TODAY Parents is featuring this story and others throughout October for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. You can find resources and support for pregnancy and infant loss at nationalshare.org. You can also join our community and share your stories on the TODAY Parenting Team.
Jennifer Jara's first pregnancy ended at 27 weeks with a heartbreaking loss.
The then 27-year-old and her husband, Joaquin, learned in 2014 that due to complications related to Jara's high blood pressure, the daughter she was carrying had stopped growing and despite having a heartbeat, would most likely die in utero. After 13 weeks of uncertainty, fetal monitoring and hoping their baby would survive, the couple attended a routine doctors visit and learned there was no longer a heartbeat.
Their daughter, Jessica, was stillborn on July 1, 2014, and Jara recalls being sent home from the hospital that evening without her baby after an induction and 24 hours of labor.
"It was a very surreal experience," Jara, who now has three children ranging in age from 3 months to 4, told TODAY Parents. "We left the hospital that night and basically got wheeled out in a wheelchair with a packet of information about funeral homes, burial and cremation. We were told, 'Make an appointment with your doctor in two weeks,' and, 'Good luck.' Not that the doctors and nurses weren’t empathetic, but that was all they could really do."
In the weeks after the stillbirth, Jara says she was heartbroken. The Saint John, Indiana mom's grief only grew when she began receiving medical bills for Jessica's delivery in the mail.
"It's a reminder every single month," said Jara. "You don't get to bring a baby home but you still have to pay this payment plan of however many dollars a month. It seems so unfair."
Six years after Jessica's death, Jara is hoping to help parents like her have one less thing to worry about after losing an infant by paying medical and funeral bills for families who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth.
"I sat down and thought about those days after Jessica was born," Jara explained. "How could someone have helped me? Second to bringing my baby back to life, which nobody can do, I thought, 'What about all the bills that come in?'"
While on maternity leave after the birth of her youngest child, Gianna, Jara launched Love, Jessica, a non-profit organization designed to help families in the infant loss community with their expenses.
Since its launch on July 1, which would have been Jessica's sixth birthday, the organization has covered $1250 in medical expenses, $250 in payments for five different families in states like Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.
Jara has received donations from businesses and individual donors who want to help relieve the burden of families who have experienced a loss. After a couple fills out a simple application and submits copies of their medical bills, Jara pays the facility directly and provides the family with a receipt.
As the organization grows, Jara hopes to cover a higher amount per family. And, the organization has enough money in donations to cover expenses for several more families in the coming months.
Jennifer Harper, a mom from Dayton, Virginia, applied for assistance from Love, Jessica after she and her husband, Adam, lost their daughter, Hannah, in June 2020, following several weeks of complications during her pregnancy.
"I had bills from an emergency room visit at 12 weeks, bills from extra monitoring and ultrasounds, a hospital bill for the induction and an anesthesiology bill for an epidural to have a D&C after delivery," Harper explained. "When the first bill came after I lost Hannah, I cried and cried and was so angry. I couldn't believe after all that — all the false hopes — that I lost her."
"Love, Jessica was a light during a dark time to me and helped me not to feel so alone in all of this," Harper added. "The service helped greatly to ease the financial burden as well as to ease my mind that there was light amidst the sadness."
For Jara, helping families with their medical expenses is a powerful way to remember the daughter she lost.
"It keeps my daughter’s memory alive. It helps me keep her name out there. Every time I write Love, Jessica, I smile a little bit," said Jara. "It makes it seem like it didn’t just happen in vain."