Join us for a conversation with Lori Beth Blaney, founder of Rachel's Gift about improving hospital experiences for grieving families. Lori Beth shares her story of losing her daughter, Rachel, in a tragic car accident, and choosing to forgive the teenager who caused the crash.
Lori Beth discusses with Ashley why she started a nonprofit to support grieving families and train hospital staff on bereavement care. She is an advocate for families to have options and guidance while making decisions in the hospital. In this episode, we discussed:
Why it's important to talk about your baby and tell your story
Overcoming anger and bitterness with the power of forgiveness
Not knowing what or how to pray when in deep grief
Regrets of choices made at the hospital while in trauma/shock
The need for nurses to be trained on bereavement care
Why "time, space, and privacy" is not what grieving parents need
The importance of consistent patient care
Rachel's Gift services for hospitals and families
Bridget's Cradles and complementing vs. competing with other resources
How God will equip you if He calls you to ministry
The partnership between Rachel's Gift and Bridget's Cradles
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!)
Lori Beth shares the story of losing her daughter in a tragic car accident and choosing to forgive the teenager who caused the crash. Though your story of loss is probably different, you may have experienced pain from something someone else did (or didn't do) in your grief journey. This may have left you with feelings of anger and bitterness instead of peace. Who do you need to forgive? Write out a prayer asking God to help you forgive them.
In this episode, we talk a lot about hospital experiences during loss. Did you have a positive or negative experience at the hospital? Did you leave with any regrets? On a longer piece of paper (or in a journal), write out your experience and invite God in to help you process any trauma or negative feelings.
Lori Beth spoke about a time when she couldn't find the words to pray, but that she could feel the prayers of others. Do you ever feel this way? When we are overcome with emotion, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. He knows our hearts and minds and can intercede in prayer for us. Write out a few words or phrases of prayer requests and know that God hears you.
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CONNECT WITH OUR GUEST
Lori Beth Blaney is the founder of Rachel's Gift, a nonprofit that supports grieving families and provides bereavement training to hospitals.
She and her husband, Sam, have two sons on earth and a daughter in Heaven. In December of 2006, their only daughter, Rachel, passed away in a tragic car accident.
Connect with Lori Beth:
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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 1,090 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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Episode 7: Improving Hospital Experiences for Grieving Families with Lori Beth Blaney
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast where we believe that the hope of Heaven, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to heal our hearts after the loss of a baby. It’s a pain no mother should have to endure and we want this podcast to be a safe place for your broken heart to land. Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to restore our joy, use our grief for good, and allow us to spend eternity with our babies in Heaven.
I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ clinging to the hope of Heaven. My daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks in my first pregnancy in 2014. In her memory, my husband and I started a nonprofit ministry called Bridget’s Cradles, and God has given us purpose in our pain and we’ve seen beauty come from ashes.
Although we wish you didn’t have a need to be listening to this podcast, we believe God has a reason for you to be here today. We pray this time would be a source of healing for you as we remember that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:01:26] Today on the podcast, we have Lori Beth Blaney, Founder of Rachel's Gift, a 501c3 non-profit based in Georgia. I had the privilege of meeting Lori Beth in 2019. My team and I were in Atlanta for a nurse's conference called AWHONN, and we drove south an hour to visit Rachel's Gift headquarters.
After that meeting, we became ministry partners, and now Rachel's Gift is fully stocked with Bridget's Cradles to provide to the hospitals and families they partner with. It has been a beautiful partnership and we are so grateful for all they do for hospitals and families.
I am honored to introduce Lori Beth to our listeners today. She and her husband, Sam, have two sons and a daughter in Heaven. In December of 2006, their only daughter, Rachel, was seven weeks away from her entry into this world when her family was in a tragic car wreck. Rachel and her mother were flown to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. However, a couple of hours later, Rachel lost her life and was later stillborn.
From the lonely depths of grief, Rachel's Gift was born. I can't wait for you to hear Lori Beth's story and more about her wonderful ministry. Welcome, Lori Beth.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:02:40] Thanks for having me.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:43] First, I would love for you to introduce yourself and share Rachel's story with us and your story of being a grieving mom.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:02:51] Okay. Sure. Back in 2006, we had moved to Georgia a couple years before that, so we hadn't been here very long. And I had two boys at the time who were five and three, and I was eight months pregnant with my daughter, Rachel.
And this was in December of 2006, I was taking my oldest to preschool at our church that morning. And we, unfortunately, were hit head-on by a teenager that was driving at a high rate of speed and lost control of her vehicle. And she was driving over 70 miles an hour, so it was a very violent collision. Of course, at the time of trauma like that, everything's going fast and really slow all at the same time.
But I was trapped in the car for a little more than an hour. My boys were in the back seat and it was a very stressful time because I couldn't get to them. I was pinned in the car, and so I couldn't tell how they were. And of course, I was worried about my daughter, who I was still pregnant with.
But anyway, they got us out of the car and they life-flighted us to Grady, which is our trauma unit in Atlanta. And when we first got there, we did have a heartbeat, which I was so anxious for that. And I remember even on the flight up there asking them to put the monitor on, but of course, they didn't have that on the flight. I was wanting to hear that there was a heartbeat.
And so when we first heard that heartbeat, I was so incredibly relieved. And so I was in the trauma unit and they were assessing my injuries and trying to figure out how to treat me without harming her, because we did still have a heartbeat and they weren't sure what was going on with her.
So they were trying to make all those decisions and we had the monitor on, so it was going the whole time as they were doing all this. And then you heard the heartbeat start to slow on the monitor, and then she passed away. So at that point, the medical team gave me a lot of medication because then they really needed to start working on my injuries.
I had a lot of broken bones, so they were setting some bones and assessing my head and neck injuries, sending me for scans. And then trying to decide what to do about her, about inducing or C-section, or they were talking about different things, just trying to work around my injuries and how to best do that.
