Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Breaking the silence on stillbirth: This couple’s grief transitioned to helping others deal with the pain

The Wilsons have a memorial wall dedicated to Kennedy Milan Wilson at the Sentara Leigh Hospital. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/Southside Daily)
The Wilsons have a memorial wall dedicated to Kennedy Milan Wilson at the Sentara Leigh Hospital. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/WYDaily)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a stillbirth as the death or loss of a baby before or during delivery and it affects about 1 percent of all pregnancies.

With the tragedy of losing a child comes a silence, but Heather and Demitri Wilson want to change that.

On Aug. 17, 2009, Kennedy Milan Wilson was stillborn because of a placenta abruption just two days shy of 37 weeks.

“It came as a total shock,” said Heather Wilson, Kennedy’s mother.

That was her first pregnancy, and a rough one at that.

On Dec. 18, 2010, the couple had Ryleigh Milan Wilson, their rainbow baby that carried her sister’s middle name.

In addition to Ryleigh, Demitri has a son, Demitri Jr.

During the next seven years, Heather and Demitri of Virginia Beach spent time grieving and healing.

Demitri did a lot of research during that time, he wanted to know why and how something like this could happen.

At first Heather was hesitant, the feelings were still very raw but she started to look into the research and statistics surrounding stillbirths as well.

Kennedy’s Angel Gowns

The Angel Gowns are made from donated wedding dresses and the boy's clothing is made from donated bridesmaid and formal dresses. (Southside Daily Photo/courtesy of Sentara)
The angel gowns are made from donated wedding dresses and the boy’s clothing is made from donated bridesmaid and formal dresses. (WYDaily Photo/courtesy of Sentara)

The couple first got the idea for the angel gowns when they couldn’t seem to find anything small enough for Kennedy’s burial.

From this Heather decided to use donated wedding gowns to sew angel gowns for the baby girls and donated bridesmaid and formal dresses to make ties and vests for the baby boys.

“It was a bit of a hands-on project,” she said.

She got to go into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sentara Leigh and see just how tiny some of the babies were to help give her an idea of the size she would need to make the gowns.

Cuddle Cot

The Cuddle Cots are designed to preserve the stillborn baby so that the families have a chance to spend a little more time with them before burial. (Southside Daily Photo/courtesy of Sentara)
Cuddle Cots are designed to preserve the stillborn baby so that the families have a chance to spend a little more time with them before burial. (WYDaily Photo/courtesy of Sentara)

But the research didn’t just stop at gowns — Demitri came across the Cuddle Cot.

Cuddle Cot is a European manufactured bassinet that keeps stillborn babies better preserved so that the families can spend more time with their child before burial.

“Every hospital needs one,” she said.

One of Heather’s goals was to bring a Cuddle Cot to every hospital in the area, something they have already started working on with Sentara.

Feedback from the nurses has shown that every parent who has been offered the use of a Cuddle Cot has been so grateful for it, Heather said.

The Wilsons hold two major fundraisers in addition to several smaller fundraisers to raise money for the Cuddle Cots and other support to families.

The next fundraiser, their Angel Ball, will be on April 27, 2019 at the Virginia Aquarium.

The Wilsons not only provide resources to grieving families but also a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen.

“Some days it’s really heavy,” Heather said.

To learn more about Kennedy’s Angel Gowns, click here.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzohttp://wydaily.com
John Mangalonzo (john@localdailymedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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