Join us for a conversation with bereaved mother Heather Cohen about how she found community and renewed her faith after the stillbirth of her son, Levi.
Just days away from her scheduled c-section, Heather was shocked to discover that her son no longer had a heartbeat. Devastated and grieving, she turned to Bridget's Cradles and began attending our online support groups and volunteering to comfort others through the ministry. Hear Heather's story of finding hope in the midst of her heartache and how you, too, can find hope after the loss of your baby.
In this episode, we discussed:
Having questions about the cause of your baby's death
Struggling with shame and regret over decisions you made or didn't make during your pregnancy
God's sovereignty and why our theology of who He is matters
The importance of finding community in grief
Why counseling is helpful and why you shouldn't be ashamed to seek help
More about Bridget's Cradles Hope Online support groups from Heather's perspective of attending them
Circumstances change but God never does
The hope of what is to come in Scripture
Honoring our babies by serving others to bring God glory
Heather's volunteer experience with Bridget's Cradles
Full transcript below.
Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!
Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)
Heather doesn't know the cause of her son's full-term stillbirth. She wasn't given any answers as to why his heart stopped beating. For those moms who are in the same position, how does this make you feel? Have you wrestled with God and surrendered the knowing? Write a prayer of surrender and ask God to help you trust Him in the midst of the unknown.
In this episode, Heather talks about how she found community and healing through Bridget's Cradles--both through our support groups and through serving in the ministry. In what ways do you feel God calling you to connect with other grieving moms? Have you found a community you feel safe in? What about serving? Write out what God has placed on your heart.
Ashley shares the simple but powerful truth that God never changes. It's us and our circumstances that do. We don't fall out of favor with Him when bad things happen. He still loves us the same. How does this truth change the way you view Him in light of your loss? Write out 3 Bible Verses that express His love for you, then say them out loud.
Graphics to share on social media or pin on Pinterest!
MEET OUR GUEST
Heather Cohen lives in Alabama with her husband, Kyle, and their three sons on earth. She is also momma to baby Levi in Heaven, who was born on June 27, 2021 at 38 weeks and two days (just days before his scheduled C-section).
Heather is a Bridget's Cradles volunteer who helps with our Cradled in Hope Facebook Group for Grieving Moms. She also crochets cradles for our ministry too.
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MEET OUR HOST
Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,300 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
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JOIN OUR CRADLED IN HOPE COMMUNITY FOR GRIEVING MOMS
Episode 37: Finding Community and Renewing My Faith after My Son's Full-Term Stillbirth with Heather Cohen
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast on the Edifi Podcast Network. I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ who founded Bridget’s Cradles, a nonprofit ministry in memory of my daughter, Bridget, who was stillborn at 24 weeks.
Cradled in Hope is a Gospel-focused podcast for grieving moms to find comfort, hope, and healing after the loss of a baby. We want this to be a safe place for your broken heart to land.
Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to heal our hearts, restore our joy, and use our grief for good. With faith in Jesus and eyes fixed on Heaven, we do not have to grieve without hope. We believe that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven.
Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:50] Welcome back to another episode of Cradled in Hope. Today I am blessed to have a momma who we served through Bridget’s Cradles, who now serves others through Bridget’s Cradles. Heather Cohen is a bereaved mom who heard about Bridget’s Cradles while holding her stillborn son, Levi, in the hospital. When returning home heartbroken, she started attending our Hope Online support groups each month.
She also began crocheting cradles and keepsakes for other families. Over time, her and I developed a friendship, and then I asked her to be a moderator for our Cradled in Hope Facebook group because she is the warmest, friendliest, and most encouraging friend you will ever meet. I told her that she is like a big hug that welcomes mommas to our Facebook community.
The Lord has really gifted her with the ability to encourage, comfort, and empathize with other women in a very special way. I'm so honored to have her on today to tell her testimony through Levi's story and how God walked her through unimaginable grief after he went to Heaven just days away from his scheduled C-section. Her story is one of heartbreak but of hope.
Heather lives in Alabama with her husband, Kyle, and their three sons on earth. She is also momma to baby Levi in Heaven, who was born on June 27th, 2021 at 38 weeks and two days. Let's hear her story now.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:08] Welcome, Heather. We're so glad to have you on the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Such a blessing to have one of our mommas who we've had the privilege to walk through your grieving journey with you. Of course, we wish that we didn't have to meet you in this way and that you never had to attend one of our support groups, but we're really glad that you're here and that you can share your testimony and Levi's life story with us. So would you introduce yourself to all of the mommas listening?
Heather Cohen: [00:02:35] Yes. My name is Heather Cohen. I am 35. I'm a mom of two boys here on earth, and our third son, Levi, went to be with Jesus when I was 38 weeks and two days pregnant. That was back in June of 2021 and five days from my scheduled C-section.
I had two C-sections before, so I wasn't nervous about that, but had noticed some of Levi's movements had been dropping off and mentioned it at my doctor's appointment. So two days before he died, I had an ultrasound and everything was perfect. His fluid levels were perfect. His weight and his heartbeat, his attempt to swallow and breathe was all perfect. And my doctor reassured me that everything was going as planned and there was no need to have any fears.
And so I went on about my day, and two days later I had the boys out at my parents' pool. It was a hot day in June, and I kept thinking, “I haven't felt him move today. I wonder if everything's okay?”
And I drank a coke and had a snack, and just throughout the day realized, “He's really not moving.” And about three or four in the afternoon, I decided I would go to the hospital and get him checked out.
I went to the hospital, I checked in probably about a quarter to five. My husband had stayed at home with the boys. I had told him, “I'm sure everything's fine, but I'm just going to get checked just to see.” And when I got to the hospital, I had to wait a really long time to be seen. And that was really hard, knowing that something is wrong and having to trust other nurses with my baby and my life.
