For most of us, wedding dresses symbolize love, joy and celebration. But for Shauna Loftus, images of wedding gowns will always be bittersweet. She and a dear friend use donated wedding dresses to painstakingly create tiny baby gowns for families who experience pregnancy loss, a stillbirth or a newborn death.
And it’s all because of Declan. Declan Loftus came into this world at 33 weeks on September 17, 2015 at just 2.7 pounds.
When Shauna was just 19 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound revealed that her baby was small for his age. From that time on, she saw a maternal fetal medicine specialist in addition to her regular obstetrician. She also had repeated ultrasounds to monitor the baby’s growth rate, cord placement and to check the amniotic fluid.
“I tried to control my anxiety, which wasn’t easy,” says Shauna. “I just wanted him here.” She juggled doctor visits and medical tests with the needs of her daughter, Teagan, 7, and twin boys Brendan and Colin, 5.
That Thursday, September 17, Shauna scooted to the doctor’s office. “As I sat in the waiting room, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I felt the baby move,” she says. “I guess I knew before I knew.”
And the news wasn’t good. As the technician performed another ultrasound, Shauna learned her precious Declan had no heartbeat.
That night, Shauna had a C-section, knowing her baby would be stillborn. Afterward, she remembers going back to her room with her husband, Steve, where they took turns crying and holding their tiny son. “We were afraid to hold him – we worried he would fall apart,” Shauna says. “But our nurses were angels who cried with us and taught us how to hold him and helped dress him in a beautiful gown.”
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Shauna and Steve spent precious hours with Declan. “I am so grateful for the pictures we took of him during our time together – they are priceless,” she says.
Three weeks later, Northwest Community Healthcare’s (NCH) Renew through Sharing Bereavement Program held its annual Walk to Remember, and Shauna and her entire family attended. “The walk was a way to honor Declan and keep his memory alive.”
That was the start of her connection to Renew through Sharing, the other couples who attend the bereavement support group and Jill Kottmeier, R.N., who leads the program. “I still attend the meetings, and I have met many amazing women with whom I will always be connected,” Shauna says. “Being a part of this group helped me survive the first year.”
Over time, Shauna decided she wanted to honor Declan by helping others. Missy Kline, a friend who teaches high school home economics, suggested the idea of making the miniature gowns and pockets that are used for the tiniest of stillborn babies.
Shauna balked at the idea because she never learned to sew and didn’t even own a sewing machine. But she kept thinking about how much Declan’s gown meant to her. So, with Missy’s help, she learned to pin, cut and stitch together the tiny gowns and pockets. And, in the process, she found a way to honor her son.
“We use the fabric from these donated wedding gowns because they hold warm and wonderful memories. It doesn’t have anything to do with money, it’s all about meaning,” Shauna says.
It’s now two years since Declan came into the world. And, one stitch at a time, Shauna is finding her way. “I’m glad to say I feel like I’m waking up again.”
To learn more about NCH’s Renew through Sharing Program, contact Jill at 847-618-8415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.