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Comfort in Connection

Comfort in connection
Through the Sweet Pea Project, a mother whose baby was stillborn works to help other bereaved parents
Lancaster New Era
Published: Dec 23, 2008
08:53 EST

Stephanie Cole sleeps with her baby's receiving blanket.

Even though she never held her daughter, Madeline, in the blanket, Cole still finds comfort in its connection to her child.

Madeline, who was stillborn two years ago, was placed on the blanket when her photo was taken.

But Cole now regrets that she and husband Rich never cradled Madeline in the blanket earmarked for their baby.
Through her Sweet Pea Project blanket drive, she wants to make sure other parents don't have the same regrets.

Cole created the project to honor Madeline (Cole's little sweet pea) and reach out to other parents who have suffered the loss of a baby, she says on her online journal,

An artist, Mulberry Art Studios gallery publicist and the Lancaster mother of 11-month-old Benjamin, Cole is collecting blankets to donate to area hospitals — blankets that will be given to parents to swaddle and hold their babies, and then keep.

"When a baby dies, you don't have a lot that's tangible," Cole says. "You don't have memories to share. One of the only things you have is the blanket that held them."

When Cole, 26, started the drive about three weeks ago, she set her goal at 100 blankets by the end of the year.

To date, she has 80, which have been donated from as far away as Australia.

She plans to deliver blankets to area hospitals on Madeline's birthday, Jan. 5.

"This is far above and beyond what I thought I would get," Cole says. "It's only three weeks, and I'm more than halfway to my goal."


According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are 25,653 fetal deaths annually in the United States— 956 in Pennsylvania — or approximately one fetal death per 140 live births.

Fifty percent of stillbirths never have a determined cause.

Cole's healthy, full-term baby died in utero and was delivered at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

In the wake of her devastation, Cole sought grief counseling.

She found one of the best roads to healing is to help others.

In 2007, she spearheaded an art exhibit, "Beauty in the Breakdown," featuring the works of 25 people who had experienced losses, including 18 who lost a child.

In addition, Cole has reached out to bereaved parents by donating books to area hospitals and volunteering with the support group SHARE.

Cole is also meeting with state legislators to urge passage of a bill that would mandate provision of a birth certificate for parents of a stillborn child. The birth certificate would state that the birth resulted in stillbirth. Right now, Pennsylvania issues a death certificate

For the past two years, Cole has given presentations to staff at area hospitals from the perspective of a parent who loses a baby.

"Stephanie gave us insight on how to be more sensitive," says Jana Sukeena, a Penn State Hershey Medical Center labor and delivery nurse who is part of the hospital's grief and bereavement team. "We didn't realize how important it is to the mother to keep the blanket and clothing items — and not only keep them but to hold the baby in them."

Hershey gives the parents a memory bag with clothing — such as a hat and booties — and photos, Sukeena says. The bereavement team also follows up with parents with phone calls and cards for a year.

At Lancaster General Women & Babies Hospital, the bereavement team works closely with bereaved parents to meet their needs, says hospital chaplain Carolanne Hauck, who also counseled Cole after her loss.

"When this happens, (parents) have such a heavy, heavy burden, and to share it with someone who is truly listening makes the burden lighter," Hauck says.

The Women & Babies bereavement team invited Cole to speak. Her presentation, Hauck says, deeply touched staff.

"Some people said it would change the way they practice," Hauck says.

Cole has also interviewed grieving parents in support groups nationwide.

During her interviews, all parents expressed either a regret for not having kept their baby's receiving blanket, or cradled their baby in it, or appreciation that they had.

Cole is working to turn the blanket project into a nonprofit organization, but she realizes it could be a long-term process.

In the meantime, she is collecting blankets on her own.

Cole welcomes all types of blankets — especially receiving blankets — handmade or store-bought.

Her local donations have included blankets from the downtown Lancaster store Bellaboo. Donations have also come from as far away as Australia and Washington, from people who heard about Cole's project by word-of-mouth or her blog — including a 95-year-old woman who is knitting blankets.

Cole is amazed by the response.

"I'm just overwhelmed by people's generosity."

Blankets For Babies

for stillbirths after 18 weeks gestation but does not offer a birth certificate.

Through the Sweet Pea Project, Stephanie Cole is collecting receiving blankets for bereaved parents. Blankets will be delivered to area hospitals Jan. 5.
TO PARTICIPATE: E-mail Stephanie Cole, To learn more, go to

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