Embracing the Gift of Time: Micah’s Story

micah feet

 

Over the last couple months we’ve had the honor of walking with the Wilhelm family as they waited to meet their son, Micah. I will let Micah’s mother, Jenna, share the details of their story below. But I wanted to share a bit from my own heart about our time with this beautiful family.

Besides the beauty of this couple, inside and out, I was struck by the love and support they exemplify with one another and their family. The faith and love they share is so evident in the way they’ve walked this journey. We had the pleasure of several conversations over the last couple months as Jenna and Nate planned the birth of Micah and the time they would spend with him.

 

Nate and Jenna

During Micah’s delivery shortly after we arrived at the hospital,  I waited with his grandparents as SGM Remembrance Photographer, Brittany, took pictures of his welcoming and baptism. Jenna had handed me a bag of items that their family and friends had gifted them as they waited to meet Micah. She wanted pictures taken with Micah and each of the items. As we talked and waited in the hallway, I took out some of the contents and asked about the story behind them. The first thing was a teddy bear, given by Jenna’s father. He said it was a tradition in his family that the grandfather give a teddy bear to his grandchild, a tradition he wanted to continue. It touched my heart, the meaning behind the bear that would be given to sweet Micah…and the meaning behind the other gifts as well. There was book from grandma, a cross from the other grandma, and several other special mementos from aunts and others. There was also a tiny Indian toy that had been one of Daddy Nate’s favorites as a young boy according to his mother. The toy came with the movie, Indian in the Cupboard, that Nate used to watch as a child. The tiny Indian would be placed with Micah in one of his pictures.

The bag represented the dreams they had for Micah, and it was an opportunity to celebrate him in the ways that a first child and grandchild should be celebrated. It was an honor to meet Micah, to help his family celebrate his life, to stand with them on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth…and to capture a lifetime of love and memories that will be forever cherished by those who loved him. The Wilhelm family is such a wonderful example of embracing the gift of time they were given with their child. I’m so grateful for the love shared within his beautiful family.  ~ Kelly, SGM Support Companion/Doula

wilhelm family

The following was posted from Jenna a week after Micah’s birth.

Jenna:
“This is an update regarding our family and what we have been experiencing the past few months. A week ago today, we welcomed a beautiful baby boy named Micah Andrew. He was born via c section at 37 and half weeks old. It is with sadness today that we buried him. Although we only had a short time with him (as he only lived a couple of hours), we loved and embraced every minute of it. He was a miracle child in every sense of the phrase.

At 13 weeks we were told at a specialist appointment (which we had gone for something else, a treatable issue) that his chest cavity did not develop and that his organs were forming outside of his body. We received support from the doctors and were told this was random and was not caused by anything we did. We were told that it was very rare (~1-20-30,000). We were also told to terminate the pregnancy as it would not result in anything but pain, heartache, and ultimately his death (not to mention a probable c section delivery). We were told there was pretty much no chance he’d make it full term due to the severity of this fatal diagnosis.
When we chose to continue with the pregnancy, we were given love and support by our families and the doctors, which we will forever be grateful. Despite all odds against him, Micah kept growing.

To say this was/is the most difficult thing Nate and I have been through is an understatement, but we also say with complete confidence that we were able to experience moments of pure joy. God’s hand was in this the entire time, allowing us to feel Micah kick/move often, develop a personality/respond to our voices, and allowing us to love and celebrate this baby as he should be. Carrying a child, was incredible, and unfortunately it is a blessing some families do not get to experience. For that we are grateful. Micah made it to full term, was delivered safely, and baptized. We were able to spend time holding him and loving him. Grandparents were able to meet him as well. Through God’s mercy, Micah was at such peace, we were unable to tell exactly when he passed.

This post was meant to accomplish many things. First and foremost, Nate and I ask out of respect that this does not turn into a pro-life vs pro-choice argument board out of respect for our son and family as this is not the intent of this post. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone (friends, families, churches) for the continued love, prayers, support, gifts/cards etc…It truly has shown what wonderful people we have in our lives. We’d like to thank the doctors for their wisdom, skills, and support/love with this pregnancy. We could not have asked for a better medical team and experience given the circumstances of this pregnancy. We would like to thank Kelly Gerken and Sufficient Grace Ministries for their support. This is truly a wonderful and selfless organization. Nate and I encourage anyone given a difficult circumstance with pregnancy to contact Kelly. They provided many items we are able to keep in memory of Micah, supported us at the hospital, took pictures of our beautiful baby, and countless other things. If you are looking for a great cause to donate to, again please consider this organization, as unfortunately Nate and I have found that many families have dealt with similar situations (many more than we initially realized).

