All the stars for our beloved babies, hanging in the lobby of the conference venue. A beautiful reminder of why we were gathered together.
I am returning home from the Stillbirth Summit 2014. I traveled to Minnesota to participate in the final day of sessions, geared towards parental bereavement. I hated to miss the medical sessions the first two days, but I’d already made a professional commitment by the time I learned of the summit. So, I left home for Denver, CO on Thursday, presented at a conference in Denver on Friday, and then flew to MN Friday night. I got in very late and didn’t sleep well. I woke in the morning with enough time to pump milk for my 1-year old, shower, and head out. I sobbed in the shower that morning like I did back in the early days after we lost Chiara. I was nervous and excited to attend, to meet other parents, to hear the presentations and spend a day focused on learning more about stillbirth and strategies to reduce its occurrence and to support bereaved families.
The conference was excellent. I deeply regret not being there for the entire event. Coming late to any event means missing out on the forming of the community that starts at the beginning. I felt a little like an outsider throughout the day I attended, having not had time to meet people over the first two days. If I am able to attend again (they are already planning for 2017!), I will try to be there the entire time.
Throughout the day, there were 10 different sessions, with topics ranging from participatory research (thanks, Still Life Canada!), to the benefits of exercise for bereaved mothers, to an excellent (albeit too short) writing workshop, to research on bereaved grandparents and siblings, and more. Each session was introduced by a bereaved family member, in honor of their baby/babies. This was very grounding and meaningful, a powerful way to incorporate the dear children that the conference is all about.
I found myself in tears throughout the day, and tried hard to breathe deeply and maintain composure. It was impossible. I know I wasn’t the only person who broke down throughout the day, but I was very surprised at how affected I was. At 22 months out, I do not cry every day anymore. The opportunity to be present with other grieving parents, to be visible as the parent of a child who was stillborn, was pretty overwhelming. At lunch, I was talking with some other participants and one asked me if I was a parent or a practitioner. I stumbled for a moment, “I’m parent, a bereaved parent”. This is just not a hat I get to wear in public very often. I think even my closest friends and family forget this part of my identity these days. To get to be visible as Chiara’s Mom for an entire day was a gift.
I left the conference at the memorial service and drove back to my hotel, sobbing all the way home. I pumped my milk for my rainbow babe. I sobbed some more. I went to bed. I have a checklist of things I want to do when I return home, from talking with my own Mom about Chiara, to calling my legislators about supporting bereavement leave as part of FMLA, to trying to connect with others who are working on legislation to improve services to families after a baby is stillborn, and to improve data collection on the incidence and causes of stillbirth. I am so glad that I attended the Stillbirth Summit 2014. I plan to seek out other opportunities to connect with other bereaved parents, work to advance research to prevent future stillbirths, and to increase awareness of stillbirth. In this way, I will continue to parent the memory of my daughter, my precious girl. Thank you to the Star Legacy Foundation, and all of the staff, board, researchers, practitioners, parents, grandparents, and everyone else who made this important event happen. I'm already looking forward to 2017!
The altar at the Memorial Service end of the Summit