Just a month after losing their newborn daughter, Analiese, in February, Janice and Stefan Murphy traveled to Orlando, Florida, where Stefan had some work obligations. Janice decided to visit Disney World alone, using tickets a childhood friend gave her. “Disney holds a special place in my heart,” Murphy explained.
After spending the day riding her favorite rides, Murphy made a spur-of-the-moment decision to meet Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, whom she spotted outside the castle. The experience turned out to be magical for the grieving mother. “Other cast members and characters that I had interacted with that day didn't acknowledge the teddy bear I was holding, and we all just went about our business as though it was perfectly normal to see an adult woman carrying a purple bear in a onesie around,” she said.
But the Fairy Godmother was different. “The first thing [she] said to me was, ‘Who do we have here?’ My response was simply, ‘My daughter. She passed away last month, and I have her ashes inside the teddy bear.’ The Fairy Godmother's entire demeanor changed,” said Murphy. “She was still smiling and doing her job as a Disney employee, but her compassion and empathy for my situation was overwhelming. She asked if she could hug her, and I agreed. She complimented her sparkly fur, and then asked if we could take a picture of us kissing her cheeks.”
Murphy’s encounter with the Fairy Godmother proved invaluable to Murphy. “The entire experience was as though she was a little baby being held in my arms, and that meant the world to me,” she said. “After we finished, I walked over to the fountain behind the castle and just sat and cried a little. She was the only person to ask about Analiese, and in doing so, she made the biggest difference to me.”
Murphy filled out a comment card to let Disney know how much the moment meant to her, and she also posted it on her Facebook page. The post now has 30K shares and almost 5K likes.
The Murphys’ daughter was born with Trisomy 10 Q, which caused abnormalities in the development of her brain, heart, and lungs that were incompatible with life. She was born on February 11 and lived 85 minutes, despite doctors’ expectations that she wouldn’t survive in the womb.
Her mother, who has documented her pregnancy and Analiese’s birth, as well as the month since, on her blog, says it is important to her that something positive come from Analiese’s short life. Since her daughter’s death, she began donating her breastmilk to a bank specifically for NICU babies.
“I am not able to feed my daughter, and that loss haunts me. But I am able to help so many babies in the NICU get healthy and strong. And that feels good. It makes me feel like Analiese is helping them,” she said.
Murphy is also speaking up about how important a support system was for her family, in the hopes that other families facing similar diagnoses can get what they need too. “I'm trying to raise awareness of the real need that exists for specialized care for families like mine,” she said.
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“I got ridiculously lucky because I got pregnant for the first time here in Maryland. When the genetic counselors/maternal fetal medicine offices are able to send you to a therapist that specializes in the loss of a child, that enables families to concentrate on spending the time they have with their child NOW. But too many cities and states do not have that kind of specialized care available.”
Murphy stressed that while her moment with the Fairy Godmother was magical, there has been more to the experience of her baby’s birth and death that was also amazing. “Analiese has changed my life, forever, in every way,” she said. “And if by raising awareness, I can help one family feel like they're not alone, or find specialized help like I have? Then it was all worth it.”
Editor's note: Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support and Compassionate Friends are two national organizations that support bereaved parents. Please visit their websites for more information and resources.