DSC_1402

 

And last but definitely not least, we thank God and our Savior Jesus Christ for his mercy through these past few months, allowing our boy to beat odds so we couldDSC_1364 meet him, and giving Nate and I strength when we did not have it. Micah means “Who is like God?” and our answer to this is absolutely no one. He is all powerful, merciful, all-knowing, faithful…he is EVERYTHING. We were blessed to see all aspects of life… from the beginning to the end, and it is because of Jesus we are confident we will see and hold him again.

Please feel free to like/share this post, as encouragement for those who have been or will be given difficult situations with their pregnancies. Let this serve as encouragement if you are able to/choose to continue with those pregnancies…that although it will be difficult, there are opportunities for joy and happiness to come from it.
Thank you again- love Jenna and Nate”

micah-1

For more information about the perinatal hospice services offered by Sufficient Grace Ministries, please click here.

Under that link, you will also find information about birth planning, memorial planning, and other resources if you are carrying a baby with a life-limiting diagnosis. You can also request Dreams of You memory-making resources here.

*Thank you to Brittany Yankowski (SGM Remembrance Photographer) for taking these beautiful images of the Wilhelm Family.

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day Two: Heaven

I love to think of what my loved ones may be doing in heaven. The hope of heaven is what makes living amidst the brokenness of earth bearable. We have that hope because Jesus came for us…and we celebrate the gift that He came each Christmas. No matter the broken. No matter the pain.
He came, bringing promise of no more tears.
A promise to make all things new.
A promise of beauty for ashes.
A promise in Isaiah 61 to comfort those who mourn.
He came bringing a thrill of hope.
And, one day…all that lays in ruins will be rebuilt…
Because He came.

DSC_3017

DSC_3018

Today’s giveaway considers the thought that our loved ones are looking down from heaven. I always think they get to see the good stuff from heaven, and the bible speaks of them cheering us on. I think my mother is especially near at Christmas-time. She loved to decorate and give gifts, spreading the beauty created from her heart and hands wherever she went. I’m sure she is soaking in joyous moments with her grandbabies, and her father. Faith and Grace surely have the prettiest Christmas dresses. They are perpetually 5-8 in my mind (even though they would now be 20 years old)…with long flowing chestnut waves and sparkling brown eyes. Thomas is wearing a light blue Christmas suit, age 3-4 in my mama-heart (18 in earthly years), wisdom gleaming in the eyes that mirror his father and brothers. I remember my other grandparents and wonder how they spend their days in eternity as well. Some sweet day, we will be reunited again.

To enter today’s giveaway, please comment on this post, sharing what you believe your loved one is doing in heaven.

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day One: Ornaments

Welcome to the week of Christmas Giveaways known as the SGM Christmas Extravaganza! So many are missing someone this Christmas. We like to help offer a bit of comfort and joy during this season of missing. Today, you can enter to win a memorial ornament. Just leave a memory of how you feel your Christmas tree tells your family story and/or a memory of your loved one in the comments to enter as well as which ornament(s) you are entering for.

1. 20161205_082441 (1)

2. 20161205_082536

3. 20161205_082509

4. 20161205_082343

The Sacrifice of Servanthood

amanda singing

As I prepare for an upcoming SGM Perinatal Loss Support Training in Nebraska, I’ve been mulling over how to convey the heart of servanthood. How can one explain the incredible beauty of sacrificing yourself for someone else, laying down your own needs to look after aching soul? How can I describe the hearts of the volunteers who enter to stand on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth to walk with a family as they say hello and goodbye to their precious baby? Women who hold a mother’s hands in the wee hours of the morning as she looks into your eyes with the anguish of “why” when there is no earthly answer to her agonizing question.

Last night, while most people were sleeping, SGM volunteers did what only could be described as a Cuddle Cot Tag Team Relay to get our Cuddle Cot back to NW Ohio from the Cleveland/Akron area to serve a family in need. We are currently sharing one for all of our Ohio branches. (For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it is a piece of medical grade equipment that enables parents to spent more time with their baby who has passed away.) Four drivers, including a spouse and child of one of our NE Ohio Regional Coordinators drove in the middle of the night…each taking a leg of the journey to pass the equipment on to the next…to get the CC to the parents in need, who were over 3 hours away, as another SGM volunteer supported the family and captured images of their time with their baby.

