A Little One Still Loved

Stephanie Paige Cole’s bereavement of a stillborn daughter blossoms into expression and compassion

blanketsamImagine preparing for the birth of your new baby with all the joy and anticipation of this new being in your life. Sweet reminders of her arrival turn up throughout your home in soft and cheerful colors: a stroller, blankets, tiny clothes. Then she arrives  — her name is Madeline, so welcome, loved and …stillborn. Sometimes most desolate times can lead one to amazing acts of expression bursting with purpose and creativity. Stephanie Paige Cole always loved to write, but never saw herself as a writer, not even as she was working on her book, Still: a collection of honest artwork and writings from the heart of a grieving mother.  “I write as a way to release all the overwhelming emotions of grief from my body. Before Still was a book, it was my journal, my canvas, It was a way for me to express the unspeakable.”

No one should suffer in silence. I want to begin a conversation that will ultimately allow other grieving mothers to feel confident in speaking about the full truth of their motherhood.

sp candles2

Candles of Beauty In The Breakdown exhibition
(credit: Nquyen Le)

Put this behind you and try again is the advice often given to the bereaved mothers faced with such an acute and unexpected grief. But after Madeline’s death, Stephanie refused to hide from anguish. Instead, she plunged into her loss, faithfully chronicling the first year without her daughter through art and writing. That’s how Still came into being. Anxious at first to have the world bear witness to her pain, she had to overcome that fear. “There’s such a stigma attached to stillbirth, nobody wants to talk about it, but this is a story that needs to be told.”  Stephanie reveals on her website. She hopes her book will reach other anguished parents that feel alone in their loss, as well as offer a better understanding to friends and family supporting the bereaved. “No one should suffer in silence. I want to begin a conversation that will ultimately allow other grieving mothers to feel confident in speaking about the full truth of their motherhood.”

There’s such a stigma attached to stillbirth, nobody wants to talk about it, but this is a story that needs to be told.

blankets of bereaved parents of stillborn children

Credit: Sweetpeaproject.com

In 2010, Still: a collection of honest artwork and writings from the heart of a grieving mother went forth into the world and her nonprofit, Sweet Pea Project,was launched. Her experience of going home with empty arms compelled Stephanie to give grieving parents something physical to take home. Sweet Pea Project donates blankets to hospitals so that these mothers and fathers get a chance to swaddle their children and remember them through tangible objects. The nonprofit also provides guidance and support to parents though donations of Stephanie’s book and information on ways to cope with this profound loss. The Sweet Pea website features a commemorative page listing the names of lost sons and daughters as well as a community gallery of work from parents and relatives expressing their grief through art and poetry about stillborn and dead children.

I write as a way to release all the overwhelming emotions of grief from my body. Before Still was a book, it was my journal, my canvas, It was a way for me to express the unspeakable.

To Linger on Hot Coals, is Stephanie Paige Cole’s new book in collaboration with the poet Catherine Bayly that commemorates their first daughters, Madeline and Sophie, both stillborn at full term.  This new collection includes the work of other bereaved mothers and embodies the many aspects of grief, from early devastation to the present need of keeping the memories of these children in the center of their creative expression.

Read about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep — a network of photographers illustrating the healing power of photography.

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