Canadian influencer opens up about stillbirth: 'He's still my baby'

A 24-year-old Canadian influencer opened up to Yahoo Canada about her stillborn son and postpartum.

Karlee Steel and her partner went through stillbirth -- something she's now wants to break the stigma around. (Submitted)
Karlee Steel and her partner went through stillbirth -- something she's now wants to break the stigma around. (Submitted)

This article discusses topics and includes photos that may be sensitive to some readers.

Ultrasound photos, the handprints and footprints of baby Luca, and the blanket he was last wrapped in are all kept in a memory box that Karlee Steel says is too painful to open.

The 24-year-old Canadian influencer opened up to Yahoo Canada about experiencing a stillbirth just weeks ago.

"Postpartum after a stillbirth is different," Steel said.

"I'm still dealing with the hormones and the hair loss and the leaking.

"When you look at your body changing, you kind of have this valuable baby that makes you feel like it’s worth it... to smell their head, I get to see their smile, I get to like put them on my chest but when you don't have that — it just feels empty."

Steel, based in Windsor, Ont., was induced into labour in early May after an ultrasound detected her baby had no heartbeat.

On May 5, Steel shared her devastating experience to Instagram, wanting to break the stigma around stillbirth.

"This isn’t the way it was supposed to go," she penned.

"People say 'I’m sorry' instead of 'congratulations.' I’m up at night crying instead of my baby crying," Steel shared.

"All I ever wanted to ever be in life was be a mother... He’s still my baby. He’s still my first born."

She soon realized she wasn't alone.

"When I posted my Instagram post I got messages right away of people telling me similar stories," Steel told Yahoo.

"I think the stigma around (stillbirth) is no one thinks it's going to be them — until it is."

Social media influencer, Karlee Steel, holds baby Luca.
Social media influencer Karlee Steel holds baby Luca.

No 'safe zone' in pregnancy

Stillbirth is the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy but before the baby is born, explained HealthLink BC. It can happen during the pregnancy or during labour.

Stillbirth occurs in about 1 out of 200 pregnancies, the website added, and according to Statistics Canada, more than 3,000 stillbirths were reported in 2021.

"The moment that I got pregnant I was conflicted on if I should tell people right away, or if I should wait for the 12 weeks that is the 'safe zone,'" Steel recalled.

"Even a lot of my family members were saying 'oh, good, you're in the safe zone,' and I would always respond by saying... 'at no point in pregnancy is there a safe zone,'" she said.

At no point in pregnancy is there a safe zone.Karlee Steel, 24

In many cases, no one knows what causes stillbirth, HealthLink BC said. But often, a cause is found.

The health information service said that a stillbirth may be caused by a problem with the baby’s health, such as a birth defect, or a problem with the mother’s health, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or a blood-clotting problem.

A problem with the placenta, such as the placenta tearing away from the uterus too soon is also another potential cause.

Steel said what caused Luca's heart to stop is unknown, but he was born with a neural tube and heart defect.

"I don't want to make people afraid but I want to make people aware," Steel said.

Steel got to hold her baby after the stillbirth. (Submitted)
Steel got to hold her baby after the stillbirth. (Submitted)

Taking fertility issues seriously

The Canadian influencer now hopes women will start to pay more attention to their fertility, saying she knows so many who mask issues, like period pains with birth control.

"When they go and try and have a baby, these problems arise and they've had these problems their whole life, but the doctor just put them on birth control," Steel said. "I think being aware of your fertility status [is important]."

I am not going to stop trying.Karlee Steel

When she was first trying to get pregnant, Steel was diagnosed with endometriosis — a disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. It can cause severe pain in the pelvis and make it harder to get pregnant.

"When I realized I couldn't get pregnant it was really devastating because my dream was to become a mother... so not being able to, it's almost like your dreams and hopes are ripped away from you without your control," Steel admitted.

But with the help of modern-day medicine, she said she’s still planning to get pregnant again in the future.

"I am not going to stop trying to have a baby until I have a live rainbow baby on my chest crying. I will not stop until I bring a baby home," Steele said.

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