INDIANAPOLIS — Pictures of a glowing Ali Schaffer are some of the better memories during pregnancy with her daughter, Auzlyn Merry Sky.

“She’s still a huge part of our family,” said Schaffer.

Schaffer lost her daughter to stillbirth in 2020.

An experienced birth worker herself, Schaffer has helped numerous women navigate their own journey to motherhood. However, she says tragic outcomes, like her own, are not often talked about.

“The topic of death and birth is so taboo, that we don’t talk about it enough,” she said. “People are so afraid that it could happen, that they don’t prepare.”

In Indiana, about 502 stillbirths happen every year. Black women, experts say, are often two times more likely to experience it than white women.

“There’s so many health disparities that Black women and minority women face when it comes to stillbirths, maternal deaths, infant deaths,” said Lauren Lancaster, Indiana Minority Health Coalition. “We have a mission to set out and to educate the community, and work alongside community, to help get those numbers down.”

IMHC and Anthem are teaming up with Count The Kicks. The nationwide campaign, which got its start in Iowa, was started in hopes of combating stillbirth rates.

Since its inception in 2008, organizers say it’s helped decrease stillbirths by 32% in Iowa.

“We want to bring that same success to Indiana,” said Megan Aucutt, program director. “We have the potential to save 161 babies from preventable stillbirth in Indiana.”

Through the Count The Kicks app, mothers, in their third trimester, can track and compare the consistency of their baby’s fetal movements.

In some cases, Aucutt says a baby’s movements may be the only indicator that something is wrong.

So how does it work? Aucutt recommends mothers start using the app at 28 weeks, 26 if you’re considered high-risk.

“You pick a time where baby is most active, preferably around the same time every day,” she said. “As soon as you feel baby move, you’re going to tap a little footprint, and you do that until you get to 10 movements.”

The app also provides downloadable graphs of the baby’s progress, which parents can share with their provider. Organizers say it allows parents to empower and advocate for themselves if they feel something isn’t right.

“When expectant parents understand what’s normal for their baby, in terms of movements, then they can speak up to their provider with data in their hands saying ‘I know what my baby’s normal is, or this is not my baby’s normal, and I need to speak up and see what’s going on,'” she said.

While there are many reasons why stillbirths can happen, experts say a common issue is mothers feeling unheard or ignored by providers.

“That is where this ‘Count The Kicks’ app really can help with that,” said Lori Riester, Anthem. “They can actually say ‘I feel like something is not right and here is proof’. So they feel a little  bit more empowered to go in, and talk to their provider about something that they feel might be going on with their pregnancy.”

“I’ve heard a lot of stories from moms, who went to the hospital with concerns, and were turned away, or were telling their doctor what they were feeling or experiencing, and their concerns were kind of pushed away,” said Schaffer. “That needs to stop. Absolutely, we need to be listening, and hearing, what our moms are saying.”

Experts say collaboration, like what’s happening with Count The Kicks, is a step toward helping bridge the many gaps in maternal and infant care.

For Schaffer, who has been serving women throughout their birth journeys for several years, she’s hopeful to see even more collaboration between different sectors of the birthing industry, like midwives and doctors, to help offer more options to women.

“There’s so much value that both of them bring, that if we could get that type of collaboration on board, we would definitely see a drastic decrease in maternal and fetal death,” Schaffer said.