Tough journey amid the grief

Helping parents cope with infants' deaths

November 01, 2006|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,special to the sun

Cathy Murray snuggled her beautiful, bright-eyed baby boy as her husband, John Murray, slowly stood to speak.

"I don't know why God took our baby," Murray said softly, referring to the couple's first child, John Jr., who died at birth in 2004. "You have to keep your faith in God."

His words were choked with emotion, the loss still difficult to express. But, on this autumn afternoon at YMCA Camp Letts in Edgewater, the hope the couple had nurtured since then was reflected in the joy they feel about their healthy new son, Jeremiah.

"Grief is a not a time to forget. It's a time to remember," said Anne Arundel Medical Center labor and delivery nurse Ann O'Sullivan. As coordinator of the hospital's Perinatal and Infant Loss program, she led Sunday's fourth annual "Forever in Our Hearts" service.

Every life has meaning, O'Sullivan said of the tiny lives lost before, during or after birth.

"The death of a baby changes everyone," she said to the more than 30 parents, family members and friends gathered. "During the long journey through grieving, a person has to look for a new normal."

The Perinatal and Infant Loss program helps begin that journey. It serves parents whose babies are lost after a gestation period of about 16 weeks through birth, and shortly beyond.

While the mothers are still in the hospital, the emblem of a butterfly, a symbol of hope, is placed on their room doors to indicate they have suffered this tragic loss. Parents and their families are given as much time as they wish to be with their babies and to have them baptized, if they desire. Parents also receive a memory box with mementos of the baby - a photo, its blanket, a lock of hair - to take home.

A miscarriage, infant loss and stillbirth support group meets once a month.

The gathering Sunday was filled the happy sounds of hope, the babble of babies just learning to stand and crawl. Older brothers and sisters, who understood the meaning of the event, looked at their parents with concern.

Karen Fedor and her husband, Jerry Moore of Cape St. Claire were attending their second memorial service organized by the Perinatal and Infant Loss program. They lost their first child, Gavin Adler Moore, June 11, 2004, when Fedor was 26 weeks pregnant.

"I did all the right things," she said, "but he still died."

The subsequent pregnancy was tough, she said. Last November, when Fedor went into labor with her daughter, she said, she felt that Gavin was looking out for her because O'Sullivan was available to oversee the normal labor and delivery. Sarah Anne Moore was born healthy.

"I was at the service in 2004 at Quiet Waters Park," Fedor said. "Emotions are so raw. Each day it gets a little better. (Attending the memorial service) really helped because you see so many others there. You realize, `Oh, there is life, and I can continue.'"

Fedor, who laughed as she tried to keep Sarah from crawling away during the service, feels "extremely blessed." She said she attended the remembrance service on Sunday and spoke to the group to share her optimism.

"I want to do something to help," she said. "[The memorial service] helped me so much, I want others to know that there is help out there. You don't have to go through the grief process alone; it is so powerful."

Arnold resident Laura Norton attended the service to remember her grandson, Chandler John Norton, who was stillborn in October 2001.

"It's a nice time to set aside time to think about him," she said.

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