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Moms of stillborn babies create libraries for families experiencing pregnancy loss

“I wish someone would have suggested to me, ‘Why don’t you read a book to your baby?’”
Nicole Collins is pictured with her surviving son, Asher. She read the book "Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You" to Asher's twin brother, Will, after he was stillborn. She said she's since read the book so many times that she knows the words by heart.
Nicole Collins is pictured with her surviving son, Asher. She read the book "Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You" to Asher's twin brother, Will, after he was stillborn. She said she's since read the book so many times that she knows the words by heart.Courtesy Nicole Collins
/ Source: TODAY

When Nicole Collins was pregnant with twins, she received devastating news at her 32-week ultrasound: One of her baby boys, Will, had died. For two more weeks, she carried both babies before delivering them. She grappled with feelings of joy as she became a mother to Asher, and feelings of sorrow as she mourned for Will.

One of Collins' friends arrived at the hospital with a care package for the grieving mom. It included a kit to make handprints and footprints, as well as children's books for Will.

“I remember when I first saw them thinking, ‘What am I going to do with these baby books that are for Will? He’s not here,’” the 33-year-old from Pittsford, New York, told TODAY Parents. “The social worker encouraged me to read them to him and make those memories with him. So I did — and I’m really, really glad I did, because they are some of the only memories I got to have with him.”

Since then, Collins has spoken to other families who have experienced pregnancy loss. Many parents have told her they had no idea what to do when their babies were stillborn. Some didn’t realize that they could take pictures of their babies, dress and bathe them, have them baptized, sing to them, or read to them.

As soon as Collins heard her OB-GYN, Dr. Heather Florescue, suggest starting small libraries in hospitals for families experiencing pregnancy loss, Collins knew she wanted to help.

“It became very evident that a lot of people didn’t have friends like mine who brought gifts to the hospital, and they didn’t have books like that,” said Collins, who works as a pharmaceutical sales representative. “I got to read Will a book (and) I could recite it to you by heart. … That became very special to our family.”

Nicole Collins said she is grateful she had the opportunity to read to her stillborn son, Will, who is pictured here holding his twin brother Asher's hand.Courtesy Nicole Collins

Florescue, a doctor at Women Gynecology & Childbirth Associates in New York, has been using a protocol in her practice that was developed in the United Kingdom and Australia to try to reduce preventable stillbirths. She said she feels strongly about providing support to parents who do experience pregnancy loss.

“These families are given this shocking news and then have these babies and they don’t know what they’re supposed to do,” Florescue told TODAY Parents. “This (library) is something that gives them the opportunity to read as many books as they want, to take some pictures ... and be able to say, ‘I did this very parental thing with this baby I lost.’”

Dr. Heather Florescue partnered with the Star Legacy Foundation and some patients to create little libraries for families who experience pregnancy loss.Courtesy Nicole Collins

In 2018, Christina Fedczuk started the Western New York chapter of the Star Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit that raises awareness and funds research about stillbirths, after her second son, Vincent, was delivered stillborn when she was 38 weeks pregnant. She felt drawn to helping to prevent stillbirths in some way. As the chapter grew, it adopted the libraries as one of its projects.

“You’re already feeling alone and isolated. When you’re at the hospital you can go pick out a book and you can take that book home with you,” Fedczuk, 37, a math teacher in Rochester, New York, told TODAY. “You keep it as a keepsake, which is really special.”

The Western New York chapter of Star Legacy Foundation has received enough donated books to stock libraries in eight hospitals.Courtesy Nicole Collins

Jennifer Chappell was devastated in 2016 when she delivered her son, Cooper, and he was stillborn.

“You were expecting to bring them home and then all of a sudden they’re telling you that you have to deliver this baby and then bury him,” said the 38-year-old accountant from Rochester, New York. “You’re in so much shock at that point. I didn’t know what to do with him. I just held him and cried. It’s why the libraries become important — because it’s something you can do with your baby in that moment.”

Like many people who experience stillbirths, Jennifer Chappell didn't know how to create memories with her son, Cooper.Courtesy Jennifer Chappell

After her experience, Chappell wanted to help other families as they struggle with loss.

“I wish someone would have suggested to me, ‘Why don’t you read a book to your baby?’ I wish someone would have suggested a lot of things to me,” Chappell said. “That’s one of the reasons why we try to put things in place in the hospitals that aren’t there — so moms can have a better experience out of the worst experience of their lives.” 

The women involved with the Western New York chapter of Star Legacy Foundation ask their friends and family members to purchase books from an Amazon Wish List. To date, they've received enough donations to stock libraries in eight hospitals. Families who experience pregnancy loss can pick a book to read to their child and then take it home (though some hospitals might have changed their policies due to COVID-19).

Sometimes a book gets donated in honor of a stillborn baby. Other times, people just want to donate books. The women make sure none of the books would upset families experiencing pregnancy loss. While they believe such programs exist in other places, they designed their libraries so that they are easy to replicate in any location.

“It would take the drive of just a couple of people to create something like this and bring it to the area,” Fedczuk explained. “We were able to do this. We thought we were going to do it in just one hospital.”

After her son, Cooper, was stillborn, mom Jennifer Chappell wanted to do what she could to support other families going through pregnancy loss. Chappell is pictured here with her family.Courtesy Jennifer Chappell

Even though discussing pregnancy loss has become more normalized, many people who experience it feel isolated and alone. Offering books to these families can help them feel more supported and encourage them to make more memories with their babies.

“It really is a very wonderful piece to add to pregnancy loss support services,” Florescue said. “The books can be a jumpstart for the day or two that they’re there to make memories.”