Article derived from The Spectrum
Many parents savor dressing their newborn babies for the first time in the hospital — slowly and carefully maneuvering tiny arms into tiny arm holes, gently touching their fingertips on their baby’s soft nose, and beaming when their child gives a small smirk when tickled on the toes.
But, for some parents, the baby doesn’t respond to the gentle toe tickles. For some, they still slip socks on their baby and call him or her by a name. They still wrap them and hold them for a period of time, but rather than leaving the hospital with their newborn in tow, the parents instead leave with an empty car seat and mortuary pamphlet.
They still press the baby’s hands and feet into clay, but, instead of hanging the molded keepsake on the Christmas tree, it lives safely inside a nightstand or shadow box — always easily accessible for parents to gaze at or run their hands over before leaving for work each morning.
St. George native Amber Beckstead would have had a 5-year-old this month, had her daughter, Spencer, survived childbirth.
"I remember looking down and just thinking, 'please cry, just please cry,'" Beckstead said.
But the hospital room was quiet.
"She was lifeless but so beautiful," she said. "It was the last time I saw my baby girl. She never came back. I never got to see her eyes or her little smile. Instead of leaving the hospital with a baby girl, we left with a box. A box filled with Spencer’s hand and foot molds, her blanket and her teddy bear."
It isn’t a unique story. Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month is October, and it recognizes the more than 1 million babies who are lost each year in the United States.
Some parents don’t see their children at all. St. George resident Madi Richardson had a missed miscarriage in 2013, and she received a dilation and curettage procedure to have the fetus removed after a 10-week ultrasound revealed a heart that wasn’t beating.
"I started sobbing, and one of the nurses held my hand and just let me cry," Richardson said. "The next thing I remember is waking up and asking if my baby was gone."
Richardson said it’s the hardest thing she’s ever faced in life, and her identity changed the moment she knew she was pregnant.
"I had known people who had miscarried before, but I never thought it was a big deal because you didn’t know or get to hold this baby, so how could it be so hard?" Richardson said.
Christie Fisher, Share Families of Southern Utah coordinator, said it does the baby and the mother "a very big injustice" to dismiss a lost child, through both miscarriage and infant death.
While Fisher said it’s hard for others to understand the pain grieving families experience, it’s important for people recognize a mother’s instinct is to protect the memory of her baby once he or she has died.
"They did matter," Fisher said. "They did exist, and we want to remember them."
Kristi Shaw, family care coordinator of Dixie Regional Medical Center’s Women’s and Children’s Services, provides grief counseling for families experiencing a loss. She said most people think of her job as a difficult undertaking, when, in reality, she said it’s a position she holds sacred.
DRMC’s program is called the Angel Watch Program, and Shaw said its mission is to help parents feel like they aren’t alone in their loss.
"A parent will never get over this kind of loss," Shaw said. "You define a new normal. You learn to move forward and keep that child who you lost with your family forever."
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Supporting parents who have "angel children" is vital, Peterson said, because it helps them regain the ability to speak their names without feeling uncomfortable.
"We want to talk about our babies because of our love for them and how a piece of our hearts live in another realm that the human brain can’t describe or comprehend, but our love can," Peterson said.
Several resources are available for Southern Utah families. The Southwest Angel Moms meet every second Thursday of each month in the Sky View conference room at DRMC’s 400 East campus from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Mothers who have had any pregnancy or infant loss can participate for free.
In addition to DRMC’s services in St. George, Cedar City’s Share Families of Southern Utah supports women and their family members who have had any kind of pregnancy or infant loss by “going anywhere they’re called,” like the Cedar City, Beaver or Panguitch hospitals.
Through community donations, SFSU provides families with blankets, clothing, pictures, burial information, and any other type of support. SFSU works with several photographers who will take birth photos for the families who have experienced a loss in the hospital.
Additionally, Fisher said perhaps the most valuable resource it offers mothers and families is its Facebook page.
"We have a great community there for anyone who’s needing help," Fisher said. "We are a group of moms who like to be involved and want to help."
Although SFSU works tirelessly throughout the year, it will host and participate in the annual "Wave of Light" event Saturday for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. At the event, patrons will light a candle at 7 p.m. sharp and is designed to create a literal wave of light across the country in honor of those who have experienced infant loss.
Additionally, the Angel Watch Support group will also hold a candlelight vigil Saturday at 7 p.m. at Washington’s Nisson Park on Telegraph Street.
Shaw said the biggest fear the majority of parents and families have is that their babies will be forgotten, and the most important thing anyone can do it talk about the loss.
"They want and need to talk about their child," Shaw said. "People are scared to bring up the loss out of fear or hurting or making the parents sad and upset, but, the reality is, when we don’t validate that loss, it enhances the pain."
Individuals who want to get involved with SFSU can email Fisher at email@example.com. To get involved with the Angel Watch Support group in St. George, email Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435-688-4426. The state pregnancy and infant loss 24-hour telephone support line is 801-544-1159.