And I had been waiting about an hour and that's when I went up to the registration desk and I said, “Ma'am, am I still checked in? Do they know I'm here? Because I don't even have an armband on.”
And the clerk told me, “Yes, ma'am, they know you're here. We just don't have a bed for you right now.”
And I said, “Okay. My baby's just not moving.” And so I continued to wait in the lobby. The night that I went in, there were also two other women who had lost twins. So four babies had died before Levi, that we know of, so they were very busy. The staff was very overwhelmed, sad, shaken.
But there was also a baby shower going on in the room right by the waiting room for one of the staff members. And so I could hear celebration and clapping and things like that, and just made my impatience grow. So in the waiting, I tried to be patient and pray and reassure myself that, “I'm sure everything's fine. I just had an ultrasound two days ago.”
And then ultimately they led me back to the room and the nurse, her name was Haley, tried to hear heart tones and she was moving the machine around my belly really rapidly, and I could just tell by the look on her face that something wasn't right.
And I said, “I'm going to be sick. I'm going to be sick.”
And she grabbed my hand and she said, “I'm with you. I'm with you. I'm not leaving you.”
And I said, “Okay.” So we waited. We still didn't hear anything. And I think that's when it really set in for me that what I was feeling was true. And it hit me like nothing had ever hit me before.
And she said, “I need to go get the doctor, so I'm going to leave you, but I'll be right back.”
And I said, “Okay, Haley, please come back. Please come back.”
And she said, “I will.” So when she came back in, she had the ultrasound tech with her, and they placed the probe on my belly and they had the screen turned away from me and they're not allowed to share, and I knew that. So I just couldn't even look at her face. I just looked down into my lap.
And I remember saying, “Levi, please don't be stubborn right now, please.” And I just knew he was gone. I just knew he was gone. And she rolled the machine out. She never said a word.
And Haley sat by me and sat on my bed and she pushed my hair back behind my ears and she said, “Who can I call?”
And I said, “Please call my husband,” so she called Kyle. And at some point I must have texted him, but I don't have much memory of it. At some point I must have said, “They can't find his heartbeat. Something's wrong.”
And he was there in a matter of minutes. My dad had gone to be with my boys and my mom came to the hospital with him, and I just couldn't believe when I saw my mom and my husband. They just started crying when they came in the room. And they fell down on either side of my stretcher and held my hands. Each of them held each of my hands and we just cried.
And it was a long hour or so waiting on the doctor to come in. And when he finally was able to come in, I knew he'd had a terrible night. I knew that they had been busy and he'd been in surgery. And he took my hand and he said, “I'm so sorry. Your son died and we don't know why.”
And he said, “Sometimes we never know, but as parents, we want a physical reason for why this happened and a reason here on earth,” but in that moment, there was not a reason. So he asked me what would I like to do? Would I like to go ahead and induce and try for a vaginal delivery, which I had not done in the past, or go to C-section immediately?
And I said, “I would like a C-section immediately,” because it's just like if the school called and said one of my boys was hurt, I want to see them immediately. I want the teacher to FaceTime me and show me what's wrong.
And that's how I felt, like if I wasted any time laboring or if he had any injuries during birth, he wouldn't look the same. I wanted him to be as close to what he would've looked like on his delivery day. And that was all I was thinking, was about pictures and about seeing him, holding him. What did he look like?
And so we went to the C-section and he was born just after midnight on June 27th, and he was five pounds, 11 ounces and 16 inches long. And he was perfect in every way. He had perfect features, his nose, his cheeks, his hair, his fingers, his toes, and I just couldn't believe how much he looked like my oldest son. And we got to spend a couple days in the hospital with him.
At that time, our hospital didn't have a CuddleCot, but they had a cooling blanket, which I was able to wrap him in and hold him in. I kept him in the bed with me most of the time. And this was all during the Covid pandemic, and I wasn't allowed visitors other than two people, which was my husband and my mom. And so I just kept saying, “I can't believe my boys aren't going to get to see him and hold him.”
And that's been a hard part of this whole thing is their grieving process, because they never saw him. But my in-laws immediately started driving to Dothan from Birmingham.
And when they got there, we had a conversation with the charge nurse and asked who all could come in and could they make special arrangements because of the circumstances.
And with much hesitation, they allowed my in-laws to come in and my sister to hold her nephew. And so they each held him for about 10, 15 minutes. And I didn't think to take any pictures of him with my in-laws or with my parents or my sister. I didn't think of other things that I could do in the hospital with him.
We did have his handprints and footprints made, which I'm thankful for, and Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep was able to come in and take photos, but they took them in the early morning hours, like 3:00 AM, after he was born. So they're not the best that I would like, but they're all I have and what I took on my phone and my husband's phone. Now that's still one of my largest regrets is not taking more photos, or one thing I wish I'd done is saying happy birthday to him on a video just to replay each year for myself.
Ashley Opliger: [00:11:12] It's so hard looking back on the day that your baby was born and have all of the questions of, “Why didn't I do this?” Or, “Why didn't I think to do this,” and wishing that you could have crammed a lifetime of memories into that day. And I know still to this day, I have regrets that I actually do not have any videos of Bridget whatsoever.
I took pictures on my phone, but I honestly just did not think to take any videos. And so I want to say, first of all, I'm so sorry for everything that you walked through, and that night at the hospital, and sitting in the waiting room, and waiting, and then being in there with the nurse. I can't imagine the fear and the overwhelming sense of shock and grief that you experienced and being all alone.
What a Godsend that Hayley was so comforting until your husband and your mom could be there. But I'm just so sorry, and I know that talking about it is so hard, looking back on those really painful memories and how traumatic that was to experience.
But I've been so inspired by your faith through your journey, because I got to meet you very soon after you lost Levi, and I'll let you share how that came to be, but I met you very fresh in your grief as you were still processing the raw weight of your loss.
