. We welcomed two dogs, 19 chickens, and 7 kittens (and counting…).
It took weeks for me to tell our world about Riley and it took another four months for me to tell the neighbors I occasionally waved at when I was out pounding the grief into gravel roads.
It was the text from our neighbors on V Ave., Ann, that I still have saved in my phone. Her first born, Alexander Raymond was born 32 years prior and unable to breath on his own. And as she so simply put, “It’s still hard for us.”
I had waited four months to start living my life out loud and the worst that came of it was learning that I wasn’t alone.
Alexander taught me that. Ann taught me that.
It didn’t stop with Alexander though. In those four months I leaned into the people around me that were willing to share their stories. Their experiences helped me advocate for further bloodwork and specialty referrals. A long time patient of mine sharing her story of a rare autoimmune blood clotting disorder and her two stillborn babies, Taylor Marie and Kyle.
This, in turn, resulted in my own diagnosis with the same condition. Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome. We were both triple positive for all three markers. This woman’s outward sharing of both her medical history and her two children, saved my life. I went on to have five tumors removed in the fall with no blood complications. Because of her. Because of Taylor. Because of Kyle. I was alive and I owed it all to them.
The decades of life and grief between myself and these women isn’t lost on me. They’ve seen seasons of grief and never once compared theirs to mine. Their grief in this season showed me that all loss is loss but not all loss is the same. And that’s okay. Our grief is just that. Our own respective journeys that, if shared, might save the person a little further down the road.
In the past three years I’ve found community and a platform to share my grief in my own clinic, my friendships, and most importantly, the support of the No Foot Too Small family. We’ve celebrated Riley at events, spoken her story to the masses, found strength to survive a miscarriage, and welcomed our first living child that didn’t require a vet check or flea medications. Raymond Michael Radke found his way to us exactly 1.5 years to-the-day we delivered his sister.
Our grief, in my ways, became more challenging when navigating children in both the heavens and our hands. It became bigger, heavier. The weight of all we had lost was that much more real. Holding a baby in the physical form didn’t change the math. There was still loss, and with that loss a really heavy love.
We’ve found that the only way to keep processing is to keep remembering. And for us, that’s sharing. Living our loss out loud. The pause in our pandemic worlds afforded us the space we needed to grieve alone but it’s been in the sharing that our grief has shifted. 2020 showed us that both the wind and words can move things.
*The quotes, stories, and experiences included here are those of the individuals and are not representative of Owlet's views or claims about our product. Individuals were not paid and did not submit their information as part of any paid promotion by Owlet.