Last summer, I went into the hospital ready to be induced with Liv, carrying a small suitcase and my purse. When we finally left, three days later, Mike had to make several trips down to the car before he got everything loaded. The hospital gave us the sundries: diapers, wipes, formula. But it seemed like everyone who visited us brought something. Bags of clothes, accessories, toys--all for our tiny newborn girl. Of course, in February, when our sweet Carpenter was born still, everything was different.
No diapers were needed. No formula purchased. No one argued over what new outfit he would wear home since he was never going home. My parents brought my little angel a rosary, and my cousin bought me a new towel, shampoo and body wash. What are you expected to bring? It's not like you bring gifts to a funeral.
When the nurse explained to me what services they could give me and Carpenter, I'm sure I was barely paying attention. I was in such a fog. But when she brought in handfuls of bags, I perked up. Our hospital goes above and beyond. They have a bereavement services team who make sure that your arms are as artificially full as they can make them. I chose an outfit, a hat and blanket. Then she handed me a box full of other presents. A bag for a lock of hair (which we didn't take). A small gold ring they put on his toe like a halo. His receiving blanket. A teddy bear I refused to put down for weeks. Matching mommy/son hospital bracelets that neither of us got to wear. Pictures, footprints, measurements, and a box to keep it all in.
Talking to another angel-mom recently, I realized that the few things I did carry home were so much more than most women get. Some people are sent home with boxes like me. Some with a teddy bear and an outfit. A woman in my group didn't even get measurements. Others take home nothing but tragic memories. When I heard that, I got mad. I mean spitfire mad. So I started looking for groups online that donate items to hospitals to give to bereaved mothers. There are SO many. And I started calling hospitals. That's when I REALLY got mad. A local hospital who had given a friend of mine nothing after her miscarriage was unsure when I called, and never responded to my emails.
How dare they? How can they see mother after mother walking out of the hospital in tears and not want to reach out to them? And so I was mad for a few days. And then I rolled my eyes and rolled up my sleeves. If hospitals are going to respond that way, why should we wait around for them to change? So I started looking for groups who deal directly with mothers, and I found Project Sweet Peas.
Project Sweet Peas was founded by three mothers, and has grown into a nationwide network of volunteers who have all been in our tragic shoes. Kate Crawford, Stephanie Olivarez and Corin Nava are committed to providing comfort to families who have either lost a child, or whose child is in the NICU. Stephanie was kind enough to tell me a bit more about their generous project.
What inspired you three to start Project Sweet Peas?
"Corin Nava never imagined watching her baby fight for his life. Her son, Gabriel, was diagnosed after birth with CDH(Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia) After 55 days in the NICU, Gabriel passed away from complications due to his condition. Through Gabe's death, Corin met Kate Crawford. Kate's daughter, Shannon, died from a combination of CDH and HLHS. Corin and Kate then befriended me (Stephanie Olivarez) who also had a child diagnosed with CDH. My daughter Shelby, still suffers from complications due to her defect. We three came together for comfort and support. We started filling bags with items we wished we had and needed during our stay in the NICU. We three gave name to the idea, Project Sweet Peas.
"In July 2009, we offered other families the chance to join the mission. Today Project Sweet Peas is a nationwide nonprofit organization run by parents and volunteers. Project Sweet Peas has paid zero employees and we're 100 percent volunteer.
"By sharing our experiences, Project Sweet Peas volunteers make packages that not only provide a touch of relief to families but also to encourage parents to bond with their children."
What is CDH?
"CDH is Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia. It is a condition in which a hole in the diaphragm allows abdominal organs to move into the chest and restrict lung development. As a result, the intestines and other organs in the abdomen can move into the chest and compress the developing lungs. This prevents the lungs from growing and developing normally, which can cause reduced blood flow to the lungs and pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the pulmonary circulation). CDH is a birth defect that occurs in about one in every 2,500 live births. 50% of CDH babies do not survive."
What kind of things go into our care packages?
"Our Basic NICU Care Package contains a baby blanket, baby hat, birth pillow, baby booties, journal, photo album, a child's book, hand/foot molds and a camera.
"We also offer a Long Term Care package which includes all or most items like the NICU Care package. Also included are items such as shampoo/conditioners, lotion, hand lotion and napkins. Items that are used for a long stay.
"Our Memory Packages are for the babies that have grown their wings. Included are Memory Boxes filled with a journal, kleenex, stuffed animal, wisp of hair bags, broken heart pendants, hat and blanket. We also do special requests on items such as a necklace with Angel's name or a bracelet. With our Memory Packages we try to provide cherished keepsakes that families can keep."
When Shelby was diagnosed, did you receive any gifts that you still hold dear?
"I did receive a butterfly blanket and I still have it today. In the NICU after Shelby was born there was a butterfly with her name on it. The butterfly has remained a symbol of hope for us. Shelby continues to soar everyday."
What has been your favorite experience from being part of Project Sweet Peas?
"I feel that through all our different experiences with our children in the NICU's we have formed a bond. An understanding of how hard the days are when your child is in the NICU. It is a feeling of helplessness. Through our experiences we give back from our hearts to help families. Project Sweet Peas is a family unit. We are a close unit that share in heartbreak, happiness and a very strong love for each other."
Are there any other charities or organizations you think more Angel-Moms should know about?
"We would love for Angel Moms to know about Project Sweet Peas. We feel honored to send out Memory Packages for families to have cherished keepsakes."
They feel honored. What a beautiful sentiment. But I suppose that's how it should be. Families look around them in their time of greatest need and reach out to those who can truly be relied upon. Kate, Stephanie and Corin are people who can be relied upon. They see the great need and suffering of an unspoken number of families and when so few reach out a hand, Project Sweet Peas hands out their heart.
Thank you to Project Sweet Peas and all their volunteers for reminding us that no matter what, we in this Secret Club of Babyloss can always turn to one another.
To become a Project Sweet Peas volunteer, click here.
To request a package, click here.
And to let these three lovely ladies know how amazing their work is, click here.