And I've had the privilege to walk alongside of you through this journey, and I've been so blessed by seeing how God has used your pain and how you've responded with being obedient and trusting Him, even when that's hard and even when you can't see what He is doing at the moment, and you still have questions.
I think there's a lot of women that are listening who really resonated with what you said about, you just want answers as to the why. The doctors never were able to tell you a reason, even after he was born, and that can be so difficult to not have answers. And I frequently talk about this with some of my closest bereaved mom friends here in Wichita.
I have several moms who know exactly what caused their baby's death. And then I have some moms who don't, and not that we ever try to compare grief to each other, because that's actually one of the things that we always say in our support groups is that we all have our different stories and we don't compare grief to each other.
But really, I think there are aspects of both situations that are very painful because for the moms who don't have answers, they want answers because there's this big question mark of what happened. And, “Was it something that could have been prevented? And what did I not know,” and all of those things.
But likewise for the moms who do have an answer, then depending on what the answer is, it's like, “Could I have done something different to change that outcome?”
Because in my case, mine was because of subchorionic hemorrhage. Could I have been on progesterone? Would that have made a difference? And I think as mothers, we want to know the answers because we want to fix it so that we could protect our baby. That's an instinctual role of a mother.
But I've really found a lot of grace in knowing that it's okay to wrestle with God in that doubt and rest in Him knowing that, whether we have answers or we don't have answers of the exact reason why they died, we can trust Him. And we know that the ultimate hope that we have is that we get to see our babies again. No matter how much time we got to spend with them on earth, we're going to get to see them forever.
And so would you speak to the mom who doesn't have answers and is having to surrender the unknown that she doesn't know and she may never know why.
Heather Cohen: [00:14:56] Yes. For those parents who want answers and there are none, that is such a difficult place to be. That pain is something that doesn't go away. You always wonder, “What could I have done? Could I have done anything?”
And I think in that pain, a lot of my healing came through trusting that God is sovereign. And there may not be an answer, but sometimes the answer is that He is sovereign. And a verse that has been very healing for me has been, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you,” in Isaiah.
There is no deeper water, I don't think, than losing a child. And I know that people experience different types of loss and every type of loss hurts, and grief hurts. Grief is something I didn't know could be as bad as it is. I know I've shared with you in the past, I had no idea that people who were grieving felt this way.
But to lose a child that you never got to know, that you never got to see fulfill their life's plan, that is just an unbearable weight. But with God and with His ability to heal and open my heart back up to Him, that's how I have found healing, knowing that He is sovereign.
And even if I don't have the answers, I do have one answer and that's that God is in control. He knew all of Levi's days. He knew how long he would live and how many times his heart would beat.
Ashley Opliger: [00:16:39] Yes, He is sovereign and it's a hard truth to wrestle with sometimes. Because we think, “Well, if He's sovereign, does that mean that He willed this for us, that He wanted this for us? Or is it that He knew that this would happen to us because He's all-knowing?”
And there are different theology camps on these issues, but I fall into the viewpoint that God does not will these broken things to be part of our lives, that death happens because The Fall happened and we live in a very broken world where sin and death are part of our existence.
And unfortunately, because of Adam and Eve's choice, and really, if any of us had been Adam and Eve because of our human nature we would've rebelled against God, but because of that choice, we now live in this broken state until God redeems His Creation and His people and finally destroys sin and death and throws Satan into the Lake of Fire.
But until that happens, we have to understand that these things happen. And because God is all-knowing, He knows the past, He knows the future, He knows everything. So just because He knows they will happen doesn't mean that He did this intentionally, but He's there for us to help us respond to our grief and to walk with Him through it and use our grief for good.
And so a lot of times people think, “Well, is it because He wants us to use our baby's life for this particular reason and that's why our baby had to die?” I don't think that's the reason they died. I think that God wants us then to use the brokenness that happened to use that pain for good, a beauty from ashes.
And so if you wouldn't mind going back in your story to when you were in the hospital and you were holding Levi, I know you got to spend time with him there, with your family and with your husband holding him. And that's actually where you got introduced to Bridget’s Cradles. So I'll let you share that story.
Heather Cohen: [00:18:44] Yes. So I was in the hospital and the nurses had told me that we needed to do our funeral minutes and have the discussion about his placement, which funeral home we would use, any ceremony that we wanted to have, like that. And that came as a second wave of shock to me that I had to plan this.
I guess, even being a nurse myself, I always thought someone helped you through this process. And I had no idea I had to make these decisions on my own, and I was not in a place mentally to be able to do that. So one thing I could do was research on my phone in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep and I was up, tearful, holding him.
I just looked down at him and told him, “I'm going to do the best I can to plan a funeral for you.” And I started to search for #stillbirth on Instagram and Pinterest to hopefully find some photos of funerals, caskets, floral arrangements, worship playlists, just anything that I could get my hands on, really.
And one of the things that kept coming up was the beautiful pastel images that Bridget’s Cradles brings. And I started to think, “Who is this Bridget?” And then I began to see more of the quotes from other moms and read their stories on Instagram and scroll through the pictures. And that was how I learned about Bridget’s Cradles.
And I knew immediately there in the hospital that even though we didn't receive a cradle and I had never heard of the organization itself, that I wanted to be involved in it, and I wanted to be a volunteer, and I wanted to share my story like these other women had.
But I didn't know where to start and didn't know how God was going to lead me through this, or never thought that I would be here sharing on a podcast with other women, but knew that I wanted his story to be loud and proud. And so that's where our journey began.
Ashley Opliger: [00:20:56] It's so special to me that you found us when you were still holding him. That just has a special place in my heart, knowing that God was so faithful to use a hashtag. We do put a lot of thought into the hashtags that we use on Instagram and Pinterest and everything.
