Mother to Madeline Jonna, born January 5, 2007
My firstborn child, my beautiful daughter Madeline, was stillborn at 41 weeks on January 5, 2007. A cause of death was never determined.
I have founded a nonprofit organization, Sweet Pea Project, which offers comfort, support and gentle guidance to families who have experienced the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth. I have also written a book, Still: a collection of honest artwork & poetry from the heart of a grieving mother, and I am the artist behind the Beauty In The Breakdown community art project. Working on these projects has helped me immeasurably. Writing the book and creating artwork gave me a way to express all the unspeakable emotions that were coursing through my veins after Madeline's death. And the Sweet Pea Project allows me to continue parenting Madeline by mothering her memory.
Above all, reaching out to others parents brings me peace because I know just how lost and lonely one feels after suffering through such a profound loss. After Madeline was born she was wrapped in a standard issue hospital blanket and handed to me. I cradled her in my arms for hours in that blanket before kissing her cheek one last time and saying goodbye. It was one of the few things in this world that touched her, and I wish so badly that someone would have thought to send that blanket home with me. The Sweet Pea Project began as a blanket collection program in the hope that we could keep other mothers from experiencing that same regret.
Everything I'm doing is something I never thought would be possible! I've created a nonprofit organization out of nothing, had a book published, collected well over a thousand blankets. I never would have dreamed I could do any of this, and I know the only reason any of it has been possible is because of the strength that Madeline left me. Everything that I accomplish is because of her.
Last month the Sweet Pea Project held our 1st Annual Balloon Release on October 15th. A few weeks before the event I received an email from a woman who read about it in the newspaper. She said she was looking forward to coming to the balloon release, that her son had been stillborn and she had never participated in anything in his honor before. He would have turned 46 this year. We emailed back and forth and she thanked me for the opportunity to get some of the grief off her chest. I cannot imagine how heavy and suffocating it must have been to have lost a baby years ago, when society forced you to bare the weight of it all in silence. I was honored to celebrate her son's short but precious life alongside her at the balloon release. I am grateful that I have been able to speak honestly about my experience and I am humbled by the opportunity I have been given to encourage other mothers to speak out as well.
There are so many beautiful mothers out there working to make this world a more gentle place for bereaved families, and they are all constant sources of strength and inspiration. When I was drowning in the ocean of my loss, it was other mothers like Kara LC Jone, Joanne Cacciatore and Sherokee Isle who reached out and pulled me aboard their little lifeboat. I am honored to now be in the position to bring others on board.
To learn more about Stephanie's organization please visit the Sweet Pea Project