And so all of that is hazy, because I was heavily medicated, so I don't remember a lot of that. But then the next day, they had decided to induce labor, and they got me stabilized to the point they felt they could do that, and they induced labor.
And so I had her the next night, about 9:30 at night. And by then, even through medication, when you're going through something like that, there's things you do remember very clearly and distinctly. And so I remember a lot about her birth. I remember them bringing her in the room after she was cleaned up and everything.
And I had an amazing night nurse at Grady. His nickname was Chief and all night he brought her to me and held her up so I could see her. He would put her on my chest. I couldn't hold her because I had to be flat because of all the head and neck injuries and things that they still weren't sure about.
So I couldn't sit up, I couldn't hold her, and so luckily he knew what I needed when I didn't know. And so he would bring her up to me, and she was perfect and beautiful and looked just like my younger son, had all his facial features. And so we went through that night with her in the room with us all night.
And then a few days after that, I was sent home, and to follow up with a lot of follow-up surgeries and physical therapy and all of that. So it was a really difficult time trying to navigate the loss, but also navigate all the other things that were going on with my physical, and then of course still having two boys that were five and three that don't slow down when mom is hurt or laid up. And so it was a really difficult time.
Ashley Opliger: [00:06:55] I am so sorry, Lori Beth. I cannot even imagine the trauma of going through that and having the physical side of being in a car accident and having all of these broken bones and the very grueling process of recovering and healing, at the same time of losing your precious daughter and having the grief and the emotional side of that as well.
I truly cannot imagine how traumatic that would have been in the moment and in the years to come. What was that like for you, grieving and starting the healing process of walking through this incredibly traumatic experience?
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:07:35] Well, every situation is different and it's one of those things where one is not harder than another or easier than another. We all have different things that complicate our grieving process.
But a lot of what I was struggling with was all of the focus from my family was on my physical recovery. They wanted me better, and I needed to get better. I had two boys to take care of. And having all that focus on my physical, and I was getting stronger physically - I did have several surgeries and daily physical therapy for a really long time - I think I focused all of that energy where I was silently suffering from the loss of my daughter, I focused all of that into madly trying to heal myself.
They had told me I would never use my right hand again. They told me I would always have a limp. I had these surgeries that they were repairing enough to make me get by, but they were not giving me a great prognosis on those things.
And so I focused all that energy, “Well, I'm going to find someone that's going to give me a better prognosis and I'm going to do whatever I have to do.” So I actually had several surgeries that were kind of experimental. They weren't sure if they were going to help or not. And I worked really hard at physical therapy.
So I think I stuffed the grief while I was just really focusing on that, which is kind of good, in a way, because I came back a lot better physically than they ever thought that I would. So that part is good.
At the same time, the legal part was going on because the state prosecuted the girl that hit us. And we didn't have anything to do with that; the state did it. But of course, we were involved. I was subpoenaed to come to court. I had to testify, and we went through where the person pled not guilty, so it elongated things and we had to go back. And then they appealed. And so there was just a lot that felt like it was never going to end.
At that point as well. I had several people towards the beginning, the team that was on the scene of the crash plus people at the hospital, more telling my husband at that time than me, that myself being so pregnant at the time - I have really large babies; all my babies were big - and so I was very pregnant.
And they said that she saved my life, because if I hadn't been as pregnant as I was with her, that I would have received the majority of the impact instead of her, which as a mother, you do not want to hear because you would trade your life with them in an instant.
Also at that time, and this is a few years ago, in 2006, infant death, stillbirth, things like that were still not talked about near as much as it is now. It was not as comfortable to talk about. You would bring things up and other people would get uncomfortable and try to leave the conversation. So then you just didn't bring it up.
And that still goes on some, of course, today with certain people, but I've seen it over the years slowly get better. And I've so advocated for that, talking about your baby, telling your story, because when you're silenced like that and you're grieving and you're basically made to feel like you can't talk about it, it's just a very lonely, isolating place.
And so even though I was getting better physically and that's where I was focusing my fight, my spirit and the emotional side of me was withering. I could feel myself going to a dark place. I had suicidal thoughts often, and I knew that I was to a point I needed to reach out for some real help, mentally.
Ashley Opliger: [00:11:24] I think grief is a feeling that we don't necessarily want to feel because it's painful and there's that deep sadness. And it can take us to a dark place where we are questioning: Do we want to be on this earth? Can we survive this pain? And so we do anything that we can to try to avoid those feelings sometimes.
How did your faith influence you in that really dark place of having suicidal thoughts, and grieving the loss of your daughter, and the trauma of the car accident, and the legal battles, and everything that you were walking through? How did God walk you through that? And how did you rely on your faith as you were grieving?
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:12:03] I got to that point that was a very dark place and knew that I needed help. And honestly, I didn't waver in my faith. I mean, I was plenty mad at God at times and would say that. I would tell Him that.
And I think He wants us to tell Him when we're not happy with Him, because He wants that relationship with us. And so not every relationship is roses and rainbows all the time. And even when we're at a place with Him where we're not happy with the way that He's running things, I think He wants us to tell Him, and I did.
I also found it very hard to pray. I couldn't find words. I didn't know what I needed, and so I couldn't pray. And that was one thing that was very healing for me is He allowed me to physically, and I will never be able to explain it, but physically feel the prayers of people. I knew people were praying for me.
It would be conscious thoughts, like, “Someone's praying for me.” I knew it. I don't know how. And I would get cards in the mail all the time that said, “We're praying for you,” even from strangers that had heard about what happened through a friend of theirs or whatever, which was wonderful.
So it was God giving me all these nudges that, “You feel alone, but you are not alone. You are being prayed for. You are being lifted up. I have My hand on this whole situation.” And so even when I couldn't find the words and I couldn't pray, He allowed me to feel that and feel those prayers of others.