Obviously the stillbirth one is a common one, but we try to rotate other hashtags and pray that God will use those to reach the moms who need it. And so it's really amazing to me that God can use even a hashtag to bring about connection and what He's done through our friendship and through your personal ministry within Bridget’s Cradles, which we'll talk about in just a little bit.
But I want to talk through your grief journey from those fresh days after losing Levi. You came to an online support group very soon after, which sometimes is really hard for grieving moms to do when it's so fresh. Speaking from our in-person and online support groups, a lot of times moms will come after it's been a month or two, three, sometimes four months when they've been walking this journey a little bit and they're like, “I can't do this alone. This is so heavy.”
Occasionally we do have moms that will come years down the road or very fresh, like you, in their grief. But I do think it takes a lot of strength and vulnerability to be that fresh and say, “You know what? I really need to get plugged in and be in a support group.” And so please share what that was like coming to Hope Online for the first time and just where you were at in your grief journey and where that met you.
Heather Cohen: [00:22:37] I was in the middle of my coming home period of time where you come home, your family's there, they're comforting you, people are bringing food. And we couldn't watch TV for several weeks. We didn't want any other form of reality to come into the world other than the world we knew, which had stopped. And so we played worship music nonstop during those weeks.
And I had still come back to Bridget’s Cradles website and Pinterest and Instagram, and been looking at that so much, and saving images and saving Scriptures to come back to and fall back on. And one thing that you always said in the beginning that helped me so much was that this was not God's plan for Levi. And just repeating Jeremiah 29:11 over and over, knowing that no, this wasn't His plan. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
And so when I joined that first meeting, I don't know if it was probably July, but it had been just a few weeks. But it was still very fresh, and I joined not knowing what to expect or how many women would be there or if you would be there. I didn't know how long it would last. Could I cry? Could I show my face, not show my face?
I had a lot of fears about crying in front of other women, and what if I was more vulnerable than they were or not as vulnerable? I just had a lot of fear about it. I had a lot of anxiety about sharing his story, but you eased my fears right from the get-go and made me feel really comfortable, and started off with the video of this belief system and it aligned with mine.
And I remember watching that video and feeling so connected to those women in a way that I still can't describe. And watching that video still jerks at my heart, but it has gotten easier with time to share his story and to be open to the Holy Spirit. If He says to share, I feel able to do so with strangers even.
And my grief has made me a better nurse. I feel like it's made me a better person, a better mom, a better wife. The Zoom meetings were my first outlet to talking about Levi and about my experience in the hospital. It was the first time I shared that he had been cremated out loud.
It wasn't until about six or seven months of the Hope Gatherings meetings where I decided to go to in-person counseling at the Wiregrass Hope Group, and I feel like you, Ashley, helped me to make that step and make that choice to go to counseling. And there I journaled and I shared with my counselor and we became really close also.
And through that center, I was able to reconnect my faith back where it had been prior to losing Levi. I never did doubt that God was real or that His love wasn't true for me. I never was not in communication with God. I never was angry with God. All of the stages of grief don't have to be met, and I never did experience anger, but one thing I did experience was, I've shared with you before, that before we lost Levi, I had always felt so close to the Lord and felt like I was His favorite.
And ever since I was saved as a young girl, I've been able to feel His calling on my life to share about Him and to share my faith, and to be open and honest and real with people, and just follow what I feel in my heart. And I've always done that. And when Levi died, I didn't feel like His favorite anymore, and I struggled with that because I felt like, “How could He let this happen to me, if He loved me?”
But just like you said, Him knowing that it would happen wasn't His way of causing it to happen. And He is not the cause of any bad thing, but He is our good thing in the midst of bad things. And knowing that and reading Scripture and worshiping Him, I think there's power in worship, and continuing to pray and praise and love the Lord and be loved by the Lord. I think those are very powerful things. And through Bridget’s Cradles and through counseling I was able to reconnect that faith again.
Ashley Opliger: [00:27:39] I'm so proud of you for going to counseling because we always say that our Hope Online and our in-person support groups, it's not a substitute for Biblical professional counseling, and we always have a disclaimer on our website that we are not licensed counselors.
And as you mentioned, you weren't sure if I was going to be leading it or not, but I am the one that leads all the support groups. And I am not a licensed counselor, and we make sure we let everyone know that, but I am a big advocate for counseling.
I've seen the amazing things that it can do in my own life and in others' lives, and I feel like it's a really important part of the healing journey, especially to have a Christian counselor that can address not only your emotional and physical grief, but also the spiritual side of it.
Because as believers, it's normal to walk through grief and have questions, and to have that impact our relationship with God. But ultimately we desire to draw near to Him and to become closer with Him. But it's hard when you're in this place and you have all of these big questions about, “Who is He? And why would He let this happen to me?”
I do want to also acknowledge something that you shared about the video that we show at the beginning of all of our Hope Online support groups. It's actually called our Declaration of Faith video. And we share that at the beginning of all of our support groups to share our beliefs, basically like a statement of faith that lets people know what we believe, that babies are made in the image of God and have an eternal soul that will live forever in Heaven, and that they will take part in the Resurrection and we will get to see them again.
And so we always like to start our support groups with that declaration so that the conversation that flows throughout the entire support group is on that foundation of faith. Every mom, because not every mom that comes to our support groups is a believer, and that's okay, we welcome moms that are questioning their faith, moms that don't have faith, to come in and be a safe place to process their questions about God and about Heaven and where their baby is.
And so that's why we always play that video, because we want people to know the basis of everything that we're going to be sharing and talking about in the support group comes from this foundation of faith that comes from a Biblical theology.