I have no adequate words to describe the type of valor displayed amidst a different kind of battlefield of brokenness. One that’s hard to grasp for those who have not stood in that place. All I know, is the women and men…the families…who serve together on this mission field are the very definition of servanthood. In all their imperfect, grace oozing through the cracks, hands and feet of Jesus as His love pours through them…glory. They are kind of gladiators who not only serve alongside you, they lift you up when you’re too tired to keep going…one on each side…pulling you along…saying…”I’ve got you” with every teary cry lifted toward heaven.

(Last night one of them quite literally found me exhausted and sleeping in the church parking lot where we agreed to meet for me to drive my leg of the CC journey…and said, “Get in my car. I’m driving you.”)

If you see any of them…of us…and we are scattered and distracted, disheveled and forgetful, tender and emotional, if we never call anymore…please know there is a reason for our brokenness and embrace the beauty found there buried under what appears to be weakness. If we cancel at the last minute, miss out on events, can’t man the concessions, know we are doing something few are willing to do…something hard to imagine for most…but so very essential to the people who are saying goodbye to their children. Please give grace to those who have chosen to serve as we stumble to the golf match without sleep or get our child’s physical at the last moment…or can’t pick him up because the hospital called…because everything stops when that happens.

For those wanting to embark on this journey, I want to ask the question, are you ready? Have you counted the cost…because, there is a price to serving others. Is your heart fully called to enter in with those suffering through unimaginable grief….grief  you can’t carry or mend with your human hands or the  best intentions of your human heart? So much more than good intentions, or even the desire to build a legacy for your own children in heaven, will be needed for you to leave your bed at 2am, to leave her debut in the dance recital, his solo, her soccer tournament, his golf match…when the call comes. While it will bless you, because we are always blessed and filled in the pouring out when done with the heart to serve, it can’t be about you. It must always be about loving the one in front of you. Because love lays it all down.

Humbled and grateful that there are those willing to answer this call to serve others. And, grateful to stand with families on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth. Again and again.

As a side note, SGM is currently sharing one Cuddle Cot, generously donated by Owen’s Gift in memory of Owen Plunket. We need more Cuddle Cots so that all of our branches have this much-needed piece of equipment to give parents the gift of more time with their baby whose life was brief.  Another amazing SGM family, baby Gavreel’s family, is planning to host a garage sale this month to raise money for a second Cuddle Cot and Moses baskets (valued at about $3,500), so that more families can receive this amazing resource. If you are local, please stop by or donate toward their sale. You can also donate from anywhere using SGM’s donate button on our support page (please specify that you would like the donation to go toward the Cuddle Cot.) We have many other needs listed there as well.  SGM needs three new laptops with DVD/CD burner  and SD card reading capability, high quality to handle many files and to edit photos. And, a whole ongoing list of items.

What Qualifies You To Do This?

because every life matters pic

I pled my case to the anesthesiologist on behalf of the mother I was supporting. These memories, those initial moments in the operating room when her baby emerges from his mother’s womb are precious and fleeting. They may be all she has of his time living earthside. It is her desire to have a photograph of those moments. I promised to respect the need for a sterile environment….to scrub up, cover up, hold my breath.

Not budging on the strict policy not to allow a remembrance photographer into the operating room, she shook her head. And, with resolve and authority looked into my eyes, asking…

“What qualifies you to do this work?”

It’s a legitimate question and one I don’t mind answering.

“I am the founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, one of the nation’s few stand alone perinatal hospice birth and bereavement centers in the country, a certified SBD birth and bereavement doula. I’ve supported thousands of families online and more than 100 in person since 2004…”

She shook her head again…interrupting.

“But what qualifies you to do this work? What DEGREE to you have?”

“I took training to become a birth and bereavement doula. It is not a degree. It is a certification. I also developed my own birth professionals training (2006), teaching birth professionals about the importance of compassionate care…”

“No…what college degree do you have?”

“I only have an associates degree in early childhood education, ma’am. No college degree in this particular field. But, I do have more than eleven years experience. And, I’m a published…”

“So. What QUALIFIES YOU to do this work?”

“I’m a mother who lost three of my own children, and I know how important it is for this mother to have these precious memories captured of her brief time with her baby.”

She nodded. No more questions.