So I did start reaching out, and I asked for help. I went to some counseling. At the time I was still on a lot of pain medication because I was constantly having surgeries. So you're just constantly on the pain medication, which they say as far as counseling is concerned, it's kind of hard to counsel through the pain medication because it numbs not only the body, but the mind.
And so it was a little hard to navigate that. I went to my pastor at the time. My church had been very supportive. And just a unique note in here: The girl that hit me, their family also went to our church. So that provided another little difficult thing to navigate, starting back to church again when I was physically able, knowing that we were going to see them.
And I did pray in the hospital, actually, and I don't even know how I knew to say this prayer, because this was before I even knew what all my journey was going to be. I had no idea. So it was definitely the Holy Spirit prompting me to pray to keep the anger and bitterness out of my heart because it had no place. And this journey was going to be tough enough without having anger and bitterness.
And so I can say that was one thing; He was faithful to me. Even though I was grieving and I was sad and I had all of those emotions, He honored that prayer and I really never had the anger and the bitterness. And I was able to see the person that hit me and say hello to her in the hallway, when you’d pass in church.
And He was so faithful to answer that prayer. And I'm so thankful for that, because there's enough other stuff to deal with without having all that anger and bitterness.
Ashley Opliger: [00:15:19] Lori Beth, that is such a beautiful picture of forgiveness and modeling Christ's forgiveness for us for others, as He instructs us to do.
He says, ”As I have forgiven you, so you should forgive others.” And I can't imagine as a mother going through what you went through and not having anger and bitterness toward this person who caused the death of your child, but to submit to God and say, “I don't want to live my life in the state of bitterness and resentfulness and holding onto this unforgiveness.”
Because I think that's what happens, is when we choose not to forgive others for the pain that they've caused us, it's not hurting that person. It's hurting us to be holding on to those feelings.
And I think, and you could speak to this as we talk about you starting this beautiful non-profit in Rachel's memory, but for you to surrender to God and to forgive this girl for what she had done, I think that probably led you to this place where you could say, “I'm going to surrender this all and start this beautiful non-profit.”
And we'll talk about that in just a second, but I had just looked up in Romans chapter eight, you had talked about being able to feel the prayers of other people. And you had alluded that it was the Holy Spirit. And I would say that it was definitely the Holy Spirit. Even when you were talking about the fact that you didn't even know what to pray, it was like so many emotions going on. You didn't know what to pray.
It reminded me of this verse in Romans chapter eight, verse 26. It says,
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans, and He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
I just love that. When we don't even know what to pray and we are overcome with grief and emotion, we can, through our wordless groans, submit to God and the Holy Spirit knows. He knows our hearts. He knows our minds and what we're going through and He is interceding for us in our pain.
And His people, like you said, people were praying for you and you could feel that through the Holy Spirit, through the body of Christ. I love that picture. And I think that's such a beautiful thing, that you were able to physically feel that in your body and in your spirit.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:17:43] That was a huge start to that healing process was knowing that those prayers were there, that even when I didn't know what to pray for and I couldn’t. And I couldn't find the words. And I think a lot of that, too, was not only the grieving, which definitely leads to that, when you're just so lost in your grief that you just can't find the words.
And then, the other things surrounding it and being on the medication, not being able to focus on anything, so that was a real gift that I felt that really kick-started the healing process and getting to the next step where I could start reaching out to other people and to my pastor and do some counseling.
And so when I was going through the counseling and talking to my pastor, that's when I started to feel the seeds of that I needed to reach out to other moms who had been here. And up until that point, I had only known, and this goes to show you how we just didn't talk about it near as much back then, I only knew of one other person who had lost a baby.
And so of course I reached out to her, but then I started on the Internet reaching out to other moms and it was, now you can go back and you can see how God was leading those conversations. But what I was seeing in every conversation is that sense of isolation, the avoidance by family and friends, that it's an uncomfortable subject. Also, a lot of times I felt very isolated while in the hospital. And we'll talk about that in a minute on why that tends to happen. And hopefully, we're changing that a little bit, but that sense of isolation.
And then the other thing that so many moms, and I had the same thing, were so many regrets, because of those decisions that last a lifetime that you make during those few hours in the hospital room: what you want to have for your baby's end of life, where you want them, how you want them taken care of.
Do you want them cremated and you keep the ashes? Or do you want to bury your baby? You're supposed to make these decisions when this is a trauma in any situation, because you're expecting to bring home a baby. You're not expecting to plan a funeral. So you're traumatized no matter what the situation is.
And then you're expected to make these lifelong decisions that can't be changed later and even decisions, “Do you want to hold and see your baby?” How are you supposed to make that decision when you're in the throes of grief and you're traumatized and there's shock in making all those decisions?
And so when I'm talking to these moms and I'm hearing all these regrets over what they chose for end of life where they chose not to see their baby and now they really regret it, and just all of these different regrets. And so every single conversation, it was like, no matter what the conversation, God shone a spotlight, isolation = regrets, isolation = regrets. In every conversation He made me pick up on that.
And so that's then where the seeds were: You need to do something about that. You recognize now that this is a problem. You need to do something about that. And of course, I was at the time, a very unwilling participant. I'm thinking, “How can I help,” and that I'm still dealing with it myself. “How can I help in this situation?”
So I just started looking for an organization to join that was already doing something in this area that I could help because I'm a good worker bee, so I'm like, “Sign me up,” kind of thing. And so I started looking and I couldn't find anything that had the details that He was placing on my heart that needed to be in place.
There was a lot out there, but nothing was what He was placing on my heart, “This is what needs to happen.” And so with every organization, I couldn't find anyone that was doing that, and so that's where those seeds were planted.
