Infant loss support group's founders find their arms are full again
CHAMPAIGN – After their babies died, Meghan Drewes and Becky Ames grieved and prayed and wondered if their arms would ever feel full again.
This year, each mom had her answer.
Drewes and Ames – the co-founders of Empty Arms, a local infant loss support group – have their arms full once again, after each gave birth to a healthy son, Coby James Drewes, born May 24, and Trevor Alan Ames, born July 24.
Ames, who also has a 7-year-old daughter, lost a baby girl who died before birth in 2006.
She couldn't help but worry the same thing might happen again.
Whitney, the baby she and her husband, Keith, lost, had a genetic defect that made her prognosis for survival grim, so this latest pregnancy was considered high-risk. Ames fretted about each little pain that could signal a problem.
"It's almost as if you are expecting something to be wrong," she said.
She never got to hear Whitney cry, and waited anxiously in the delivery room when Trevor was born. When he began to cry, Ames said, she cried right along with him.
Praise God, he's healthy, she sobbed.
Drewes had similar fears with her latest pregnancy, because her first child, Cameron, also had abnormalities that were discovered during her pregnancy. He lived for just 18 days after his birth in 2005.
Drewes now also has a 2-year-old son born after Cameron died, but she was still anxious about this third pregnancy and all that could go wrong.
"I had lied to myself and said I wouldn't be frightened, but I was," she said.
Some of her fears came from listening to other grieving mothers at the support group telling their stories, Drewes said. Then she got gestational diabetes, meaning she had to be on a strict sugar-restricted diet for her birthday and the holidays.
Her husband, Chris, knew how much she missed desserts, she said. He had a birthday cake waiting for her in the delivery room when Coby was born.
Healing through helping
Drewes and Ames say the work they do with grieving mothers through Empty Arms continues to help them heal.
And they do still feel their losses, because having a new baby doesn't fill a void left by the one who died.
Drewes keeps a locket with Cameron's picture in it and always wears it in family pictures to help keep his memory alive. Ames keeps a little heart-shaped pillow that was placed under Whitney's hand for the pictures taken of her at the hospital, and she now keeps part of Whitney alive by including that pillow in her family pictures.
Life goes on, Ames says, but "there will always be a Whitney-shaped hole in my heart."
She and Drewes started Empty Arms to offer comfort and understanding to other parents, but this group has also taken a turn for the hopeful, because several mothers who come regularly are now expecting new babies.
One of those expectant moms, Kim Kacmarynski of Tuscola, lost her first child in 2006. Born prematurely with a genetic abnormality, he lived just an hour-and-a-half.
Kacmarynski and her husband held onto him in the hospital room, and a friend with a video camera got his whole precious life on tape, she said.
Later, Kacmarynski looked for a support group and found Empty Arms.
"It just felt good to talk about him," she said.
For this pregnancy, she and her husband have been nervous, she said, but so far, so good. The baby, a girl they've named Sienna, is due Dec. 5, and everything looks fine, she said.
Anne Beckman of Allerton began coming to meetings in April, after her baby died before birth in February.
Beckman said she felt shock, guilt (what if she had gone to the doctor earlier, she wondered) and frustration that modern medicine couldn't save her son. She tried seeing a therapist, but it didn't help, she said.
What has helped, she said, has been listening and talking to other mothers who experienced the same kind of loss.
"It made me feel at ease, without being judged or told to get over it," she said.
Ames and Drewes say people trying to offer comfort sometimes say hurtful things unintentionally: "It was meant to be," and "You'll have another baby" and "Your baby has been spared greater suffering."
What really helps parents grieving over an infant death is for people to let them know their children mattered and aren't forgotten.
Ames remembers that first Thanksgiving after Whitney died, she had a hard time feeling thankful.
Today, she still misses Whitney. Drewes still misses Cameron. But they're both so thankful they had those children, and are so thankful for those still with them.
They hope every parent sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner today feels the same, they said.
"Be thankful for every moment you have with your children," Ames urges.
Empty Arms, a support group for families grieving after an infant loss, meets the first Thursday of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Windsor Road Christian Church, 2501 W. Windsor Road, C.
The group is seeking donations to help purchase educational materials and to assemble memory boxes with disposable cameras and other items parents need unexpectedly when a baby dies. The boxes will be made for hospitals to give to the parents.
Donations may be sent to the church in care of Empty Arms.