'She counts, and she's my daughter': Group ensures grieving parents don't walk alone
When Jamie Crooks of St. Charles attends Fox Valley Hands of Hope's annual Footprints Memorial Walk at Bluff City Cemetery next weekend, there will be one moment that means more to her than anything else could.
The May 7 remembrance service, which is for those grieving a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or loss of an infant, will allow her to hear her stillborn daughter's name read out loud.
Camryn Angelica Crooks.
"She counts, and she's my daughter," Crooks said. "And we wanted her so bad."
Crooks, 44, is mother to a 7-year-old son. Camryn was to be Jamie and her husband Scott's "wow" baby.
"We never thought this would happen," she said of the pregnancy. "We were over the moon."
But on a day in November of last year, she knew something was wrong.
Thirty weeks pregnant, she couldn't feel her usually very active daughter moving. Concerned but not panicked, she went to the hospital where they checked her with a fetal Doppler.
It couldn't discern a heartbeat, so they brought in the ultrasound machine.
"I knew right away something was wrong, she was such an active baby," Crooks said. "I think I just went into shock."
The ultrasound showed no movement or blood flow in the umbilical cord.
"At that point, they confirmed she was gone," Crooks said. And her world was turned upside down.
Doctors wanted to induce labor right away, but Crooks said she wasn't ready and she and Scott went home.
"Then I went to the store and bought her a blanket," she said, her voice breaking as she fought back tears. "I was so excited to have a girl and I wanted all the pink things, so I bought her an outfit and a headband ...," she said, trailing off as she regained her composure.
It took the labor-inducing medicine two days to work, and on the day she delivered Camryn, Jamie and Scott were able to bathe her and hold her for the day. They clipped off a little bit of her hair and had fingerprints and footprints made.
Stillbirth affects about one in 160 births, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States, roughly the same number of babies that die during the first year of life.
"It's just awful, you know?" she said. "This grief is so specific because it's not just the loss of your baby.
"It's the loss of hopes and dreams."
Crooks said she went from worrying about an outfit for her daughter to wear home to whether or not she wanted an autopsy and if they preferred cremation or burial.
"Your head is just swimming with all these things you're faced with, and it's a nightmare," she said.
Crooks sought one-on-one counseling for a couple of months before she was ready to try Fox Valley Hands of Hope's Footprints support group.
FVHH, founded in 1981 and based in Geneva, provides compassionate guidance and support for grieving at no cost to the clients.
The Footprints group, which this session consists of two couples, meets once a week for six weeks.
"The biggest thing is just providing the connection with other people who are going through what they're going through," said Erik Meeks, manager of adult grief services at FVHH. "When we ask people (once the group is completed) what worked for you, it's usually, 'I don't feel alone.'"
Meeks said the annual remembrance walk is one way to honor the loss of a child when parents may not have had the opportunity to do a funeral or provide a headstone.
"As a grieving person that may have lost out on that experience, to actually have a ceremony can provide a finality that you would have with another type of death loss," Meeks said. "It's an opportunity for them to acknowledge the loss, and if they had a name for their baby, to hear it out loud and have a ceremony to honor them."
The event, which starts at 9 a.m. at the Elgin cemetery, has changed over the years. A new monument was built three years ago along with a brick walkway where people can customize bricks to honor their children. Registration is preferred and people can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to let organizers know they'll be attending.
For Jamie Crooks, the opportunity to say Camryn's name and talk about her lightens the burden of grief that she carries.
"Every time that we tell our story, her story, I find that takes that load off a little bit," she said. "I feel if we're able to help someone, it's my way of honoring her. Then we can make something positive out of it."