I am also a professional, highly qualified and experienced to provide the support that we offer, to develop and lead hospital trainings, to publish written materials and resources. But, she is right. I am lacking in the letters behind my name. It doesn’t mean that I’m not skilled and quite knowledgeable in this field. It doesn’t mean that I’m not educated and experienced. It does mean that what qualifies me to walk with another broken-hearted family in the wilderness of grief isn’t something that can be taught in a university, the kind that values letters behind your name. The best way to become an expert on being a poured-out vessel of God’s love is to allow yourself to be poured out in service to another human being in need. I didn’t tell her that what really qualifies me to be in that room comes from an authority much higher than she or I or any university in existence. That there are no letters that she will recognize behind my name, because brave women had to create this model of care.

I am amazed most often by the openness of birth professionals and hospital staff to bend or even change policies to on behalf of a grieving family facing the loss of their baby. Most of the time, they are so compassionate and accommodating and I have nothing but gratefulness for the work they do and the ways they allow us to come alongside families and offer hope as we honor tiny lives together in that hospital room…in the place where heaven meets earth. We stand together, and I’m honored to stand with them.

But every now and then, steely eyes ask that question…what qualifies you to be here? And, I smile.

I smile as I think of the loving God who fills the room with grace for every soul. I smile as I think of my own children and the way that simply being their mother qualifies me to do things I never thought possible. I smile as I think of every tiny baby footprint I’ve placed on the pages of a Dreams of You memory book…footprints carried forever in my heart. I smile as I think of the birth professionals who thank us for being there with the families…and with them. Who hug me as they reflect on a new perspective after attending our training. I smile as the hesitant doctor looks up at me with a nod of respect. Respect earned. Because despite the lack of letters behind our names…we are good at this job. Not because of our own ability. But, because we said yes to a very big God who fills us with love and abilities beyond our own to care for families and their tiny babies in the most broken of moments…shining impossible beauty in the midst of it. I smile, because He doesn’t care and isn’t a bit hindered by the lack of letters behind my name. And neither are the families we serve.

I took the pictures in the operating room that day. If you’re wondering. And, I’m grateful to the anesthesiologist who didn’t allow my lack of “qualification” to keep me from doing so…and to the God who is more qualified than both of us.

———–

If you have a heart to serve bereaved parents with the support described above, SGM is hosting our annual volunteer retreat and training. Learn more about it at our event page. Those outside Ohio, register here.

The Miracle Before Christmas: Gianna’s Gift

I spoke with Heather just a day before we would meet. Neither of us knew the extent of the miracles waiting for us as we chatted about the upcoming delivery of her sweet baby, diagnosed with Trisomy 18 earlier in the pregnancy. We weren’t sure whether she was having a boy or girl or how long she and her family would have to spend with their little one before saying goodbye. Together, we planned the best we could in our brief conversation. I packed a bag of items that would be fitting for either a boy or girl and an overnight bag for myself in case I needed to stay in Columbus for longer than expected. (I actually spent the next few days in Columbus supporting families, but that is for another post!)

Heather and Dan were prepared to have moments with their baby as she was not expected to live long after her birth. We asked to have both the photographer and the priest in the operating room, bending hospital protocol for these most special circumstances. Sometimes I have to fight to get birth professionals to allow the photographer in the OR, so to have a priest and photographer there was unprecedented. It was important to Heather and Dan to have their baby baptized immediately, while she was here. We were so grateful that the hospital made an exception to allow that to happen. The entire staff was very supportive of the family’s wishes and helping us to make the most of the time with their sweet baby.

It was the first time the young priest would support a family facing the loss of their baby. Father Tony didn’t look much older than my twenty-one year old son. And, although he was quite capable and comforting as he supported this family, I felt myself wanting to make sure he was ok, feeling protective and compassionate, as I knew he would be forever changed by the events that were about to unfold.

There is always an excitement when waiting to welcome a life into this world, even when that life is expected to be brief. I met the family as we waited for Heather to go into the OR, the sweet brother Luciano and sister Ava, the grandparents, the aunt, the godparents. Love filled the room, even as we waited to meet Baby H.

We gowned up and sanitized. I held my camera, positioning myself strategically in the operating room. It was my first time being allowed to photograph in the OR. I spoke a silent prayer for the family, for Father Tony, for my own photography abilities.

Lord…please give them our best. Please give them time with this sweet baby. Please give them the grace and strength to endure what lies ahead. Please carry them.

Heather’s face was filled with the peace that surpasses all human understanding and the sufficient grace God gives…just the right measure when we need it. She shone with the joy that mothers feel as they wait to meet their babies. They had hoped and prayed just to get to this moment. It was already a miracle that their sweet baby had come this far.