Ashley Opliger: [00:21:42] That's beautiful. I would love to hear your story of starting Rachel's Gift, what year that was and how it's grown since then, and what all you do and offer to families and to hospitals.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:21:54] Okay. Like I said, there was very clear direction. I wouldn't say, you know how some people say they hear the voice. They hear a voice. It wasn't anything like that, but it was very clear thoughts that I knew weren't coming from me because I didn't know, so very clear thoughts.
And of course, I was like, “I can't do that. I don't know how to start something. I don't know.” And so then it got louder. And it got to where I couldn't sleep at night. So then I got mad, I wouldn't say mad, more like irritated. Like, “Okay, fine. If this is what You want me to do, then You're going to have to put the people in front of me that know what they're doing, because I have no idea how to start something.”
And He did.
Ashley Opliger: [00:22:40] Of course He did.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:22:42] Yeah, so it was really amazing. And I'll just share two quick stories. There's like 50 of them, but that shows how God is like, “See, I told you. See, I told you.”
And one was, I was just talking to another mom that went to our church. We were on the church playground and I was telling her what God had laid on my heart and I just really didn't know how I was going to move forward. But I guess my first thing is I'm going to look up into the IRS stuff on how to start a non-profit.
Well, in that, God connected me to someone who really helped us get it very quickly, which as you know, at times can take a really long time to get. And He connected me with someone, through a friend, who helped that happen very quickly.
And at the time we were financially struggling because of all of my medical bills, and court stuff was still going on so we weren't getting any help with that from the insurance companies. So we were struggling financially.
And so the day I got the bill in the mail from the IRS for the non-profit licensing and had no idea how I was going to pay it. And I knew it was coming, and I knew about how much it was. So the day I got the bill in the mail, I got a check in the mail for the exact same amount from that mom who I probably hadn't seen in three months, and it said, “I just felt God leading me to send you this as some seed money to help you as you're getting started.”
So I'm like, “Okay. I got it, God.”
And then another time when I was sitting at my son's T-ball game next to the coach's wife, and the next step after you have your 501c3, “Okay. Well, I have to figure out how to tell people what we're doing and to try to raise some money.” And so you come up with a brochure.
Of course, this was back a few years. So this was in 2007-ish, ‘07 and ‘08, before we were so much on the computer like we are now. And so I was sitting next to her and I was like, “I have this idea in my head for a logo. I kind of know what I want but I'm not really sure how to go about doing it.”
And this was the T-ball coach's wife. And she says, “Well, that's what I do for a living, graphic design.”
I was like, “Of course you do.”
So, yeah, she helped us design our brochures at no cost. And so just little things like that, where God just kept saying, “See, I told you. You just have to move. I'll take care of the details.”
Ashley Opliger: [00:25:10] If He calls you to it, He will equip you for it. I really believe that. And so many people ask the same thing with me. And I came from a Speech- Language Pathology background, and hadn't had non-profit experience, especially not leading an organization. But it's really been on-the-job training and God has provided along the way the resources and the people and the volunteers and all of that.
And a lot of times I think people see your ministry or our ministry, and they're like, “Wow! How are you doing all of that?” But really, it's been one small act of obedience at a time, and God providing each step of the way and growing the organization in His timing.
And it's a really beautiful thing to get to watch when you're on the inside of it, because like you said, there's so many moments where it's like, “How will God provide?” Or, “How will we be able to do this?” And then right there, there's the person or the check or whatever it is. And He makes a way. If the mission of the organization is in His will, I really do believe that He is going to provide and lead and guide the organization. And I see that so much in Rachel's Gift.
We hope you are enjoying this episode so far. We wanted to take a quick break to tell you about some other hope-filled resources our ministry provides to grieving families.
On our website, bridgetscradles.com, you can find many resources on grieving and healing including memorial ideas, quotes & Scripture, blog articles, featured stories, recommended books, and other support organizations. We share ideas on how to navigate difficult days such as due dates, Heaven days, and holidays. We also have a page with ideas on how to care for a friend or family member who has experienced pregnancy loss.
In addition, every month I lead free 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. You can also join our private Cradled in Hope Facebook group for grieving moms to find friendship and support. We would be honored to hear your baby’s story and be praying for you by name.
Lastly, our Pinterest page has beautiful graphics of quotes & Scripture from this episode, along with many other resources that you can pin and save. We would also 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. We’d love for you to follow along and spread the word about the Cradled in Hope Podcast. Now let’s get back to our episode.
So I want to go backwards a little bit to 2019, when I got to actually meet you in person and come to your headquarters there in Georgia. So my team, Amanda and Casey, two of our leaders in our organization, we were down in Atlanta, Georgia for AWHONN, which is a nurses conference for nurses in the women's health field.
And so we were down there and we had a booth where we were presenting Bridget's Cradles to hospitals, so that nurses around the country could know about what we offer and be able to sign up to receive a donation of cradles.
And while we were there, we knew that you were just an hour south of Atlanta and we were able to drive down and visit your headquarters and meet you. And that was such an amazing time. We were so blessed to get to meet you. And that was the start of our partnership. So we've been partnering with your organization for the last two years, if you want to share a little bit more about that.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:28:48] Sure. When we go into a hospital, we definitely have some keepsakes and some things to help the nurses collect, which Bridget’s Cradles goes right into that, helping have things available, whether it's burial gowns or wraps or the cradles. All these babies are different shapes and sizes and have different physical issues. So you need a variety of things available to help in all the different situations.
And so we had known about Bridget’s Cradles. We had seen them in some of the hospitals we had been in, and of course they are so precious and the nurses love using them. And so we really liked the whole ministry of that and what it provides. And so when we go into a hospital, we provide a lot of different things and some of them are ours, but we also recommend other things like Bridget’s Cradles.
