Lincoln organization supports families dealing with the grief of losing a child

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - In the United States, nearly 1,000,000 pregnancies end in miscarriages, and almost 90,000 babies die before their first birthday. It's a harsh reality that happens more often than many think.

No Footprint Too Small offers weighted memory bears to serve as therapeutic tools for families that have lost a baby (SOURCE: Kamri Sylve/KOLN).

No Footprint Too Small supports mothers and families who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss. The Lincoln non-profit organization offers a variety of care services like funeral and memorial planning, mental health assistance, physical and emotional support during labor, and counseling.

Jolie Vega is the founder and executive director of No Footprint Too Small. She and her husband lost their first son at 41 weeks. They experienced another early-term loss shortly after that. Following the traumatic experience, she realized there was a need for support and care for people like her in the community. That's why she started supporting women and families through her organization during these times needed for grieving.

Jolie says this is a topic that isn't often talked about, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, "I remember leaving the hospital, 25-years-old, my first pregnancy, just kind of thinking, 'What do we do?' I was planning a funeral for a baby. We were just lost."

Jolie says the pain of losing a child never truly goes away, instead, it changes. She tells 10/11 losing a child doesn't just affect the mother, but it affects everyone involved.

On October 15, 2019, No Footprint Too Small is hosting an event for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Rememberance Day. Wave-of-Light is a world-wide candle-light vigil. No matter which time zone they're in, people all over will stop and light a candle at 7 p.m. in honor of babies who have passed away. Wave-of-Light is free and open to the public. The organization will serve chilli and cinnamon rolls. The Wave-of-Light event is being held at the Jane Snyder Trails Center, located at 21st and "Q" streets.

The most recent data shows that in 2016, 266 mothers in Nebraska experienced a still-birth.

At her 20-week ultrasound, Ana Velez was told her baby girl Emma was smaller than normal. Doctors explained to her that Emma didn't have much amniotic fluid around her. One week after that, she and her husband found out Emma's heartbeat had stopped.

On May 2, 2018, Ana went into labor with Emma for 32 hours. She and her husband had only brief moments to hold their baby girl until she was taken away. Ana says without Jolie and other volunteers at No Footprint Too Small, her time of grief would have been harder. No Footprint Too Small gave Ana a care package that included books written specifically for those who have lost a baby. It also had notes and different keepsakes inside, which could help her remember her baby girl. She said the books given to her helped her deal with the grief of losing a child.

Ana Velez tells 10/11, "It's like a lot of conflicting feelings of 'This is the worst pain I've ever experienced, but at the same time, the most love I've experienced.' It's still a shock at that moment, and you're kind of trying to understand what's happening."

Ana would like people to know that men and women grieve differently. She says it's important that during these tough times, to check on your partner and see how they're feeling. No Footprint Too Small held a couple's retreat, which supported Ana and her husband and helped them learn how to grieve.

Last year, Ana attended the Wave-of-Light candle-light vigil. She said it was hard, but it was also comforting to see that she wasn't going through the pain alone.

Whether it's from a miscarriage, a still-birth, or an infant death, volunteers are there every step of the way. One way the organization helps is by providing families with a care package, specifically designed to meet the needs of each individual family. In addition to the care packages, families can also receive a memory bear.

Some mothers say they physically ache to hold their lost baby. No Footprint Too Small offers weighted memory bears to serve as therapeutic tools. Each bear is filled with sand or rice to weigh the exact birth weight of the baby. The baby's name, birth date and birth weight is stitched on a heart sewn onto the bear's belly. Sentimental cloth such as a onesie, a blanket or any other special material is used to make these memory bears.

Ana says, "You don't realize how much you need to hold something, and your arms hurt. So, just having a bear was really, really comforting." She tells 10/11, it's the little things like her memory bear that keep her going.

No Footprint Too Small weighted memory bears give mothers not only a meaningful gift in memory of their baby, but a gift that offers comfort and healing.

If you would like to donate to or volunteer at No Footprint Too Small, visit their website.