Annual walk offers solace to mourning families

click to enlarge Annual walk offers solace to mourning families
Parents gather to remember their children who have died. (Submitted)

For many, Saturday will be a day of college football and hot dates and errands.

For others, however, it will be a day of remembrance — a day to say a child’s name, a day to walk and celebrate a beloved baby or babies who died too early in miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or were born but later died.

Sponsored by Genesis OB/GYN and the support group Embrace Circle, A Walk to Remember Babies Gone Too Soon gives family members the chance to talk about their children’s deaths.

“These are loved babies who are still loved and still remembered, but they happened to have died,” event organizer Sherokee Ilse said, even if the baby is conceived in violence.

“When a baby is conceived, in almost every case, it’s a love story; it’s a loved baby,” Ilse added. “But I have to tell you, one gal sent me a note, she was 21 years old, and she said she was raped and got pregnant, yet her miscarriage was the worst thing that ever happened to her.”

For some, the annual walk is a celebration. Melissa Ziel’s first baby lived only a few hours, and although she and her husband expected their daughter’s death, it wasn’t easy.

“That whole first year, it just felt like a dagger inside your heart,” she said. “A child's death, and I don’t think people realize that even though we weren’t physically able to bring her home, it’s still your baby; you still love that child.”

Ziel makes this walk the yearly celebration of daughter Lydia, son Isaac and Shiloh, all three who miscarried.

“People have birthday parties, and they have these (other) events for their kids,” Ziel said. “These are the events I do for my children who are growing up in heaven. This is what I can do, and this helps me keep their names alive.”

Ziel and her husband have three living children.

The walk, which is not just for the families, is 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, at Children’s Memorial Park. The public is invited.

Ilse knows the pain of miscarriage. She is careful not to say “lost,” when she refers to children who have died.

“It’s very common for people to say, ‘who have lost a baby,’ but a lot of our families feel like that puts blame on them, like, ‘Then go find it,’” she said. “They know where their baby is. Their baby has died.”

At this walk, these babies will be named aloud if desired.

“At our upcoming event, we will say the babies’ names out loud, walk to remember, network with each other, and create more mementos which add to comforting our grieving hearts,” Ilse said.

Parents are willing to talk about their son or daughter who died, but often the public is not.

“People avoid it; they don’t ask,” Ziel said. “Unless you get somebody who’s really compassionate or you get somebody who has already lost a baby, then I will ask if I know somebody’s had one, but I would say most people avoid it.”

Still, Ziel is open to talking about her children’s deaths.

“It’s an awkward conversation starter unless you really know somebody and somebody opens up and says something,” she said. “I don’t mind somebody asking more about it. I’m pretty open, but sometimes I gauge upon if I know they’re going to have a hard time with it. But if they seem interested, then, sure.”

Ilse understands people mean well when they try to offer comfort, but they often misspeak.

“People will say, ‘It would have been worse if the baby had been 2 (years old),’” she said. “Really? At least then I would have had pictures and memories. What do I have now? I have a hole in my heart, and people don’t realize it is my child, my son. The more that we say daughters and sons and died, and they’re children, we do a great service to the community at large.”

Times are changing, although slowly.

“In the past, this kind of thing was swept under the rug or dismissed by mom or grandma, whoever,” said Dr. Christopher Sullivan, a provider with Genesis OB/GYN.

“Pat on the back, don’t worry about it, you’ll try next time, it’s going to be OK.”

But it’s not OK, no one is OK; often, everyone in the family, including siblings, are suffering. They want to know where the baby is when the parent or parents come home with empty arms. There is the nursery and what to do with the gifts and diapers.

It seems minor, but it’s painful to deal with.

There is grief and sorrow. A miscarriage or early death is the death of a family member, a person the parents will remember for the rest of their lives.

“Some people say they are just going to move on,” Sullivan said, “but it affects a lot of people for a long time. If you don’t address it properly, it makes it even worse.”

As a doctor of maternal and fetal medicine, Sullivan specializes in working with high-risk pregnancies. He’s careful about how he approaches parents when a baby has died in utero or is likely to die soon after birth.

“Usually, it’s mom and dad or a family member, like the mom of the mom, is there,” he said. “There’s no right way to do it, but you just can’t blurt it out. You can’t just say, ‘The baby has no heartbeat,’ because when you say that — and I have done that — it almost always confuses patients, because they’re like, ‘What do you mean? Will it start up again?’ ’’

Instead, he tries to handle it like this:

“‘I’m really sorry that I’m in here, but the reason I’m here is because I’m going to have to give you some bad news,’” he said.

“That sets the tone, so they know something is coming. It has to do with knowing even before you walk in, how am I going to handle this?”

One of the first questions Sullivan hears after a miscarriage is, “What did I do wrong?” The answer is almost always “Nothing.”

“A lot of people ask why this has happened, and most of the time it’s for one of two reasons,” Sullivan said. “One is the baby could have something where the egg and the sperm, when they came together, the chromosomes of the egg weren’t correct, and it doesn’t allow the pregnancy to progress past a certain point.”

They see this in about 70% of miscarriages, he said.

“Putting the blame on anybody, especially the mom and dad, whatever they did probably didn’t contribute to this,” he added. “There’s a lot of guilt involved; you have to make sure (parents) understand that it’s not their fault.”

It would be easy to feel sadness, which is a natural part of things, but this walk is about remembering and creating memories about family members, even if they did not have the opportunity to live long.

“Death and miscarriage and stillbirth and SIDS, they do not define this baby; love does,” Ilse said.

“The glasses we look out of speak about the love, not the death. Yes, it’s true, that’s a piece of it, but that does not define this experience or define this baby. Love does. Then (parents) can keep loving their baby. They can name their baby and feel OK about that or feel great about that. They can tell others about their babies… because it isn’t really about death. That’s a piece of it, but that’s not the whole of it. The whole of it is this is a loved baby who was alive, and now it’s a loved baby who happens to have died.”

A Walk to Remember Babies Gone Too Soon

WHEN: 9:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28; 9:30 to 10 a.m. welcome and remembering babies; 10 to 10:30 a.m. optional 1-mile walk; memory making/visiting time 10:30 to 11 a.m.

WHERE: Children’s Memorial Park, 4875 N. 15th Place, Tucson

COST: Free admission

INFO: to register