Grieving a miscarriage or a stillborn child is a terrible experience, and unfortunately, not an uncommon one. Around 500,000 American women miscarry every single year, and there are approximately 26,000 stillbirths per year as well (1). But out of tragedy and grief, one family received a great deal of kindness and compassion from an unexpected place. This is their heartwarming story.
Valerie Watts of Cokata Minnesota carried her son to full term, but she could sense something felt wrong. “All week I knew, he wasn’t moving as much. I was very nervous,” she said. At the last week of her pregnancy, Valerie’s doctors told her that her unborn baby had passed away.
As she grieved the loss of her child, Valerie chose to leave all of the things she had bought for her son intact, keeping his nursery in her home. One year later, she finally felt she was ready to move on and pass on all of her baby items, including a crib, to someone else who could use them.
Meanwhile, coming from a few miles outside of town, Gerald Kumpula and his wife visited Valerie’s garage sale and drew interest in the crib. Gerald restores antique furniture in his spare time, and thought he could make good use of the crib. But he admitted he noticed Valerie’s hesitation in parting with it: “She was kind of hesitant, I knew that maybe she didn’t want to sell it, yet she did.”
It wasn’t until he had already loaded the crib into his truck when he realized the true significance of the special item. Gerald’s wife casually asked Valerie how old her baby was, noticing all of the infant’s items – that’s when Valerie shared her story of loss with them. It made a massive impression on the Kumpula’s, who didn’t want to take away something so special. So, Gerald came up with a brilliant and touching idea.
One week later, Valerie was surprised with a gift: Gerald had converted her son’s crib into a bench, which could honor her lost child in a new way. “I started crying instantly”, Valerie recounted.
Dealing With Stillborn Babies and Miscarriages
Miscarriages and stillbirths are both types of pregnancy loss, differing only in the time of the loss; the term miscarriage is used before 20 weeks’ gestation, and the term stillbirth is used after 20 weeks. When a baby dies in the womb, their mothers still have to give birth. Usually doctors will allow their patients time to process their grief and then plan to induce labor (when necessary and possible).
Stillbirths can also happen during labor; although they are less common, they can be caused by an infection or a problem with the placenta or umbilical cord. Other causes of stillbirths include abnormal growth of the fetus, pre-eclampsia, or complications with the mother’s health such as diabetes. A post-mortem can be performed to help identify the potential causes of the stillbirth.
Every mom deals with grief and her own way, and it’s important to keep an open mind about how to be supportive for a friend or family member who’s dealing with loss. If you have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth, you can find supportive groups like the charity Baby Steps to help you through the difficult times (2). Many women find the physical experiences of loss especially challenging – vaginal bleeding and lactation can be unbearable reminders of a lost child, and it can be very encouraging to talk with other women who have experienced the same things.
If you or your loved one start to show signs of depression, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor to find ways to cope and heal through the process of grief.
Ultimately, it’s important to be open about the experience of miscarriage and stillborn babies in order to provide more support for new moms going through the same thing. We’re grateful for kindhearted people like Gerald who go the extra mile to reach out to the parents of lost children.