JONESBORO Ever since her daughter Conley was stillborn on June 1, 2005, Stacey Orr has known that she needed to use that experience in some way.
Now she has found her purpose, with a new support program called ShareHope that offers emotional support, advice and a variety of materials to mothers who have lost a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth or in the first few months of life.
"It'll be four years in June since Conley's been gone," Orr said. "I have known I was supposed to do something, but I never knew exactly what I was supposed to do until June 4, 2008, when a good friend of mine, Amanda Grisham, gave birth to her stillborn son Ryce Hundley (Grisham)."
She was able to provide insight in that situation in a way that no one else could.
"I got to go to the hospital and talked to her family before they went in there to see her," Orr said. "I said, 'Call him by his name. Don't tell her he's in a better place; don't say all the things people say out of love but you don't really want to hear at that time."'
She also spoke to them about funeral arrangements and shared her own experiences with Conley.
Realizing she was able to help others in similar situations prompted Orr to start a full-fledged support group. She found a national organization called Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Inc. and decided to form a local branch.
Orr was familiar with the NEA Clinic Charitable Foundation through its affiliation with NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital, where all four of her children were born - two before Conley and one since. So she contacted them and asked if they would help provide the structure.
Holly Acebo, executive director of the foundation, said the program seemed like a perfect fit with the existing HopeCircle, which provides support to people and families dealing with a devastating illness.
"When NEA Clinic Charitable Foundation considers a new program or additions to a current program, what weighs most heavily on that decision is if that program will meet a need in the community that is not currently being met," Acebo said. "We don't want to duplicate services but offer services that no one else is offering. With ShareHope, there is such a need for this type of support; and from the life experiences that Stacey and others bring to this, it'll be amazing the impact it will have on families in our region."
Acebo said the program is open to everyone, regardless of doctor, hospital or how long ago the loss occurred.
Orr said the program is already in place at NEA Baptist. She and a nurse attended a national training event, and the rest of the staff at both the NEA Baptist Women's Center and the NEA Clinic Women's Clinic has been trained to provide information on ShareHope in the event of a baby's death.
But Orr hopes the program will find a home in all area hospitals to help meet the needs of any family in such a situation.
The program is based inside the HopeCircle resource center in the NEA Clinic. Volunteers have made blankets, clothing, booties and other items that are available for the baby and that the family can keep. A lending library has a variety of books on the topic of infant loss and brochures intended for parents, grandparents and friends.
The support group meets the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in the resource center.
"It's just a very long road when you lose a baby," Orr said. "It's almost a secret sorority that no one wants to be a part of. But when you are thrust into that position, the people who have been there and have walked where you walk can help make that road so much easier, and just to know that you're not alone, especially in that first year after your loss.
"We want to share hope that you're not always going to feel so alone ... that it does get better and you can smile again," Orr said.
Donations of baby clothing and diapers - particularly tiny sizes - are being accepted at the center. Orr said stillborn babies are generally 20 to 30 weeks into the pregnancy, and there aren't outfits available in the right sizes.
Monetary donations and lasting memorials can be made on the NEA Clinic Charitable Foundation Web site or sent to the center.
Photographer Courtney Fitzwater is working with ShareHope to photograph babies at no charge. She will be on call to come to the hospital at any hour if necessary to provide a keepsake, Orr said.
Plans are under way for a Walk of Remembrance, possibly in conjunction with the annual Celebration of Hope Week set for the week of Sept. 27.
For more information see today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.