Gianna baptism1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was born, so tiny and beautiful. I snapped the pictures, as Mom and Dad glimpsed the first glances at their baby girl. After assessing her, the nurses and doctors said we needed to move quickly for the baptism as it seemed Baby Gianna had only moments. She was not breathing, but her heart was beating slowly. I grabbed the Baptism bib Heather and Dan brought. Father Tony held the holy water in his shaking hands. Dan, father to baby Gianna, released the emotion he had carried for months as his knees buckled a bit. I put down my camera to hold him up for a moment as the tears fell. Dan found his voice to speak his daughter’s name with authority after a moment. Father Tony poured the water over her head, and as he said the familiar words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” …the next miracle happened. Baby Gianna coughed and sputtered and breathed, and her heartbeat rose to a normal rate. Her skin turned a healthy shade of pink. We all stood in awe: medical staff, support staff, and family. Godparents and grandparents listened over a special system the hospital uses to communicate.

Dan carried Gianna down the hall to meet her brother and sister and the rest of the family. Tears fell. Love filled the room.

gianna and mom1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heather was finally able to hold her sweet baby girl, and she glowed with the peace and love that oozes from a mama-heart. They hoped for moments with their baby. God gave them days to love on their girl. She was passed around the room. Moments were captured. Her first moments.

Gianna close up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her sister and brother were able to give her a bath.

gianna bath11
 

The family soaked in the miracle of those moments as time stood still. A lifetime of love filled the room to welcome baby Gianna. With her life came the gift of time.

gianna with mom and dad1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gianna breathed on her own and was able to eat, such a mighty little warrior!

gianna eating1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just days after her birth, she was able to go home with her family. She passed away in her home, feeling nothing but the love that filled the room…the love that will be carried in the hearts of her beautiful family all the days of her life. It was an honor to meet Gianna and her amazing, brave family.

gianna with me1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are their words about the experience:

From mom, Heather:
Trying to find the words to express my gratitude to Kelly & SGM…
From the moment we first spoke the phone I knew we were meant to meet. If I was blessed enough to meet my baby…I wanted to have family pictures. I waited until the day before my c-section scheduled to reach out. It’s hard to find the words to explain to someone that I’m not able to keep this baby with me. Only days before would I even allow myself to pick out a few items. I was so scared to buy any items and never be able to even use them. Due to other circumstances of
my pregnancy I found out very early in my pregnancy my unborn baby would be diagnosed with Trisomy 18. I’ve had so many people tell me how strong I am. I’ve only been able to get through this experience with faith. Every day of my pregnancy was a blessing. Gianna was a special gift. Sharing her story makes me smile & so happy. My heart aches & I miss Giana dearly. Every bit of heartbreak and pain was worth it. I would carry her all over again just to have those precious hours. I had hoped and prayed so much that I had a misdiagnosis, to then praying that I could have even a few minutes. I find it so comforting to share.
Kelly not only captured this by photographs but witnessed first hand the most personal raw & loving moments of Gianna’s birth & Baptism. Gianna had a purpose. I adore that she & Father Tony were able to witness such a miracle with Dan & me in the operating room. She also made sure to include older siblings Ava & Luciano. The photos & sharing her story & keeping her memory alive. Dan & I are blessed to have such an amazing community of support from our parish & friends & family. We hope this helps others by sharing Gianna’s story & to share SGM.

From dad, Dan:

My Dear Gianna,

We were so extremely lucky to have you in our life for 47 hours. When we were told of your Trisomy 18 we knew from the beginning you were a gift. It was only fitting that you were named after a saint. You taught me so much about strength and fight that I will carry for the rest of my life. I asked you to fight so we could have time and you responded to allow everyone to experience your love. You brought so much joy to your mother, brother, sister and myself. I can’t believe the impact you have had on so many lives in a short amount of time. I am so proud to be your father and will think about you everyday. It is hard to let you go but know you have a purpose. I know you will watch over us and protect us. We will miss you dearly but thank you for teaching our family about faith, strength, love and compassion.

Love you
Dad

gianna snuggling1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To learn more about the support offered by Sufficient Grace Ministries, please visit www.sufficientgraceministries.org.

SGM Day of Remembrance and Hope 2015

YOU ARE INVITED….


SGM Day of Remembrance and Hope 2015
October 10, 2015
9:00am to Noon
Deshler Elementary School
221 E. Maple St.
Deshler, Ohio 43516

REGISTRATION FORM BELOW…please register to include your baby’s name whether attending in person or in spirit.
Information about registering whether you are attending in person or from afar to have a candle lit in your baby’s memory as well as how to submit a photo is found in the last few paragraphs of this section. :)

October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. If you have lost a baby or child an any age, you’re invited to join us for a day of Remembrance and Hope on Saturday, October 10, 2015.

