Thursday, community members will let their lights shine in honor of babies gone too soon.
Delivering Change and Konza Prairie Community Health Center invite people to Shine a Light on pregnancy and infant loss in honor of miscarriages, stillborn infants and all babies gone too soon by shining their porch lights or lighting candles Thursday night.
Executive Director of Delivering Change Jill Nelson said October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month as well as SIDS and stillbirth awareness month.
People who wish to take part are asked to leave their porch light on all night or light a candle Thursday night in support of families who have suffered such a loss or in memory of a baby who died too soon. Delivering Change has a page www.facebook.com/DeliveringChange on Facebook. People who take part in Shine a Light are welcome to snap a photo of their light, post it on Facebook and tag Delivering Change in the photo.
“I think it’s important, no matter when a loss occurred, that families know that it’s ok to remember,” Nelson said. “There was a time probably when people didn’t talk about infant loss and it seems like it’s becoming more normalized — just like a lot of other things — that it’s ok to talk, that it’s good to talk about those things and to remember those children and to say their names.”
She lost her son, Luke, to SIDS when he was only about seven months old. Nelson founded Luke’s Community Baby Shower, an awareness raising event that provides new and expectant parents with supplies and information to keep their infant safe and that takes place several times a year in Junction City. The community baby shower will take place starting at 10 a.m. this Saturday as a virtual event.
Despite all medical knowledge, miscarriages, stillbirths and SIDS deaths still happen.
“It is more common than maybe we talk about or we know,” Nelson said.
Geary County sees fewer stillbirths, these days, than the national average. The national average is six in every 1,000 live births, where Geary County’s average is slightly below that.
“Unfortunately sometimes it’s just something that happens and we don’t always know the ‘why,'” Nelson said. “It isn’t really something somebody did wrong. It’s just something that sometimes happens, unfortunately and we can’t really explain it."
Stillbirths are not as common as they once were, but many women still experience them.
Former Junction City Union Editor Maria Childs is one of them.
An Unexpected Loss
When Maria Childs and her husband, Corey, went to the hospital expecting the birth of their daughter, Taylor, they had no reason to suspect anything would go wrong. Childs’ pregnancy had been perfectly healthy — everything had happened according to schedule, right up to the moment of delivery. Taylor was stillborn.
To this day, she said, they don’t know what happened.
“I was just shy of 39 weeks when I had her … we went to the hospital expecting to have a perfectly healthy baby,” Childs said. "I was just in the doctor's office 48 hours before. And then, upon delivery, (we) found out that we lost her.”
Immediately, friends and family members joined the couple at the hospital as they heard the news, which she said "spread like wildfire."
“There are people who I don't even know how they found out,” Childs said. "But they still showed up. So we probably had, I would probably guess, 30 to 40 visitors in the hospital the day of and after that, we had people from our church who brought us meals, we had people who just came to sit with us at home.”
People offered to babysit their oldest daughter, Hailey, while they dealt with what had just happened.
As loved ones clustered around them, the couple grieved their unexpected loss.
The initial shock was difficult to handle.
The two opted to return to their own home rather than stay in the hospital overnight.
“We woke up in our own bed the next morning. So it kind of it kind of felt like a dream, almost — surreal and like it didn't really happen,” she said. "But then when you woke up the next morning, you realized it really did. And then you had to process it.”
The processing was half the battle.
She and her husband grieved differently, she said. “And then in our case, we had an 18-month-old daughter.”
Hailey was 18 months old at the time of Taylor’s death and she was cognizant something had happened. Her parents had been preparing her to be a big sister. This crash course in grief had not been on the menu.
"it was just a weird event for her at 18 months old, her brain around,” Childs said. "So we did a lot of talking through it."
The family found resources they hadn’t even known existed, including books for young children such as Hailey on how to deal with loss and how to process the grief going on around her.
"And I think that those books, in turn, helped us,” Childs said. “Helping her helped us."
Another resource was Junction City’s Delivering Change and Nelson, who Childs knew from her time in Junction City.
“Jill was one of the very first people who reached out to me following my social media post about our loss,” she said.
Shortly after Taylor’s death, Childs saw photos from Luke’s Community Baby Shower, which had happened the same day she lost her daughter. Childs and Nelson began communicating about what had happened.
Nelson would direct Childs to the Kansas Infant Death and SIDS Network, also known as the KIDS Network, which Nelson sits on the board for.
In the wake of their loss, Childs reached out for physical reminders of Taylor.
She received a weighted teddy bear weighing exactly seven pounds and 14 ounces — Taylor’s birthweight — with Taylor’s name inscribed on it. The bear, and another one like it named Sissy Bear, has helped Hailey cope as well.
"I think like it really helped her visualize that someone is missing from her life,” Childs said.
She created a memory box of items the hospital had prepared for her daughter, including clothes.
Grief, she said, is a lonely event because everyone copes differently, but it’s also a family affair.
The sorrow never goes away, though it changes over time. Taylor died in 2018 and to this day the family is still coping with her loss.
“It's something you carry with you for the rest of your parenting journey and for the rest of your own life,” Childs said.
The Childs have since had another daughter, Kaitlin, who just turned two months old. This most recent pregnancy was considered high-risk because of what happened to Taylor and the whole experience was fraught with concern right up until Childs was induced and gave birth to Kaitlin in August.
The pain is still there, but the load has lightened to some degree.
"I think each person copes with grief so drastically different that you have to get used to it,” Childs said. "And then the more you get used to it, the more your grief seems lighter."
Last year, Childs took part in Shine a Light. The family received a pink lightbulb from Delivering Change.
“I like events that showcase this — losses like this,” she said. “They give grieving parents a place to remember their child, even if they don't know the gender. I know I got some extra lightbulbs last year and gave them to some friends who had suffered miscarriages who weren't as open about them."
Childs strongly approves of such events, which she feels raise awareness for tragedies such as miscarriages and stillbirths, which many people think of something from a bygone era.
“After I lost Taylor, one of the things (people) said to me was, 'I didn't even know that happened anymore,’” she said. "I think that's a conception among the general public who don't have that happen to them ... I took for granted to having a perfectly healthy baby, before having my loss and realizing that people go through this more often than anyone really probably wants to admit."
Childs hopes people will listen, if and when someone who has suffered such a loss chooses to share their story and that people will learn from her experience.
"I share my story, because it was so shocking to us,” she said. “Nobody had ever said to me that I could walk out of the hospital with no baby. Nobody had ever put that thought in my head. And I mean, I don’t want to scare people. But I don't share my story to get sympathy. I share my story for general awareness, so that other people know that it can happen to you. And you're not exempt from it at all."