The nurses have a crazy day every day and they're busy and they have a lot of paperwork and a lot of everything, so we do try to streamline. So being able to partner with you all and a couple of other organizations to where it can be a one-stop shop for the nurses where they can order our supplies that we provide them with, but also some of the additional things, have it all on one order form where they can just order it from us and we can provide that to them. So we love being able to keep your cradles in stock here so that we can just work that in.
Ashley Opliger: [00:30:26] Yes, and I should share with our listeners a little bit about our organization. So most of the time, hospitals find us or we reach out to them and they make a request directly on our website. And then we ship our cradles from our headquarters directly to the hospital.
And so that's really our main model, is that we are dealing directly with the hospitals. But with Rachel's Gift, we send our cradles so that they are in stock at your headquarters, so that whenever you partner with a hospital, they can get our cradles directly through you since they're ordering other resources as well.
And that's something that we're really proud to partner with you, and we really love everything that you're doing. And so you're the exception to the rule for us in terms of our normal model, but we're very glad to be able to do that so that we can reach more families and hospitals, and have that relationship with you and everything that you're doing.
Would you mind sharing more about what you do for hospitals and families? I mean, there are so many things that you do with training hospital staff with bereavement and you have support groups. So would you mind just sharing all of the wonderful things that you do and offer for families?
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:31:33] Sure. Of course, when we first started, we were mainly doing the keepsake boxes, but we also felt that the patient needed guidance through that time and in making those decisions and helping with those regrets.
And the top three regrets that moms have that come in on all the different surveys for years are all decisions that have to be made at the time that they're in the hospital. And so they can't be changed later, so such a critical time. And so we started training volunteers to go in to help with that.
And what we learned really quickly is where that needed to happen was with the nurses. And there's some different aspects of that, but I don't want to go into all that because it's not important to the story. But we saw that if we didn't get the nurses trained, it's great and it gives them something, but it doesn't solve that problem.
And so we went back to the drawing board, did some research, and realized: In nursing school with women's services, pretty much what they are trained is, “Give the patient and their family their time, space and privacy,” which is pretty much the opposite of what we feel needs to happen.
They are confused. They are traumatized. They are in shock. They are in the depths of grief. They don't need their time, space, and privacy. They need help. They need guidance. They need options. They can't get on a computer and research options. They need someone to guide them through that.
And so we put together a panel. It took a couple years to come up with the curriculum, but we basically tackled the whole 24 to 48 hours that the patient is in the hospital. How to walk the patient through those decisions. How to facilitate bonding with a mom who's, it's just too hard, she can't get there. But we know that this is the only time she's going to have, and we don't want her to have regrets later.
So teaching a couple of different ways, easy and quick, of course, because they have other patients that they're with, but ways to facilitate that in the best way possible, what options to give them for end of life. They're usually trained to just say, “Are you going to work with the funeral home? Or would you like the hospital to handle things?”
Well, those are two options. And in your head, your first thing is, “Well, I don't have the money to work with the funeral home or the mental capacity at this point. So let me just sign the piece of paper.” It's the easy, quick, free thing to do, but then they have that regret later. They don't know where their baby is, in most cases.
And so we train the nurses how to have some conversations there and how to help guide them to a healthier decision for them down the road, because yeah, you can put a Band-Aid on it here, but it's not going to help six months from now or a year from now when they have all these regrets.
So we really try to train the nurses on how to have those conversations. And honestly, most of them are just so receptive because they didn't know what to do or say. They were told to give the family their time, space, and privacy, so they do. And so they don't go in the room as often. They don't know what to say. It's uncomfortable, so they just stay away.
And then the mom is sent home and that's what leads to that sense of avoidance by the hospital staff. And it's so unintentional, but that's just what leads to it. And so they really love having the information. They really love to know how to transition those conversations.
So we tell them it's not about spending any more time with these patients than your others, but your others, your live, healthy birth patients, you're having conversations about breastfeeding and, “Is your car seat ready to go,” and the burrito wrap swaddle, and all the things that they're teaching you before you go home. And they're not having any of these with these mothers, so we're just going to replace those conversations.
So instead of breastfeeding, we're going to talk about funeral arrangements and some of your options with that. Instead of car seats, we're going to talk about bereavement pictures and making a good decision there. And anyway, so we just teach them on how to transition those.
And of course, we go into a lot of the physical too, on how to help some of these babies and help that facilitation go well with the bonding with mom and in all different situations that you may find yourself in. And of course, how to talk to dads.
Dads are wired a little different than moms, so how to get dad involved and how to help him have the best experience possible at the hospital so that they can look back on it, not right away, but maybe in two years, five years, and at least have some sweet memories of their time with their baby in the hospital.
Ashley Opliger: [00:36:25] Absolutely. I think all of that is so important. So we partner with over 1,000 hospitals in all 50 states, and we've had the honor to work with so many amazing nurses and medical staff at hospitals all across the country. And in my heart of hearts, I believe that nurses are in the nursing profession because they are compassionate and kind people that want to care for patients.
And so I completely honor and respect nurses, but I do think sometimes the training aspect is what is missing, that they truly don't know what to do. They don't know how to respond in those really difficult moments. And also sometimes they don't have the resources available.
And so on our end with Bridget's Cradles, so many times we hear from the nurses that they are so grateful to have the cradles. We always think the cradles are for the bereaved families, and they certainly are. We make the cradles for the babies, to honor the babies, and to give the family a way to honor and hold their baby in a very respectful and dignified way.
But we have found now partnering with hospitals, that the nursing staff is very grateful to be able to have something to offer to the family, because they want to have a resource to give. But I do see exactly what you're saying with the training aspect.
Just in the last month, I've had multiple women, some local, some in other states reach out to me. Very similar situations, like you said, where there was avoidance on the hospital staff side and they could have had these conversations, but they didn't. They made assumptions. And then the moms are left with these regrets and this grief that's compounded on top of their grief of losing their baby. They now have these other aspects that they're grieving as well.
