Winfield woman has experienced tragedy, celebration in 5-year motherhood journey

May 11—Autumn Swartzlander's journey of motherhood has been one of both tragedy and celebration within the past five years.

The Winfield woman and her husband Kyle lost their first unborn child in 2019 at 29 weeks. After having a rainbow baby — a healthy child born after a miscarriage or stillbirth — in 2020, the couple used fertility treatments and are expecting another child.

"I have that nurturing part of me," said Autumn, 30, a labor and delivery nurse at The Family Place Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg for the past three years. "That went with wanting to be a nurse. I've always liked kids. I wanted a family of my own."

Kyle, 31, and Autumn have been together for 12 years. They were married in August 2017. Autumn was working for six years in medical-surgical nursing at Evangelical when they got pregnant with a girl in 2019.

They named her Raelynn Jade and prepared the nursery for her. A day after the baby shower, Autumn said she no longer felt pressure on her bladder and had a gut instinct that something wasn't right.

During the evaluation, Raelynn didn't have a heartbeat, Autumn said.

"There really aren't any set answers," she said. "There was no reasoning for why what happened happened. I'm told that's better, to not have an answer. My chances of it happening again are lower, but my odds are still higher than someone who never had a stillborn baby."

Autumn said she felt "emptiness and a craving" after losing Raelynn.

"I immediately knew I needed to be pregnant again," she said. "I know some women struggled with that. I'm in a lot of loss groups, that seems to be a common theme. You just have this desire: 'I'm supposed to be a mom, I am a mom, but I don't have a living being to be a mom to.'"

'A fighter'

Autumn and Kyle were soon pregnant with Hayven. This pregnancy came with its own complications.

"Hayven has been a fighter since the beginning," Autumn said.

During labor in September 2020, Hayven needed to be resuscitated and flown by helicopter to Geisinger. Due to shoulder dystocia, Hayven had internal bleeding, which needed a transfusion of blood, platelets and plasma within the first 24 hours of her life. Her liver wasn't making red blood cells like it was supposed to.

"We actually thought we were going to lose her, too," Autumn said.

Hayven spent nine days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Autumn said she is not a religious person, but she prayed to God to not take another child from her.

"That next morning, her labs came in and her enzymes were down by half, which is amazing," Autumn said. "The NICU nurses said even then she was feisty."

After leaving the hospital, Hayven needed physical therapy for nine months to stimulate her arms. Hayven will be 4 in September and is a "funny and spunky" girl who loves Taylor Swift, Autumn said.

"It is a struggle knowing I can be happy with my daughter, but it can be bittersweet," Autumn said. "I should have two, now we should have three. There are times, this year, Raelynn would be five, and we'd be talking about kindergarten. Some of the bigger holidays are still kind of hard."

Fertility treatments

After Hayven, the couple wanted another baby. After a year of trying, Autumn was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and Hashimoto's thyroid disease, which was preventing her from ovulating.

They decided to use fertility treatment, which took another full year before they found out they were pregnant.

"I had a lot of anxiety in the beginning with my past, a lot of PTSD," Autumn said. "Thankfully, I have a really good support system in my co-workers and my family. Things are getting better now, but I am coming up on the date I had my loss. I'm 27 weeks, and I lost my baby at 29. It's getting rough at this point."

Memory honored

Raelynn's memory is honored frequently in the Swartzlander home. They have a Molly Bear, which is a stuffed animal that matches a baby's weight at birth. They constructed a memory garden, planted a weeping willow in Raelynn's memory and placed a memory pillar carved with her name. They plant new flowers every Mother's Day. They also participate in an annual remembrance walk at Evangelical for local families who have experienced the loss of a child.

Autumn's family also paid for a plaque in honor of Raelynn's death on the Tree of Life in the Family Place. Donations to the Tree of Life help support the Family Place.

Autumn also changed her career, inspired by Aimee Noviello, a labor and delivery nurse for 14 years.

"I had a nurse who took care of me that went through this as well," Autumn said. "She made me feel human. I felt broken. Aimee gave me care that I never could have imagined. She made me realize everything I'm feeling is OK. I literally left this hospital and thought this is what I'm meant to do now, to carry her legacy on and take care of other families who go through this. In her honor, I became a labor and delivery nurse."

Gentleness shared

Noviello's gentleness meant a lot to Autumn. She makes sure to use the same gentleness for parents who experience losses in the Family Place.

"I remember her sitting on my bed, holding my hand," she said. "I try to do that with my patients now. I want them to know, 'I'm here for you. Anything you need, I'm here for you. You're going to survive this. It's not going to feel like it, but you're going to.' I remember her saying those words to me."

Noviello said she had five pregnancies that included one stillbirth.

"I know what I felt when I found out my baby died," Noviello said. "I was unfiltered and raw with Autumn. No one tells you the answers to the questions you're not ready to ask."

Noviello trained Autumn and they got to know each other over the last few years.

"I'm old enough to be her mom, but we're close," Noviello said.