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‘Heavenly Babies’ program helps families grieve, remember

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lifestyles Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Jane Davis has spent most of her 30-year nursing career on the labor and delivery floor at CHI St. Joseph’s Health in Dickinson.

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Well-known as an experienced and caring nurse, Davis estimates she has attended at least 2,000 births. However, she is also known to a number of families as the nurse who helped them through the unexpected loss of their babies.

Early in her career, Davis attended the deliveries of babies that died before or at birth. While it did not happen very often, she found she was almost always the nurse on duty.

“I was just always here for the losses. It’s like I was meant to be here,” Davis said.

Strongly called to serve such families, Davis admits it never got easier.

“Mothers always want to know, ‘Why?’” she said. “That isn’t something I can answer, but I can grieve with them and be a resource to them.”

With pictures she had taken of the babies and families, Davis started making homemade scrapbooks for families as a way to celebrate the lives of their babies. The positive reaction of families to the scrapbooks prompted Davis to create memory boxes with other keepsakes such as small baby hats, blankets, crosses, teddy bears and ornaments. She shopped for the items on her own time, donating countless hours to painting boxes, printing photos and making blankets. She and other nurses donated money from their own pockets to help purchase the items placed in the memory boxes.

Many other St. Joseph’s nurses are now involved in the Heavenly Babies infant bereavement program Davis started, working to ensure each family leaves the hospital with treasured scrapbooks and keepsakes of their little ones.

Though she initiated the giving of scrapbooks and memory boxes, Davis emphasizes that the nursing staff as a whole has embraced the Heavenly Babies program as a heartfelt labor of love.

Parents give back Some parents who have experienced the death of a baby are giving back in their own way.

After the loss of their baby, Bennett Michael, Rebecca and John Zent of Dickinson began making and donating oak memory boxes to families who have lost full-term babies at St. Joseph’s.

Ashley Bonamie, a St. Joseph’s employee, delivered a full-term stillborn baby in 2011 while living in Michigan. She has started making baby blankets to donate to the Heavenly Babies program as a way to give back.

St. Joseph’s labor and delivery nurse Krishanda Clevenger has also experienced the loss of a child. Her infant daughter, Kynli, died at her day care in Indiana in 2012.

“Having support was the biggest thing,” she said. “We worked with a family support group back home. The big thing I needed was to talk about Kynli and have others talk about her. Our extended family did not know what to say or how to talk about her with us. But, for me, that child still lives on.”

When Clevenger and her family moved to Dickinson, the closest support groups she could find were in Grand Forks or Fargo.

“There was nothing here,” she said.

Clevenger is in the process of starting a foundation in her daughter’s name. Through the foundation, she hopes to offer financial support to families for funeral arrangements or even a week’s worth of meals.

“A big goal is to someday create a park or garden area for families to come and remember their little ones,” she said. “A serene and beautiful place to just ‘be.’”

Clevenger hopes to grow a network of emotional support for families. She welcomes individuals interested in forming or joining a support group to reach out to her at krishandaclevenger@catholichealth.net.

Moving beyond their grief Even more powerful than photos, memory boxes or physical keepsakes is the support and care offered by Davis, Clevenger and fellow nurses to grieving families while they are in the hospital.

During the second trimester of pregnancy, Amanda Ellerkamp of Dickinson learned her baby had died, and that he would need to be delivered by induction.

Davis was the nurse who met her at the check-in desk and stayed with her throughout the entire difficult process.

“Jane cared for us in every way,” Ellerkamp said. “In addition to the phenomenal medical care she provided, she shared relevant literature and, at times, just sat with us. Once we were under her care, the day became about welcoming our baby John Paul, and in everything she did, she affirmed his humanity and perfection.

“This wonderful woman helped us move beyond the grief of the situation and placed our focus on making memories that we will treasure forever.”

How to help Each collection of special items given to families of deceased babies costs about $100. A fund called “Heavenly Babies” has been established through St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation to benefit the hospital’s infant bereavement program and help purchase those items. To make a donation, please call the Foundation Office at 701-456-4363.

Helping organizations St. Joseph’s is able to request free, handmade burial gowns for deceased babies through Outfits for Angels, a national non-profit organization which creates gowns from donated wedding dresses. To learn more, go to www.facebook.com/outfitsforangels .

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep connects families with volunteer photographers who donate the gift of infant remembrance photography. If you are interested in training to be a NILMDTS Affiliated Photographer in the Dickinson area, go to www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org .

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