And so I'll obviously honor their privacy, but to give you some examples, we had a mom who should have received a cradle at a hospital because our cradles are available there, but because of the [physical] state of the baby, when the baby was delivered, the nursing staff assumed that the mom and the dad would not want to see their baby because of the way the baby was presented. And so they weren't given that option to hold their baby.
And it's now been two years and they are grieving not getting to spend that time with their baby and not being able to see their baby face to face. And so we had the opportunity to send them a cradle to aid in their healing process, but obviously, that's not the same. They're never going to get those moments back with their baby, and so that breaks my heart.
And then we also had another situation recently where a mom did receive a cradle for her baby, but when they took the baby to the funeral home or to the morgue, they didn't ask the family if they wanted the cradle as a keepsake, or if they should continue - I think the family chose cremation - if they were going to cremate the baby with the cradle. That wasn't an option for them, and so they didn't get the cradle back. And that was very difficult for them because the cradle was what held their baby and they wanted to hold on to that as a keepsake.
And so these conversations, even at our ministry, we're seeing these issues arise. And unfortunately for us, when we send the cradles out to all these hospitals across the country, because of HIPAA and privacy laws, we don't know which families are receiving the cradles. We only hear these stories from the families who’ve reached out to us after the fact directly on their own.
And this isn't a common situation that I'm sharing with you. Most of the stories we hear are positive stories of them receiving the cradle in the hospital, and they're thanking us for that. But we do hear the other side of it, where there are regrets and the hospital staff maybe didn't know what to do, or didn't have these conversations.
And again, I'm being careful with my words because I really respect nurses. And I do think that they have the heart and they are very compassionate, but I think it's just a lack of training, of not knowing what to say and what conversations to have and what choices to give the parents.
This is a really difficult question to ask, and we're going to assume that this is what they would want, or this is what is best, but they don't know how that's going to impact their grieving journey. And so I want to honor you and thank you for stepping in and giving that training and having those hard conversations with the nurses, because I think that is so needed.
So would you mind sharing a little bit more about what that looks like? Because there might be some of our hospitals, we send this podcast email out to all of our hospitals, so there's very likely going to be a nurse listening to this. So how do hospitals sign on to receive this training from you? What does that look like?
I know you're flying out to Kansas here coming up soon to do a training at a hospital in Kansas. And then in, did you say Wyoming after that?
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:41:14] Mm-hmm. Yes.
Ashley Opliger: [00:41:15] Yes. So how do hospitals go about that?
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:41:18] When they reach out to us and are looking to get some education, which still boggles my mind, that's not really what … At the beginning, it was about the keepsakes and the things, but I've become so passionate about the education because then using the things in the right way just becomes so important.
And a side note on what you were talking about on the cradle and the decisions, just so you know, that's one thing that we definitely teach in our classes is that no matter what the baby's in, whether it's in a little burial gown or whether it's in one of your cradles, always offer, “Do you want the cradle or the gown or the wrap? And we can always use another one and send the baby off if you want them sent off, if you want them sent off in something sweet and pretty.”
We always would rather them use more and give the parents those options and things. When we come in, we offer all of our bereavement boxes, our memory boxes, all of our support, and our services for free to the hospital and to the families. So the hospital doesn't ever pay for the actual bereavement materials or any of that.
We do ask in return that they train all of their staff because it is so important that patient care is consistent. And we've seen this. You mentioned our support groups. We do have support groups and we've seen, now this has been a while ago, but when we were not making it mandatory, when it was just voluntary, when we would go into a hospital, they would advertise the classes and the nurses would choose whether to come or not.
Well, then you'd have, in support group, two moms that delivered at the same hospital and one had a sweet time, had time with her baby, all the time she wanted, because we go into a lot of the medical stuff behind that as well, about the baby being in the room, has a ton of keepsakes, had pictures. Even though they weren't sure at the time, the nurse had those conversations with them and talked him into having them.
And they said, “You never have to look at them if you don't want to, but if you change your mind, at least somebody has them,” and so it would have all that stuff next to a mom who gave birth at the same hospital and had nothing.
And so that even brings another layer of grief to that mom, who's like, “Why didn't I get that?” And our whole goal is to lessen trauma, not increase it and add to it. So that's why we ask that they make it mandatory. Now in return for that, though, the nurses do get CEU credits for taking the class. So they get 3.75 CEU credits, which they have to have. Most states, every year you have to have so many to keep up with renewing your license. So, it's helpful for that.
We come in, we do the training, we train all of your staff. There is a cost upfront to do that, but we keep it as small as possible. And it really, honestly, is basically reimbursing us for our travel expenses and so forth is what that is. It's a very small cost, too, considering what you get for as many years as you want it.
So then as long as they keep their staff trained, we do train a trainer while we're there so that the people in education, as new nurses are hired or if we missed anyone, while we were there, that they were off or whatever, they keep the class going so that all staff stays trained. We also have a continuing education unit that they can put into their skills or competency days that they have, so that the people, because they only take the class once, that they took it. And a couple years later, they can take a little 15-minute refresher course that hits the high points and the procedures.
So that's what we do. We come in and we want to equip the nurses and the hospital staff to be able to carry on the program for as long as they want it with no costs moving forward, and be able to keep their staff trained so that those conversations keep happening. And hopefully, the patients have, you hate to say a better experience, but it truly is a better experience than if they don't have any of that guidance through the training.
So many nurses have said, “Oh, I wish I'd have had this in school so that my loss patients I've already had, that I knew this and knew what to do or say.”
And so that's actually our next thing we're working on is a college course that we're hoping to get into the nursing schools. They can integrate it into that senior year of nursing if they're going into the women's services.