So I'm thankful that you were really honest too about the fears that you had about coming to support group, because I think whether it's online or in person, I know that so many moms will tell me, especially in person, they'll tell me, “I almost didn't come,” like they wanted to come, but they were scared to come, and they had to make themselves come.
And then by the end of it, they'll say to me, “I am so glad that I came. I am so grateful that I came. This was so good for me, but I almost didn't come.”
And we've started to ask moms questions like, “What were your thoughts? What did you expect? What were you fearful of,” and a lot of times they think that it's going to be this very dark and gloomy room, where it's sad and it's just a really somber experience, which we do cry on our Zoom calls and we cry in person.
I find it really hard to be in the online support group when other moms are crying because I'm a hugger and I want to wrap my arm around someone or give them a Kleenex or put my arm on their shoulder. And so it's really painful for me to be separated with a computer screen when other women are sharing their stories and I can't physically comfort them.
So in-person, we have our Kleenex boxes under every chair, and if someone's sitting next to someone who's tearing up, we're just there and we have a physical presence to comfort. But we also laugh in our support groups and maybe more so in our in-person one, because it's a little easier to have side conversation.
I think you've probably heard me many times in the online support groups at the very beginning when I'm welcoming everyone to the group. I'm like, “Feel free to have conversation amongst yourselves while I'm inviting everyone into the group,” and no one really says anything because it's like that awkward Zoom beginning of the call; side conversation is just hard online. But I think it's also really special when moms can have conversation about other aspects of their lives and can get to know each other in that way.
So would you speak to some of those fears you mentioned where you said you weren't sure how large of a group it would be, you weren't sure if you were going to be able to share your story. Would you share a little bit more about what you found and what it was like actually attending?
Heather Cohen: [00:32:17] My first meeting was very emotional and raw, and I found it hard to hear the other women's story because I was in such a deep grief and I felt so much empathy for them. And I felt so much like you, like I wanted to reach out and hug them and I didn't know what to say. And it's more of a listening experience when everyone else is sharing, but part of me wanted to jump in and say, “I felt that way too.”
And there were a lot of things I had in common with the other moms as far as our feelings about the hospital, our feelings about the funeral, things that we wish we'd done, regrets.
And overall, I just felt very connected to the women. I felt like I found where I needed to be. I found what God had for me in that. I knew that was the reason that I had been led to this group, and that even if I never met these women in person, that they had already impacted my life.
And you've impacted my life just as much as Levi has, and steadily, every month with the Zoom meetings, encouraged me. And the prayers that you pray are so meaningful, even around the holidays and with Wave of Light and all the things, you just really have touched my heart and helped me in ways that I didn't know I could be helped.
And hearing the other women's stories helped me too, because it helped me connect with a mom who was in that same place at one time, that maybe now she's doing a little bit better and she's healing. To see that was really promising and gave me some hope.
And even though I always had the hope of Heaven, hearing it out loud and knowing with other believers and other moms that's where our babies are reiterated my feelings and solidified all the knowledge that I already had of the Lord and of His goodness, and of His kindness.
And knowing that other women were available to me on Facebook and getting each other's numbers, and we text occasionally and keep up with each other, it's just good to have people like that in your circle.
Ashley Opliger: [00:34:43] We hope you are enjoying this episode so far. We want to take a quick break to tell you about some resources our ministry provides to grieving moms.
On our website, bridgetscradles.com, you can find hope-filled resources on grieving and healing including memorial ideas, quotes & Scripture, featured stories, and recommended books and other organizations. We share ideas on how to navigate difficult days such as due dates, Heaven Days, and holidays.
In addition, every month I lead Christ-centered support groups for bereaved moms called Hope Gatherings, both in-person and online. You can find a list of upcoming dates and sign up for our next support group on our website.
Lastly, we would love for you to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. You can find us on these three pages: @bridgetscradles, @cradledinhope, and my personal page @ashleyopliger. You can also join our private Cradled in Hope Facebook group for grieving moms to find community. We would be honored to hear your baby’s story and be praying for you by name. Now let’s get back to our episode.
Ashley Opliger: [00:35:54] I love the community that you have found through Bridget’s Cradles and how you are very intentional about connecting with other moms and following up with them.
We always encourage that at the end of meetings, to have everyone share their numbers and then get plugged in to our Facebook group called Cradled in Hope. It's a Facebook group just for grieving moms. And that's a good way to connect afterwards as well, which you actually are our admin in that group, and you are the perfect person. You are such a welcoming, loving, big hug for every mom that joins that group.
And we're so blessed that you've taken on that role in that you come to the online support groups and people get to meet you there and hear Levi's story and see your face, and then they join the Facebook group and they're welcomed by you there as well.
And so it’s having that personal connection and knowing that this ministry is made up of real moms that have experienced this, and that when you're responded to on Facebook or Instagram, you're not getting an administrative assistant, you're getting a mom that has personally experienced this.
Because our volunteers that are serving in administrative roles are grieving moms because the women that have the heart to want to volunteer, just like yourself, are women who have experienced this and want to comfort others with the same comfort they've been given. And that's been such a beautiful part of this story.
When we started the podcast and online support groups, the women that I've been able to meet and then see the life transformation through their journey with God and then turning their grief over and saying, “Okay, God, I'm all in. I want to surrender and live my life for you, and I want to do good things in memory of my baby.”
And it's just so amazing because there's been so many women I've gotten to meet through these different avenues of our ministry that now are taking part in those very same parts of the ministry.
So for example, for you, you connected to us through Hope Online and now you're a part of Hope Online. And in our Facebook group, we have another mom who received a cradle in the hospital and then she started coming to Hope Online and listening to the podcasts, and now she's about to accept a role as hospital coordinator. She's flying here next month. She actually flew down last October for Wave of Light.
