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The loss of a newborn: How one mom is coping

When I last wrote about Michelle Williams, she was three months pregnant with her second child. Her first baby, Sadie, had been delivered by cesarean section, and Williams was determined to try for a vaginal birth this time.

But Williams didn’t have a VBAC (pronounced V-back); instead, at 28 weeks, her placenta abruptly tore and an emergency cesarean section at the University of Chicago saved her life. Her 2-pound, 3-ounce baby, Sawyer, had a rare congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot and Pulmonary Atresia, and on June 3 he died in his mother’s arms, two days after he was born.

The loss shook Williams to the core. But she was deeply moved by the way the U. of C. staff handled the transition after Sawyer died. Williams was taken to a private room where nurses took a mold of Sawyer’s foot, bathed him and dressed him. Then Williams held her swaddled baby for hours before placing him inside a casket. “I’ll never forget that time with him,” she said.

Today Williams says she’s a completely different person, one she didn’t choose to be. Writing through her grief, she created the blog "Out of the Woods" which became “Sawyer's Heart Project." "First you're numb, then you try to let go. Now, everything stings,” she wrote on Aug. 24, her due date with Sawyer. “I don't know how I'm going to get through the next three months knowing that I should still have my beautiful baby growing inside of me.”

By October, Williams had found a focus: supporting parents who have lost infants. She organized A Walk to Remember for parents who had lost babies, raising $3,000. The money was donated to Angels of Hope – NFP Inc., an organization that supports bereaved families and provides burial assistance to families who can’t afford to bury their children.

And for Williams, now pregnant again with a son, another dream is coming true: Williams recently founded “Sawyers Heart Project” through Angels of Hope. The group will be making and distributing memory boxes to local hospitals for pregnant patients who suffered a loss.

The boxes will contain a blanket, sleeper/layette, hat, bootie set, disposable camera, journal, angel ornament and “whatever else we have at the time that will fit in the box along with information on bereavement support,” said Williams.

“After Sawyer died, my knuckles were white because I was so tightly holding on to the things they gave me for him,” she said. “At the time you don’t realize how precious those gifts are,” she said. “It’s all you have.”

(To contribute to the project, you can find a wish list here.)


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