Ashley Opliger: [00:45:34] Yeah, that would be so beneficial. And I agree with you. I think nurses are hungry for this information.
They want to feel trained. They want to have resources. They want to care for these families in the best way. And so I think having that training is so amazing. And I really wish that every hospital listening to this would get in touch with Rachel's Gift and be able to go through that, because there's so much value that you bring.
And the stories that I shared with you, every experience is so different. So there could be a mom that, and I'll just use the cradles as an example. So for myself, we chose to bury Bridget in the cradle. That was what was most healing for me was to know that she was buried in this little cradle that was made by her grandma. And that was healing to me. But for another family, it would have been more healing for them to keep the cradle and have that to hold onto.
And so that's where I think it's just giving the families those options so that they can make those personal decisions for their baby and for their family. Because the way I think of it is: These families, they don't get to pick out the baby's first outfit and they're going home outfit and all the things for the nursery and all these decisions for their baby.
But if they can pick out their baby's cradle and they can make these key decisions and feel like they have some control in such an out-of-control situation, I do believe that their grieving journey, for them to find healing versus having these regrets, having these decisions made for them, where they have all of these what-ifs and, “What if we could have done this? And what if we would have been able to have the cradle here, be able to see our baby or hold our baby longer?”
And I feel very strongly the same as you, that I'm giving families those options and choices, and finding ways that they can honor their baby and spend time with their baby. And if they choose not to, that's okay too. But at least they have that option and they don't have to live with the regrets of not being able to have that time and have those little keepsakes and things that will help them in their healing journey as they move forward.
And I always say this about Bridget’s Cradles when hospitals have other resources. Say they have the little gowns or they have a little blanket or a little hat and they say, “Well, we already have these resources. We don't necessarily need the cradles.”
I always say, “Our organization is not trying to compete with other resources. We are trying to complement because, in my opinion, a bereaved family cannot have enough in memory of their baby. And so if their baby gets to take pictures in a precious little angel gown, and you can hold them in the cradle, and you can be given a blanket that you can take home, the more that you can give these families in memory of their baby, I feel so strongly that is a way to allow them to heal and allow them to have these precious memories with their baby.”
And so that's something I'm always very passionate about saying, is, “We are never trying to compete with what a hospital already has. We want to just complement.” And that's what I love about what you do as well, is that you have our cradles, you have the little diapers, you have the different things that you are able to provide to these hospitals, and do that all at one time where they can order all of these directly through you.
So how can hospitals and families connect with you, if you wouldn't mind sharing your website and your social media channels, and any other ways that people can get in touch with you in all of the wonderful things that you’re doing?
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:48:58] Sure. Our website is rachelsgift.org. And we have a lot of tabs on there, and so there's several things for families.
Even if you were not served by us, we have a lot of resources on there. We constantly try to update it. There's things we do. Our support groups are online and they're open to anyone. We have probably more people on our support groups that we haven't served than we have. Everybody is welcome to those.
We do have an angel wall as well, that you can request if you send us your baby's name, and the month and the year that they were born and passed, put them up on that angel wall so that there's that little memorial for them.
There's also a tab for the hospitals that have all the information. It gives a little bit of a breakdown of what's included in the educational class, as far as the psychology portion, the actual medical portion and different things like that, and the CEU information. So there's things there for that.
We also have resources for OB offices that they can use for miscarriage resources, and as well as emergency rooms. We have a couple of hospitals where we provide our services to their emergency room, which isn't the whole complete service. It's a different one for miscarriages that come through the ER. And we're not even partnered with their labor and delivery unit.
So our services aren't all or nothing. We have different pieces that if you don't need one part, you need another. A lot of people don't know this, either, that we do have a pediatric unit that we can come in and add to our teaching with the older patients in some of these children's hospitals that are in life-threatening situations. So we do have a pediatric unit as well. It's really amazing that the team that came up with some of the things in that to help those nurses.
And so there is a tab on there also for obtaining services for the hospital, where you can go in and you can see all of the things about the classes, the different subject matter that's covered.
And you can submit a request on getting a quote from us on what it would be for us to come and train all of your staff. And it doesn't matter if we trained 50 or we trained 500, it's the same price. It's just us coming out to start the training. And so we ask that you go on there and ask us any questions, and we'd love to work with you.
I will say, if there's anyone listening that's a hospital administrator or works in that capacity or as a supervisor or manager at a hospital, is that one thing we have found is that nurses will come back and say how it helps them in their job feel so much less stressed.
Usually, they're dreading having to take care of a patient with a loss because they don't know what to do or say, and they don't have resources available. So having all of those tools and knowing what to do and say, and having that confidence, and being more comfortable walking in the room definitely brings the stress level way down for your staff as well.
Ashley Opliger: [00:52:04] Absolutely. I agree with you 100%, and that's something we realized pretty early on in our ministry. Like I had mentioned to you, when we started this, we felt like our core ministry was for the baby and the family, that we had this honoring way for the baby to be held. And then we were giving this experience for the parents to bond and hold their baby.
But the testimonials that we have received from the nurses’ staff about the impact that the cradle has made on the nurses have been really phenomenal for us to be able to hear these stories of how impactful it was for them to be able to offer this to the family. And I had mentioned that earlier, about how we really feel that these nurses are hungry for resources, they're hungry for training.
And you had mentioned in your support groups that you'll have two moms that have had very different experiences from the same hospital. And we see that all the time in our support groups and in moms that reached out to us over email or social media. They'll say, “Well, I was at this hospital and this other mom received this,” or, “This other mom experienced this.”
And I think a lot of it is really dependent on the nurse that you get because there's different shifts as well. So maybe this shift has nurses that are trained or more comfortable, but this shift isn't getting the same information.