We wanted the day to be filled with not just remembrance, but hope and celebration of the lives of our babies. So, we are planning some special activities that are family friendly as well as some activities that are quieter for parents/grandparents, etc.

You can still have your baby’s name included and take part from a distance even if you are not local. Last year we read over 745 names and lit at least that many candles to honor babies around the world. Information about how you can register for the event…whether locally or from a distance can be found at the bottom of this information.

Itinerary

8:45 check-in
9am to 10am Booth activities
in the cafeteria

There will be a special photo booth. You’re encouraged to bring a memorial item, Comfort Bear, etc…something that represents your baby to take a family picture, compliments of SGM.

There will be a cupcake decorating booth to create a cupcake in celebration of your baby.

A Flying Wish Paper booth where you can write a letter, wish, or prayer on paper sent up to heaven.

A Comfort Bear Stuffing Booth

And, a card-making booth to write a special note to go in a Dreams of You package for another family walking through loss.

10-10:15
Balloon Release
(We will be using biodegradeable balloons without strings to be environmentally friendly)

10:20 – Noon
Children will join SGM Support Companion, Emily Smiddy for a movie, story, and activities while adults will go to the auditorium for the duration of the service

We ask that parents not bring children to the auditorium for this portion of the festivities.

10:20- Noon
In the auditorium we will listen to a speaker, light candles for remembrance, watch a special slideshow honoring all the babies submitted with pictures of families with Comfort Bears, pictures and names of babies, etc.

This year we will also have a special HOPE CIRCLE where families will have an opportunity to share their stories and talk together.

JOIN IN FROM ANYWHERE!!

This is going to be such a special day, and we would love to have you join us in person if you’re able. If you cannot make it in person, you can still join in from afar. You can email a picture of your family with your Comfort Bear or another memorial item, or a picture of your baby to be included in our slideshow to: sufficientgraceministries@gmail.com.

You can also fill out the registration form below to have your baby’s name included on the slideshow and to have a candle lit in his/her memory. We will not be reading all the names this year, but we will include them on the candles and they will appear on the slideshow.

Join the Facebook Event Page for updates and to view and post photos!

Register on the form below:

The Love that Lives On….Because Every Life Matters

DSC_0558

We do not write every story, and try to guard the privacy of the families we serve. Some are more open to sharing their journeys than others. And, that’s completely understandable. Their stories are sacred and personal. SGM has walked with about 25 families at various hospitals throughout Ohio in the last few months. It is an honor and a privilege to meet and care for each precious life…to come alongside every family. But, I want to share about a recent experience that touched our hearts deeply.

I met Ahna at a restaurant just that morning to iron out her perinatal hospice birth plan for their baby, due to be born in about a month. Gavreel had a life-limiting condition known as anencephaly. The connections that brought us together were no accident. And, I marveled after our meeting at the mystery of our God and the ways He works.

Some of you may know that SGM has been blessed to have Bethany Conkel on our team as an SGM Doula and Remembrance Photographer. Bethany also is the the founder of Purposeful Gift, a non-profit organization founded to help connect and advocate for families carrying a baby with a life-limiting diagnosis who are seeking the option of neonatal organ donation. She connects families with the resources, researchers, and available organ recovery surgical teams through organizations like IIAM and Life Connections. Some families may find comfort in having the option to donate their baby’s organs to help save another life.

This family had chosen organ donation. And, it was my first time supporting a perinatal hospice family as a doula through SGM who had chosen donation. I have been so deeply touched by the experience and by the incredible family we walked with over the past few days including those who came together to ensure that we were able to give them the most we could during their son’s brief and amazing life.

We didn’t expect to get the call late on the night of the same day as our birth plan meeting. But babies come on their own schedule! When I entered the room, mother was about to deliver as her loving family surrounded her bed, holding her hand, stroking her hair. We talked through the contractions and pushing. And he was born not long after my arrival. I communicated with the incredible team made up of Bethany and the organ recovery surgeons from Life Connections as they traveled in the wee hours of the night/morning over 3 hours to perform the surgery…to honor this child’s precious life…to give this family one of their wishes for their son’s legacy…and to help save the next baby’s life…because he lived. Because this child lived…someone else’s life may be impacted. Because every life impacts this earth…no matter how tiny. No matter how brief.