And we have another mom who heard about our podcast and now is doing the graphics for our social media for Cradled in Hope. And so it's amazing to see how God works and connects and how He guides, and how within Bridget’s Cradles, there's a ministry for each of us as the body of Christ to honor each of our babies, that this ministry is not about Bridget; this is about all of our babies and about the Kingdom of God and how we can share the Gospel together.
And so I want to come back to something that you said earlier about your faith walk. You said you always felt like you were God's favorite. And I don't know if you remember what I responded to you when you shared that with me over text. Do you remember what I said?
Heather Cohen: [00:39:05] You said, “I would tell you that you are still God's favorite and you are still adored by Him, and He's never stopped loving you.”
Ashley Opliger: [00:39:14] Yeah, that's exactly right, because God never changes. But as humans, because our circumstances change so much, it feels like when things are going well, we're being blessed by God, and God loves us more. Or when we're doing more for Him, we feel like we're more in favor with Him, as if He loves us more based on the works that we do or the righteousness that we somehow think we can muster up.
But God's love for us is consistent, and it doesn't change no matter how hard we work, how good we are, no matter how things are going in our life. If we're on the mountaintop or we're in the valley, God loves us the same. It doesn't change. The thing that changes it are our circumstances and our stance and our posture of our heart toward God.
And so I was encouraging you to know that He is always the same. He has loved you the same, and He has loved you consistently in your entire life and through your grief journey. And so I would argue that all of us are God's favorite, that we are the apple of His eye, that He loved us so much, that while we were still sinners, He came to die for us.
I was actually mentioning this to a friend recently, who experienced another loss. And we were talking about the flawed theology of, “If I'm blessed, then I must be in favor with God, and if I'm being cursed or if bad things are happening to me, then I must be out of favor with God,” and how theologically, that's not accurate.
I think maybe people try to correlate that with the Old Testament and how God, specifically in Deuteronomy, shared that there would be blessings when Israel was obedient to Him and that there would be curses when Israel was disobedient to Him.
But that theology of, “If I'm good, then I'll be blessed, and if I'm not, then I will be punished,” we don't find that Scripturally after the Cross when Jesus died for all of our sins, because the Bible is clear that all of us are sinners. We all fell short of God's glory and we all deserve Hell.
And I know that's really hard for us to wrap our minds around because sometimes when moms will say, “Well, is God punishing me for something that I did,” well, if we weren't in Christ, the only just punishment for all of us being disobedient rebels against Christ would be eternity in Hell, which is really hard to say.
And a lot of Christians don't like talking about Hell because it's a difficult subject, but it's Biblical that there is an actual Hell that exists and that people will actually go there. And Jesus came to save us from that, and He died on the cross to cover our sin. And when God looks upon us, He doesn't see our sin. He sees Jesus' righteousness covering us. It says our sins are as far as the east is from the west, and He covers us as white as snow.
And so I was saying to my friend, “We deserve the worst punishment as sinners, but we get the biggest blessing in knowing that we get to be forever with Jesus and forever with our babies.”
And so also I could go and say the whole book of Job theology around it is that Satan was trying to prove to God that Job was only faithful to Him and was following Him because God had blessed him. And so in that story, God said, “Okay, Satan, I will allow you to test him,” because God knew that Job was going to be faithful even when he was in suffering.
And so I think the point of Job is to show us that, first of all, God is still with us in our suffering and there's the story of perseverance with Job's faithfulness throughout the book and all of the suffering that he experienced. But it's also to show that God doesn't just bless us because we're righteous, or that our faith is dependent on the things that God gives us.
And so coming back to what I was saying about you being His favorite, it’s like we as daughters in Christ, we are His prized possession. It says in James that out of all of His Creation, we are His most prized possession and our babies are His most prized possession.
And when we experience the loss of a baby, He weeps with us too. He is sad over that brokenness and He is mourning with us in our heartbreak. Even though He knows that our babies are perfectly safe and alive and will live forever, He knows the whole story, but He still can see us in our humanness and empathize with us and weep with us.
And we see that example with the story of Lazarus and how Mary and Martha came to them on the road as He was coming back. And if He had been there several days earlier, Mary and Martha were saying, “If You would've been here, our brother would've lived.” And He wept.
And I recently heard a sermon where the pastor mentioned: Was it that Jesus was weeping because He was empathizing with Mary and Martha, even though He knew that He was about to raise Lazarus up from the dead? Or was He weeping because Jesus was friends with Lazarus, so he was one of His closest friends on earth; was He weeping because He knew that Lazarus was in the perfection of Heaven and He was about to bring him back to earth?
And I don't know if that's true or not, and the pastor was not claiming that is exactly why Jesus wept. But when you think about it that way, when you think of Jesus knows all, and He knows where our babies are…if we were to see them in Heaven and see the glory that they're in, would we want them to come back to this sin-stained earth?
That's something that I've always wrestled with, is Bridget is safe. She is in the most perfect, beautiful, safe place, and I don't have to worry about her safety. I don't have to worry about anything. She'll never be heartbroken. She'll never be hurt, and she will never have to experience the brokenness of this world.
Heather Cohen: [00:45:34] Yes, that’s exactly true, and it makes me think about how we are all God's favorite and He pines for us, and He longs for us to believe in Him.
And just like He loves me and shows His favor on me, like you said, it's not the works that I'm doing. It's not how much I'm worshiping Him. It's not anything that I could do physically. And just like He would leave the 99 to go after one sheep that was lost, He grieves for the souls that don't choose Him.
Ashley Opliger: [00:46:10] Yes. And then the Old Testament talks about how He's a jealous God, that when He sees people worshiping idols and worshiping other gods, He's jealous over that because He desires for people to turn to Him. He is their Creator.
And I can't understand what that's like to be the God that created the heavens and the earth and all of humanity, and to see people reject Him time and time again, but that He is so patient and loving and merciful.