And so really the training is so important that there's someone at the hospital in charge of training all of the nurses, regardless of what shift they're on, so that they are all aware of the resources available at the hospital, whether it's a cradle or something else or multiple resources, hopefully. That would be the best situation. They're aware of where all of these resources are and how to use them, and the conversations they should be having with their patients, and the options that they can be giving them as well.
I think that is so important so that families can feel supported and loved, and the nurses can have that confidence. And I think that's what they want, because like you said, there are nurses that feel much more comfortable in the bereavement space.
And I don't know if you have seen this in the hospitals that you work with, but oftentimes we see that it's this nurse feels very comfortable with it. And so if she's on, they'll give the bereaved patients to them, but sometimes that person may not be available.
And so I think it's so important that all the nurses have some sort of training and understanding of how to go about this. And so I love what you're doing. I wish that every hospital would have your training and we will definitely share this episode and your resources to families and hospitals all across the country as best that we can.
I want to share with everybody listening how to get in touch with Rachel's Gift directly onto their website. Also, on our resources page, we have at the very top, it says our partnered resources. And there is a link right there that you can get to Rachel's Gift from our website as well.
And then for this specific podcast episode, everything that we have talked about in this episode, all of those links will be shared in our show notes and are downloadable. It's a free PDF that comes with every episode called the Hope Guide.
We have a one-page feature in there with all the information about Rachel's Gift as clickable links, so you can find all of the resources that she has mentioned. So please go ahead and download that. And that way, if you want to present that to your hospital or to a family, you can share that PDF with them as well.
Lori Beth, thank you so much for everything that you do for families and for hospitals. You are making a huge impact in memory of Rachel. And I know that you have been through so much and have gone through an incredibly traumatic experience, but I'm so grateful that you have been able to use your grief for good and that you're able to bless so many people in her memory.
And I thank you so much for everything that you do and for partnering with Bridget’s Cradles. We are so honored to be partnering with you in this mission.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:55:57] Oh, well, thank you. And thanks so much for having me today and the opportunity to share this story. I really enjoyed being able to share my heart with you and with your listeners, so I really appreciate the opportunity.
Ashley Opliger: [00:56:11] Wow, friends, we covered so much in this episode, not only for our audience of grieving moms but also for the hospitals and nurses we serve. After Lori Beth and I recorded this episode, God put it on my heart to share a few more things with you. If you could please stick around for just a few more minutes, I have some important announcements to share that I think will be very valuable to you.
First of all, in this episode, Lori Beth acknowledged that her grief became so dark that she began to have suicidal thoughts. I don’t want to gloss over this because I know how dark depression and anxiety can be following a loss and I don’t want you to feel alone.
If this is you, will you please reach out and find help?
There is no shame in seeking out a counselor, taking medication, or attending a support group. Just please do not grieve alone, in isolation. I believe Satan would love nothing more than to use your grief to steal your joy and destroy your life, and I want to encourage you to bring your darkness into the light. Bring it to Jesus and get yourself into a community.
Tell a trusted friend or family member. Call the counselor or doctor and make the appointment. Sign up for one of our online support groups, or find another one that’s local to you. In our show notes, we have a suicide hotline linked [call 1-800-273-8255], as well as hope-filled resources for you to get connected to support. Hang on dear friend, your life is worth living and God can heal your heart.
Secondly, after Lori Beth and I talked about the negative experiences that can happen at a hospital, God really laid it on my heart to offer our cradles and memory keepsakes to those of you who did not receive anything at the hospital in memory of your baby. It truly breaks my heart to think that you went home without your baby and didn’t receive anything in their memory.
Giving away cradles directly to families isn’t our typical model (as we have chosen to focus our efforts on getting our cradles directly to the hospitals so that families have them available at the time of their loss), but for this situation, we are going to open up a one-time form that you can fill out and request a cradle or memory keepsake in your baby’s memory. You can find that link in our show notes and Hope Guide and we pray that it would bring healing to you to finally have something in memory of your baby in Heaven.
[[Editor's Note: This offer to request a cradle in memory of a baby is a one-time situation for a limited time associated with the launch of this episode on September 1, 2021. Unfortunately, this is not something we can do long-term on a continual basis.]]
Also, this month, we are giving away a special care package from Rachel's Gift for a bereaved mom who leaves a review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts for the Cradled in Hope Podcast. The care package includes a book, charm, adult coloring book, angel bear, and tote bag; it also includes a virtual entry ticket to their Angel Dash event coming up on October 16th, which also comes with a t-shirt and medal. Simply email us or DM us that you’ve left a review and we will draw a winner.
Lastly, if you are a nurse or hospital staff member and you are interested in providing Bridget’s Cradles to your bereaved parents, please request a free donation on our website. It only takes 2 minutes to fill out the form and we will ship them free of charge to you within one week.
We would be honored to donate cradles to your hospital so that you can provide a loving and dignified way for parents to hold their precious babies in Heaven. Likewise, we would love to connect you to the training and resources that Rachel's Gift offers. In our show notes and Hope Guide, you will find all of the links you will need to get connected to them.
We are praying that the conversation we had today would be a catalyst for change at hospitals so that bereaved families would be better supported in their grief. Thank you for all you do to comfort and love families through the most heartbreaking day of their lives.
And thank you all for listening. We will be back with another episode on September 15th with special guests from laurelbox, a bereavement gift company that curates special gifts for bereaved moms and whose mission is to “support the supporter.” You will not want to miss this conversation. We’ll see you back here then, and in the meantime, we’ll be sending love and prayers.
Thank you for listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast. We pray that you found hope & healing in today’s message. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a future episode. New episodes will be shared on the 1st and 15th 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 download a free PDF for each episode, called the Hope Guide, that 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 spread hope is by leaving a review of this podcast on iTunes [or Apple Podcasts app]. Consider the two minutes of your time as a way YOU can personally share this hope with a 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.
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