WASHINGTON, Ind. — When a family loses a baby in Daviess County, Sarah Morrison is often the first person they see.
Sarah is a labor and delivery nurse at Daviess Community Hospital. Anytime a baby dies, she is summoned to visit the family. She talks to them about the grieving process and the necessary steps: making funeral arrangements, taking photos, possible baptism.
She knows what they're going through.
In July 2008, Sarah was 35 weeks pregnant when her cervix started to dilate. She went to the hospital. Doctors discovered the umbilical cord had cut off oxygen to her baby. Her son, Silas, had died.
A grief counselor at the hospital came to see the family. She offered them clergy and a baptism. They took pictures with Silas.
After Sarah got home, she didn't know where to turn for support.
"I just tried to stay as busy as possible, and then I hit a wall and realized I had to face it," she said.
"I reached out to people and tried to talk about him. I read a few books. We had a little girl, 2 1/2. We had this book called 'We Were Going to Have a Baby, but Instead We Had an Angel.' I read that over and over in a rocking chair with his blanket. It was the hardest thing I ever went through."
Her friend had given her a quilt she made for Silas.
"I asked her if she wanted it back, since there was no baby. She said, 'No, that was his,'" Sarah recalled. "It still makes me tear up. You don't know what to do with yourself."
A new opportunity
At the time, Sarah was a nurse at her hometown hospital in Vincennes. But she couldn't bear working in the unit where her son died. So she transferred to Daviess Community Hospital, 20 miles away in Washington.
The manager of Sarah's new unit suggested she attend a training on pregnancy and infant loss. She agreed. After the training, she began counseling parents and started a monthly support group. She has since provided services to about 50 families.
"I'm just glad I got to a point where maybe us losing him gave me more of a purpose as a labor and delivery nurse," she said. "I come from a very understanding point of view. I feel like I can give these women something to relate to, someone who understands losing a baby."
Sometimes people, though well-meaning, say the wrong things to a parent whose baby has died.
"They'll say, 'You're young. You can have more,'" Sarah said. "Well, that doesn't replace him. I've had three babies since we lost him. I'm still going to always have him on my heart. Each child we've had are all individuals. I didn't get to know that about my son. I don't know what color his eyes are.
"When people say, 'Oh at least he didn't suffer. At least he doesn't know any worldly pain. He's with God now.' I know he is. I want him here with me.
"Things like that are hurtful. It would be nice if they said, 'I'm here for you. Do you want to talk about it?' He lived and he mattered and he grew inside me for 35 weeks. I want to talk about him. That's one thing people just shut down. It's such a taboo to talk about a dead baby. Once the baby is gone, it seems like the whole rest of the world forgets about them."
A long grieving process
Sarah, 33, has four other children: one "sunshine baby" and three "rainbow babies." She explained.
"The loss is the darkest time in your life. The loss is like the storm," she said. "A rainbow baby you have after. A sunshine you have before."
Her youngest, Ariah Rigby, was born Nov. 23. She shares Silas' middle name.
"I still have hard days," Sarah said. "The anniversary of his birthday, his death day. Christmas is still hard. It just takes time for that to heal. It's like a scar forms there. There are things that can open the wounds that bring back that pain.
"I can definitely see joy in the world again. But still, when I think of him, I'm always going to be sad about it. Definitely the most intense part has resolved. I don't think you ever fully get over it, though."
This series was produced as a project for the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism's National Fellowship.