I mean, even Jesus on the Cross, after He had been spit on, whipped, and ridiculed, mocked, crucified, He hung on that Cross and He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He is a merciful God, but He's also a just God. And the fact that He is a just God means He is going to make everything right and everything good.
And so all the brokenness that we see in this dark world, where these evil things happen and babies die that shouldn't die, and we see so many injustices and painful things happening all around us, it's easy to become so depressed. But take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.
In fact, because of His justice, it says in 2 Peter, this current world is awaiting judgment by fire.
And again, this is the hard truth for people to wrap their minds around. God had once judged the world in sending the flood and He promised to never send the flood again. But then 2 Peter 3, and this is talking about the Day of the Lord when His justice will reign in the End Times. And we've had other podcasts on Bible prophecy, if anyone wants to go back to Episode 22 or 26 and listen, but in verse five it says,
“But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's Word, the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world at that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same Word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
It's just like what you said, Heather, that He would leave the 99 to find the one lost sheep and that all of Heaven would rejoice over a sinner saved. And then it says, verse 10:
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. So since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the Day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a New Heaven and a New Earth where righteousness dwells. So dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him.”
And I know that's heavy, but that Scripture actually brings me great hope to know that this broken earth will one day be laid bare and all of the brokenness will be burned up forever, that He is going to create a New Earth and a New Heaven where sin and death will be no more. That is where we get to live. That's the eternal state that we get to live with our babies forever.
And so as we're walking through this broken earth and we see these headlines and we experience these personal tragedies in our own life, we know that there is a day coming when everything will be made right, and we will get to be in this perfect place forever. And I love that God gives us His Word to know that this is true and that we can hang on it when everything feels so heavy and the world feels so dark.
Heather Cohen: [00:50:23] There are things in this life that we will never understand, and I don't think that we're meant to understand here, but knowing that God is the supreme judge and He has the final say gives me peace, to know that His will be done, and like you said, the New Earth and the New Heavens will be made and we’ll be resurrected, we’ll be with Jesus.
I think all of that is what I long for, what I hope for. I pray for this world to find repentance, to be purified, to be found holy in the sight of God so that we don't have regrets and we don't have to face an eternity in Hell.
And I think that's been made more of a reality since my son's death because even though I was already a believer, it just made my eternity seem so soon. It made me look forward to being with him again. And not that I want to die or not that I want to end my life or not be with my children or see the rest of my children that are here, their life fulfilled. It's not that. It's just wanting to be with my King and wanting to be with my son.
Ashley Opliger: [00:51:33] Amen. And I think as believers, that's where our hearts should be. The Bible says that our home is in Heaven, that we're just pilgrims on this journey and that we're just passing through. In Philippians 3:20, it says, “For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
And so our home in Heaven is where we long for, and I agree with you that ever since Bridget passed away, that my heart has longed all the more for Heaven because Heaven feels even more real and a part of my family, and my heart is there already, waiting for me.
And I think when you’ve buried a child or cremated a child and you've had a funeral service for a child, your own mortality becomes very real to you, that death is certain for all of us unless the Rapture happens in our lifetime, which could happen. And I eagerly await the day that I see Jesus in the clouds and He takes us up to Heaven, but we don't know the day or the hour, so we should be ready for that or for our own death, and we're not guaranteed another day.
I think when we have experienced the death of our own child, it makes us realize that our own lives are but a vapor in the grand scheme of eternity, and that each day that we live is a gift and it matters what we do each day. Not that we're doing works because we need to earn God's love in any way, but because out of His love and mercy for us, we want to show our appreciation for the gift of salvation.
We want to honor and glorify our Creator, and in doing so, we're honoring our baby's life. And so will you walk us through your journey through grief and what led you to start serving in the ministry?
Heather Cohen: [00:53:25] Yes. When I was a young girl, probably 10 to 12 years old, I would go to a friend of ours. I call her my Aunt Lisa, but she's not my aunt. She's just my mom's best friend, but I consider her like an aunt. And we would go to her farm house out in Luverne, Alabama.
And one time we went there and Aunt Lisa was showing us how to crochet. So I was very young when I learned how, and my mom at the time was a labor and delivery nurse, and so we would make little baby hats and send them at Christmas time and New Year's and things like that. So it was something I enjoyed for a really long time, but had stopped doing over the years.
And then Bridget’s Cradles came into my life and through my grief and through wanting to help other women and just find out what I could do, I got involved with the volunteer page and I sent in a cradle for submission to be inspected.
And I got feedback pretty quickly that everything was well with it and all looked fine and the colors I chose were correct and just really meaningful, uplifting words about the work of my hands and how it would bless the family. So once I saw that I had done one right, I was really proud of myself and it encouraged me and gave me some motivation to continue doing that.
And it helped me through my grief journey because every cradle that I made, every keepsake that I made, I prayed over that family that would receive that, and it became a very close, intimate part of what I do for Bridget’s Cradles. God was able to speak to me during these times and show me things, reveal Himself to me, reveal His heart more to me and just make my heart more pliable and open to other women.
And like you said, I've texted and met some of these women in person and it's just really been a fulfillment that God has ordained inside of me and I love doing it. I enjoy doing it.
It has its heavy moments. I can remember making a small cradle, one of the smaller sizes and just thinking. “Lord, how can a baby be this small and what would it be like to hold a baby in that tiny cradle?” And it took me a while to be able to finish that one just because it was so emotional for me.
And I've slowed down in making cradles just because of that experience. And whoever was to receive that cradle, they will have a very impactful story, I just feel in my heart.
And for women like me who experience a third trimester loss or a first trimester loss, they receive a keepsake square or heart. And so I have found that making those really gives me a lot of peace and comfort because they're quicker to make and that works with my schedule a lot.