He was passed around and loved on, held for his whole life. Knowing nothing but love during the hour he lived. I stood in awe of the love that filled the room. The familiar glory of comfort and peace while standing in the place where heaven meets earth. We captured the memories and created mementos. When the recovery team arrived and went over details and procedures, I stood in awe again of my beautiful friend, Bethany and the way God is using her to make such a difference in so many lives through her organization. I love the way he has brought us all together to give families all that we can, connecting them with resources.

I wondered about the surgeons who would drop everything in their lives to drive hours in the middle of the night. That act alone gave me a window into their hearts. When I met them, I saw the care and passion in their eyes for what they do. I saw first hand how gentle and loving they were, how much respect they had for this precious boy. And, I walked away thinking….they share the passion we carry in our own hearts at SGM. They’re our kind of people. People who would leave their lives in the wee hours to give what they have to give to a family saying goodbye to their baby. Mutual respect all around. Which in itself is a miracle born from those few days…because so few people understand the willingness to allow your own world to stop as you step into someone else’s story for awhile…in order to walk with them. But, they do. And, they did.

In addition to partnering with Purposeful Gift for this family, we had the privilege of using the Cuddle Cot, donated to SGM by Owen’s Gift (founded by another wonderful family we were honored to serve). The Cuddle Cot helped them keep their son in the room with them during their entire hospital stay.

I can’t say how humbled and grateful I am to have known this tiny hero. And, to have known his beautiful, love-filled family. Not to mention how my heart melts to think of all who came together to honor their wishes. It is always a struggle when there aren’t adequate words to say what’s rattling around in my heart. But, when such stark, take-your-breath-away beauty rises from the broken, there is nothing like it this side of heaven. No word worthy to describe it. It changes you, becomes part of you, humbles you, astounds you, touches you so deeply…so profoundly…that you carry it with you always.

Sometimes the raw beauty in the midst of brokenness is astounding. The love that can fill a room…love for a little life. Love for one another. The impact a tiny life can have on the entire world…on one soul…on a thousand souls. Because every life really does matter. My heart cannot even describe or contain the overwhelming beauty of what happens in the sacred place where heaven meets earth. Or the humbling privilege that I’m allowed to walk there bearing witness to the treasure of such love wrapped in the tiniest miracles.

How blessed am I among women to walk in such sacred places.

For more information about support offered by Sufficient Grace Ministries for families facing a life-limiting diagnosis, please click here.

To request support materials, please visit our Dreams of You Shop for Parents.

Celebrating Every Moment ~ Scarlett & Vivienne

I listened to her message on the way home from a vacation in the mountains. When I called her back, she didn’t answer. I left a message. And, called again a few days later. Because I know the courage it took for her to pick up that phone and make the call to ask for perinatal hospice support.

The first time I met her, she pulled out the copy of A Gift of Time I had given to her through another SGM Volunteer months before. So many pages marked with colored tabs…pages that spoke to her mama heart. We call her Amazing Amanda. Because she is. Amazing. And so are the sweet baby girls who were still swimming around in her womb the day I met her and her husband Travis.
She was carrying twin daughters, and one of them (Scarlett) had been diagnosed with acrania, a life-limiting diagnois. To further complicate the situation, the girls were monochorionic and monoamniotic, contained in a single chorion and amnion, also known as Momo twins. Due to these conditions leaving the girls susceptible to a myriad of possible complications, they were closely monitored throughout the pregnancy.

It was important to Amanda to plan every detail of her time with Scarlett and Vivienne. Planning was a comfort to her. Planning gives parents back some of the control they have lost with a difficult diagnosis in pregnancy. She was very private, and needed to experience her journey on her terms in the timing she was comfortable with each step of the way. During her pregnancy, only a select few were told about her babies’ condition.

“We wanted to celebrate their lives while they were with us. This wasn’t the time for grief and sorrow. That would come later. Right now, they are with us; living,” Amanda shared.

Many families facing a life-limiting diagnosis for their child face regrets for missed opportunities to make memories with their babies. Not the case for Travis and Amanda. They made sure that every moment was filled with love. Amanda and Travis wanted to truly cherish the gift of time they had with their daughters.

Scarlett and Vivienne’s Comfort Bears from SGM were a special way to reveal the big news!

amanda reveal

amanda family

amanda heart hands

Throughout the journey, the family rejoiced at each goal set…and met. To give the girls the best chance of optimal health, the goal was set to carry them to 32 weeks unless they showed signs of struggle before then. Amanda spent the last eight weeks of the pregnancy away from her husband and other two children at a well-equipped hospital two hours away from home. The staff celebrated each milestone with the Mangas family.

