Stephanie Cole: Mother reaches out to grieving parents
Suzanne Cassidy, Staff Writer
Stephanie Cole remembers wandering numbly through the aisles of a bookstore, searching for a book, any book, which might help her through the isolation and despair she was feeling over the stillbirth of her daughter.
Now, Cole has created a book, titled "Still.," which is a collection of her journal entries and artwork from the year after her daughter's death. She chose that simple title, she said, because "every single meaning" of that word — still — just fit: Her daughter came into the world silent and still, but Cole said, "she's still my child. I'm still her mother."
Cole hopes that the book will be made available by hospitals, bereavement groups and birthing centers to parents who need it.
Cole had been pregnant for 41 weeks. It had been a happy and uneventful pregnancy, which offered no hint that tragedy lay ahead. But Jan. 5, 2007, for a reason her doctors could not explain, the daughter Cole was carrying in her womb — an already beloved daughter named Madeline — died.
Cole and her husband, Richy, were shocked and grief-stricken. They left the hospital without a baby, and without even a piece of paper to prove that Madeline ever existed.
Cole has been among those advocating for Pennsylvania to issue birth certificates for stillborn babies. She believes that birth certificates are not only important to the parents who have lost infants, but will be helpful in documenting stillbirths. Without such documentation, she said, it's difficult to get grants to fund stillbirth research.
"If we make this more open, and we make it something that the medical community is required to count, more babies will be saved," she maintained.
She noted that Madeline was delivered a week after her due date. "The majority of babies are home in their beds at that point," Cole said, adding, "Why is she less of a person because she was in my womb, and not in her crib? If she had died of SIDS, I would be counted as a mother — it wouldn't be something I would have to convince people of."
After Madeline died, Cole went on to found the Sweet Pea Project, which has a Web site (sweetpeaproject.org) and newsletter for bereaved parents, and which collects blankets for stillborn babies.
Now the mom of two little boys, she said she thinks every day about the daughter who made her a mother.
Nevertheless, it was not easy writing "Still.," she said. "I felt like I was giving my grief little feet, and sending it off the world to do whatever it wanted, and that made me feel really vulnerable."
She edited some of her journal entries, but said, "I left in most of my crazy."
Cole said she hopes that her openness will give others who are grieving the permission to feel however they feel.
"By being honest with it, it's going to make everyone feel less crazy and less insane," Cole said, adding, "I'm taking one for the team, and I'm putting my crazy out there."
Residence: East Lampeter Township.
Family: Husband Richy, and sons Ben, who's 2 1/2, and Nathaniel, who's 10 months old. Daughter Madeline would be 3 1/2.
Favorite artist: Kara L.C. Jones. Her only child was stillborn 11 years ago. She wrote a book of poetry, "Flash of Life," which I came across the year after Madeline died and instantly connected with. And I have an amazing painting of hers in my room that reminds me that I can always find a creative way to stay afloat when the pain gets unbearable. ... I am incredibly honored that she was willing to write the foreword for my book.
My favorite art form: Sculpting. There is just something about being able to control that wad of clay when there is so little in life you really have any control over.
My favorite band: The Beatles.
My creative outlets: Writing, painting, drawing, sculpting, photography.
What inspires me: Honesty, raw emotion, courage.
What sustains me: The knowledge that even though she never took one breath, my daughter's life is making a difference.
How I'd describe myself: I am an artist, an activist and above all, a mother.
A book I've read repeatedly: "Slaughterhouse-Five," by Kurt Vonnegut.
The last movie I saw: It was one of my favorites, "Everything Is Illuminated."
I cannot do without: The support of my friends and family.
A place I daydream about: Wurtsboro, N.Y., where we had a summer house when I was little. In my memory, that place is magical.
I relax by: Hiking, yoga, reading.
What makes me laugh: My children. They are absolutely hilarious.
My deepest hope: That my book helps other parents to feel less alone and less crazy as they struggle to survive after the death of their beloved child.
Suzanne Cassidy is a staff writer for the Sunday News. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.