HEALing Embrace {Non-Profit Feature}

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Every night, I walk by newborn pictures of my children wearing the same white onsie. The pictures are taken from the same angle, on the same blanket, in the same location. Isaac, curious and observant. Eli, tiny yet strong. Anna, innocent and beautiful. The fourth picture is of a single, white rose that reminds me of her. As I enter my bedroom, I see the teddy bear made from the onsie meant for her homecoming. I pick it up and hold it as if I am holding her. I take off my mother’s rings, one with the name of each of my children. Hers bears her name, Elizabeth Ann, but also her nickname given to her by her brothers. Cutie Pie. Finally, I pull on a t-shirt as I get ready for bed. I almost always choose my t-shirt from the HEALing Embrace Heals to the Pavement 5K. This t-shirt reminds me that I am not alone.

The Beginning

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HEALing Embrace was founded by Jennifer Sommer (top right) and Shawna Hoffman (top left). The two women have suffered the loss of seven babies between them. After the loss of Jennifer’s second baby, she discovered a lack of community support for grieving parents. She met Shawna at one of the few infant and pregnancy loss support groups.

Jennifer and Shawna’s friendship grew as they continued to heal together. Many of their conversations involved the lack of support they found after their losses. After the loss of a child, life continues to move forward. While parents are trying to understand, process, and deal with their loss, there are funeral expenses, medical expenses, house cleaning, continued employment, sick leave, and other children to care for. Jennifer felt called to help. She approached Shawna with an idea to put on a 5K, called HEALs to the Pavement, to raise money for these families. Shawna, without hesitation, stated “I’m all in.” Shawna quit grad school and dedicated her life to HEALing Embrace.

The Focus

HEALing Embrace began with the goal to provide post-partum financial support to families. However, the focus changed quickly by the first family who requested support. Jennifer and the HEALing Embrace photographer (provided to families to capture the few moments spent with their baby born sleeping), felt honored that this family invited two strangers into their sacred space. Jennifer soon realized that this family didn’t need their money, they needed support. They were fighting a battle to keep their son’s legacy alive and to remember that he was a part of their family. This grieving mother spoke of her “heavy arms”. She said that she felt an ache to hold her lost son. From this, the first HEALing Embrace weighted birth day bear was born.

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HEALing Embrace continues to provide financial assistance to cover funeral and medical costs, grief counseling, and any other post-partum need. However, the biggest support that families need comes in the form of hospital visits, perinatal hospice comfort companions, customized care packages, hand-made weighted birth day bears (weighted to the exact weight of their infant), photography services, and community education. In 2017, HEALing Embrace provided over $21,000 in direct support to families to ease financial burdens associated with their loss, covered $7,000 in funeral and medical expenses, shipped 241 weighted birth day bears and support packages to families coping with loss, and provided countless hours of in-home postpartum assistance, hospital visits, doula services, and photography.

The Race

In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, the first HEALing Embrace HEALs to the Pavement event was held in October of 2015. Just over 400 people were in attendance. It was an evening of love, support, and honor for those little ones who only live in our hearts. Many families, for the first time, felt solace through a connection with others who had been there. In 2017, just over 1300 people attended HEALs to the Pavement, almost tripling the number of participants in three years. This monumental growth shows that loss families are hungry for community, to be able to share their experience, to feel safe expressing their grief, and to keep their little one’s legacy alive. It is estimated that 1 in 4 women will experience miscarriage. In addition, on average in the United States, 71 women give birth to a baby not alive every day. These parents are your friends, your co-workers, your parents, your siblings, your neighbors.

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My husband and I have journaled throughout our loss. This is a portion of the journal entry I wrote after our first race in 2016.

 

Hi Baby Girl,

Daddy and I signed up to run a the HEALs to the Pavement 5K for infant and pregnancy loss. I have been feeling more at peace with losing you for a while now. However, it hit me again as the race started. It is not something you ever get over. I still miss you. I still think about you often. The tears don’t come as frequently as they used to, but the thought of losing you still makes me hurt inside.

About 5 minutes into the race, I felt this overwhelming sense of the Lord’s presence. I felt a peace knowing that you are in Heaven with Him. I looked up at the sky and just knew that God was there. I cannot explain how gorgeous the sky and clouds and sunlight were, except to say that it was God speaking to me. He was bringing healing and comfort to my heart and the hearts of others who have experienced loss. There were so many other participants at this race. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who had experienced the loss of a child. It feels like a secret most of the time. People don’t talk about it. Yet, there is a community of people who are silently grieving, wishing that their child was still on Earth. Events like this are a blessing that allow people to feel a sense of community with others who know what they are going through.

The Support

For families who have experienced the loss of a child through miscarriage and/or stillbirth, HEALing Embrace is here to help. In addition to the financial assistance for the family, bereavement companion services, hospital visits, and resource distribution, there are ways that the community can support loss families as well.

  • Care packages are available for purchase, customized specifically for that family and that situation.
  • Weighted birth day bears are available for purchase in honor of that child. The bear is hand-made and weighted to the exact weight of the infant. This allows the family to have a tangible way to feel, hold, smell, and maintain their child’s memory.
  • Participation in the HEALing Embrace HEALs to the Pavement event can offer healing and support.
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The Need

The amazing gifts provided to loss families through HEALing Embrace can only continue with the support from the community. There are many ways to support this caring organization.

  • Volunteer. HEALing Embrace is always open to new talent. Care packages need to be compiled. Weighted bears need to be hand-sewed, weighted, and stuffed. Infant foot imprints need to be framed. There is work to do for those who desire to do it.
  • Community Awareness. Jennifer and Shawna are always looking for new opportunities to share their story and their expertise. Helping people understand and connect with loss families is a passion shared by both women. Any tips on new HR departments, employers, medical professionals, hospitals, clinics, birthing services, insurance agencies, or other professional are always appreciated.
  • Sponsor. There are many opportunities to become a sponsor and/or a vendor for the HEALs to the Pavement event. The event is held annually in October. Jennifer can be contacted for further information.
  • Donate. Your donation supports loss families and helps them get through tragedy. 

If you would like to learn more about HEALing Embrace, please visit our website

If you would like to read the testimonial of the author of this article regarding her family’s journey through pregnancy loss, please visit my website here