Amanda One Month

Amanda birthday

Some of the planning included funeral planning, announcements, pictures, writing of the obituary, as well as what her baby girls would wear, what photographs would be taken, special mementos, etc. As we met to plan the time Amanda and Travis would have with Scarlett and Vivienne, Amanda loved the idea of using her own wedding gown to make identical dresses for Scarlett and Vivienne. One of our SGM seamstresses, Tracey Schwiebert worked to make the gowns in different sizes in case the girls were born before we expected.

It was such a blessing to be able to hand the beautiful gowns to Amanda on the day the girls would be born via the scheduled C-section. Amazing Amanda and her amazing daughters made it to their goal. You can see the sense of peace and accomplishment on Amanda’s face as she held the gowns in her arms. It would not be long before she would hold her precious girls.

Amanda gownswm

amanda gowns3

The day had finally arrived, and we were honored to walk with Amanda and Travis every step of the way. Erin Foster, SGM Remembrance Photographer and owner of Irish Eyes Photography met me at the hospital to help capture the images that so beautifully tell this family’s story.

Amanda we made it

Pastor Tim traveled to the hospital to pray with Amanda and Travis, to sit with the family, and to pray over sweet Scarlett after her birth.

amanda praying

Nurse Tammy has walked this journey with Amanda since the first day the Travis family heard the news that this pregnancy was not going to go as originally planned. After working her shift, she slept for a couple hours and stayed at the hospital to join the family so she could serve as Scarlett’s personal nurse. Pictured below, Tammy comforts Amanda as she hugs her son before being wheeled away for surgery.

Tammy1

Both girls were born alive. Vivienne was taken to the NICU where she responded extremely well, breathing on her own, like the fighter she is. Scarlett passed away in the arms of her mother. It was time to soak in every memory of Scarlett, time to celebrate her life.

amanda scarlett's time

Family filled the room with love.

amanda family1

I had the honor of singing Amazing Grace over sweet Scarlett. Helping to bathe her. Dressing her. Placing her beautiful bracelet made by Marlene (another wonderful SGM Volunteer). Taking her footprints and handprints.

amanda singing

Amanda feet

amanda travis scarlett

The journey of this family and these sisters, Scarlett and Vivienne, is a picture of weeping and rejoicing. The love that filled the room for every moment of Scarlett’s life and beyond was beautiful and sacred. That love is carried on in each of them and in the life of Vivienne. It was such an honor to walk with this family, to share in the miracle of the life of both of their daughters. And, to celebrate with them.

I was honored to sing Amazing Grace once more at Scarlett’s memorial service.

amanda funeral

“Scarlett and Vivienne’s birth was filled with much joy as we kept moving forward no matter how hard we wanted time to stand still some days. With out Sufficient Grace and the wonderful services, friendship and assistance offered to Travis and I, I know our road traveled would of been much harder to navigate. Thank you. That pain we felt at her passing, was eased as we instead turned grief into love in celebrating Scarlett’s life with us. You truly are one of God’s Angels.
Thank you,
Amanda”

*This story was shared by Kelly Gerken, SGM/SBD with the permission of the Travis family.
Maternity photos by Jessica Carpenter
SGM photos by Erin Foster
Cell phone pictures shared by the family of Scarlett and Vivienne

Servant to All

DSC_0376 copy

Sometimes in the midst of walking with a family, there are moments when my own cup is filled in the pouring out. There are many moments really.

He came to pray with the beautiful parents waiting to fill a lifetime of love into the moments they were given with their son. I met him after the introductions were made beside the hospital bed.

While snapping pictures and preparing for the coming birth off to the side, he stepped beside me, looking into my eyes as we shook hands.

“I’m the doula.”

I’m used to people not knowing the meaning of the title…or this sacred work. I waited for the question.

“Doula,” the pastor repeats. “It is a Greek word…correct?”

“Yes,” I answer, “a biblical word.”

“It means servant,” he said, eyes focused and shining…like they do when delivering a holy message.

My eyes locked with his.

He continued…

“Mark 9:35 says, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ This is an amazing ministry you have been given.”

“Thank you…I’m honored to serve in this way.”

Only our Father can send a message that humbles us and lifts us up at the same time. A word of encouragement in the midst of days of pouring out.

Because He sees. And, because…although I would never call my flawed, stumbling along self great…it is a great honor to be used as His vessel…even in the smallest way. To wash tiny baby feet, to wipe the sweaty brow of a laboring mother, to gently caress the tears from her face, to speak love and truth in the dark moments.

To be a doula…servant to all.