Stephanie Paige Cole’s first child, Madeline Jonna, was silently born one week after her due date. Since that time, Stephanie and her husband have brought three beautiful boys into the world. But in losing Madeline, Stephanie found her mission. She is committed to improving the way stillbirths are handled at the hospital and in the community. She is also the founder of Sweet Pea Project.
1. I can’t even begin to imagine what losing Madeline must have been like. Can you share some of the details with me?
In January 2007 I gave birth to my firstborn, a beautiful little girl named Madeline Jonna Cole. She had lots of dark brown hair, brown eyes and high cheekbones. She weighed 7 pounds 11 ounces and was 21 inches long. Everything about her was perfect. But she died before birth. She and I had both been healthy throughout the 41 weeks of our complication-free pregnancy, and we never found out what caused her death. Heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to describe it. Nothing can. My husband and I had been so excited for Madeline to join our family. She was already such a part of our family. We rubbed my belly and played with her all day. My husband read storybooks to her every night. I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. We had arranged our lives around our daughter, and when she died we were utterly lost without her. Here we were, new parents and childless all at the same time. Nothing has hurt ever so badly.
2. What is the Sweet Pea Project and what triggered the idea?
One of my regrets is that I did not get to keep the blanket that my daughter was swaddled in during the short time that I held her. It is one of the few things that touched her and it would have been such a treasure to me. For Madeline’s 2nd birthday, I decided to try to remove this regret for future bereaved mothers at the hospital where Madeline was born by collecting a year’s supply of baby blankets. I put out a request for donations, and the blankets started pouring in. It continues to grow into an international organization, federally recognized by the IRS, that offers comfort, support and gentle guidance in a number of different ways. We have donated over 4300 blankets and close to 1500 books and we hold several free annual community events. It is amazing how quickly it grew. It saddens me that there is such a need for it, but I’m so very honored to be a part of this movement toward removing the stigma and silence of stillbirth and infant death in our community.
3. The Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth: What prompted you to pursue legislation?
I felt compelled to become involved in this movement because the parents and the babies deserved the validation the certificate would offer them, and because the way stillbirths are recorded in this country is completely reckless. Stillbirths takes the lives of more infants than all other causes of death combined, more than 25,000 a year in the U.S., and yet these deaths are not recorded in Infant Mortality data. Without concrete data, there is no research, no funding. This is simply irresponsible. And, of course, my emotions were definitely involved. It broke my heart and crushed my spirit to learn that I would not be receiving a birth certificate for my beautiful 7lb 11 oz baby girl who was stillborn one week after her due date, because she was not recognized as a human being in the state I live in. Her three little brothers were all born before their due dates, as many babies are, and her location (in my uterus or in my arms) should not have been a qualifying factor in whether or not she was worth counting. And I was infuriated, after 21 hours of labor and delivery, to be told that it did not count as a birth. If I didn’t give birth, then what was that episiotomy all about?
In Part 2 of this interview (coming next week) Stephanie discusses how she used her creative gifts and continues to use them to help bereaved parents navigate the grief process. Stay tuned.