And I think about third-trimester moms that would receive something in the mail that would just brighten their day, even if they didn't receive anything at the hospital even like me, if they came after the fact of going home. I think about a lot of times that the hospital I delivered at here would not have Bridget’s Cradles if I had not lost Levi, because I was the one who did a nurse entry for a request for cradles and keepsakes.
And since then, I’ve been involved with the family birth group and been in communication with them about ideas for Wiregrass and ideas for Dothan on how we can help and come together with other women and support them.
So our hospital now has Bridget’s Cradles in their hands and they're capable of ordering more if needed. And in the labor and delivery unit, called the Mary Elizabeth Room, holds special gowns and hats and socks and things like that for babies and that's where the Bridget’s Cradles are kept in a nice basket. And I was able to go see that in person and just put my hands on them and pray over them. And I'm just so grateful for what Levi has done through me, and I'm so proud of him.
Ashley Opliger: [00:57:46] And I'm so proud of you. You're just such an amazing momma and sister in Christ who desires to honor him and honor your Father in Heaven. And I've been so blessed by your friendship and being able to walk this journey with you.
As we always say, it's a journey that we wish we didn't have to walk and that we wish we knew each other and became friends under different circumstances. But to know that little Levi and Bridget brought us together and to see what is coming of both of their lives and what we're able to do because of them is just such a beautiful testament to God's faithfulness in the midst of grief, and seeing the little cradles that you've made and the keepsakes and the hospital and all the women that you welcome and love on in our community.
Levi, he's such a special part of Bridget’s Cradles and he has touched so many people through this ministry and will continue to touch so many people through this podcast and through sharing your story on our website and all the different things. And even outside of Bridget’s Cradles, the way that you honor him and the friendships that you make and connections that you make online and in person, you're such a beautiful witness for Christ, and I love the ways that you honor your son.
And I know it hasn't been an easy journey, but you have truly allowed God to make beauty from ashes, and I'm very blessed by you, and I love having you a part of our ministry and the mission that we're doing together. So thank you so much for your obedience, for saying yes in the midst of a really hard season and allowing God to use grief for good.
And so I just want all the moms to know that are listening, if you want to connect with Heather, the best place would be to join our Cradled in Hope Facebook group, where she's an admin moderator in that group, and you can connect with her through Facebook.
Heather Cohen: [00:59:44] I would just say for anyone that has any doubts or questions, they could privately message me or reach out to me and I'd be happy to answer any questions.
The Facebook group is there to support you, a place where you can express your feelings and thoughts and questions, and a place where other women will understand what you've been through and be willing to cry with you and talk about different things, from planning a funeral to, did you receive a birth certificate, did you receive a death certificate, or what worship songs might be helpful, what Scriptures have been helpful.
But just know that the Facebook group is there not to make you feel vulnerable, but to support you and make you stronger.
Ashley Opliger: [01:00:32] Amen. Well, for all the mommas listening, if you want to join that group, we have links in our Hope Guide as well as in the show notes of our blog for this podcast. But you can find Heather in our Facebook group and connect with her there.
And we look forward to hearing your stories. It's a place that you can introduce your baby and share their story with us, and then find community in a place that's going to continually be pointing you to the hope of Jesus that we have. And so, Heather, will you close us in prayer?
Heather Cohen: [01:01:03] Yes.
Dear Heavenly Father, Lord, I just pray right now that every listening ear that comes across this podcast, Lord, would find You. Lord, I pray that through our grief and our pain that You'll be glorified, that Your Name would be lifted high. Lord, I pray that knowing that You already knew the outcome, that You hold our babies in your arms and they're not in pain and they're not suffering.
Lord, I know that Levi is in the presence of the Almighty, which is You and Your Son, Jesus. I know that You're coming back for us again. I have great hope. Your Word says, “Don't lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed each day,” and I feel that, Lord. I feel that Your Spirit guides me and leads me, and I know that You brought me to this group for a reason.
I pray that I can minister to other parents through our loss. I pray that the future of this group would continue to grow and prosper, not because of death, but because of life and Your Word, and that Your will will be fulfilled always, Lord.
I thank You that Your mercies are new each morning. I thank You that You already know how we feel before we speak how we feel. I thank You that You give us strength to move forward each day. I thank You that You've formed us in our mother's womb. You knew us and You set us apart, like Your Word says, and that You cover us with Your wing, and that's where we find our refuge and our shield and our strength. And we know that in our weakness, Your power is made perfect. And I pray all these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Ashley Opliger: [01:02:55] Amen. Thank you so much, Heather.
Heather Cohen: [01:02:57] You're welcome.
Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes when they release on the 1st of every month. You can also find this episode’s show notes and a full transcript on our website at bridgetscradles.com/podcast.
There you can also download a free PDF for each episode, called the Hope Guide, which is filled with notes, Scripture, links, discussion questions, and so much more. Be sure to leave your email address so that we can keep you updated on podcast episodes, upcoming support groups, and other hope-filled resources.
If you’re interested in volunteering or donating to Bridget’s Cradles in memory of a baby in Heaven, you can find information on our website on how you can get involved and spread hope to other grieving families.
One way you can help is by leaving a review of this podcast on iTunes [or the Apple Podcasts app]. Consider the minute of your time as a way YOU can personally share the hope that you’ve found here with another mom whose heart is broken and needs healing.
Thank you so much for listening and sharing. Until next time, we will be praying for you. And remember, as Jesus cradles our babies in Heaven, He cradles us in hope. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope.
Cradled in Hope is part of the Edifi Podcast Network, a collection of faith-inspiring podcasts on Edifi, the world’s most powerful Christian podcasting app. To listen to Cradled in Hope and find other podcasts by leading Christian voices, download the Edifi app in the Apple and Google Play stores or online at edifi.app. Thank you so much for listening.
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