In the few first days after her baby died, Rachel Tobin wore her hospital band on her wrist to remind herself when she woke up in the morning that her unthinkable, surreal loss was real.
Tobin went into labor 20 weeks into her pregnancy. Though doctors tried medical interventions to delay delivery, Tobin's son would not be born alive. But Tobin and her husband made the most of their precious moments with their son -- their only moments with their tiny baby boy.
If you goWhat: First meeting of Elmhurst Hospital's new SHARE support group for parents who have lost a baby through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth or neonatal death.
When: 7 to 9 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month, starting March 6
Where: Birch Room in the lower level of the hospital at 155 E. Brush Hill Road
Info: Visit Eehealth.org/SHAREResources or call (630) 527-3263
They told Andrew how much they loved him and how sorry they were that he wouldn't be coming home.
"I could have stared at his little face all day," Tobin says. "He had 10 little fingers and 10 little toes. He has a little cleft on his chin just like his daddy, and so those little details and those moments, I can close my eyes and I can see the tininess and the frailty."
Nearly six years after Andrew's death, Tobin is helping other grieving parents who have lost a baby find the beauty in the tragedy through the SHARE program at Edward Hospital in Naperville and a new support group that's starting at Elmhurst Hospital. In the role, she has to relive her own pain, but she says it's her way of honoring her son.
"When we have children on Earth, our job is to protect them and to raise them and help them be wonderful human beings," Tobin said. "But when our children die, our job is to protect their memory."
So she volunteers for Edward's Sharing Support program to guide parents in the first year after they have lost a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.
She sits on a committee that organizes the annual Walk To Remember, an event that raises funds for SHARE services and upkeep of Edward's Wings of Hope Angel Garden, a refuge for parents and a memorial to their children.
And on Tuesday night, Tobin will attend the first meeting of the new SHARE support group at Elmhurst.
"This is my kid's PTA," she said. "I don't have dance recitals. I don't have baseball games or anything else like that for my son who passed away. But I have these things, and so it is a way to remember it and make sure that he's remembered."
After Andrew's death in 2012, the group at Edward gave Tobin comfort and understanding. The program helps parents plan for burials, provides counseling and memory boxes, encourages parents to take pictures to preserve the little time they have with their babies and invites them to attend the bimonthly support group discussions.
"You are healing through sharing," said Susan Villa, SHARE coordinator for Edward-Elmhurst Health. "I always tell somebody, 'Group night might not be for you. It's not for everybody, but just come because there are so many people with stories like yours who will have open arms and say we're here for you.' We understand because I think only someone who has experienced that type of loss can truly understand the depth of their grief."
The Edward group now reaches more than 500 families a year and hosts three annual events: the Walk to Remember in October, a blessing of the angel garden in June and a nondenominational memorial service in December.
Through the Elmhurst group, Villa hopes to establish similar community events and to eventually start fundraising for a memorial garden.
"It brings so much peace and serenity to these parents," Villa said. "If you think about it, somebody who has a very early loss has never held their baby. They never saw their baby, and they don't have anything to take home sometimes. They don't even have an ultrasound picture. So to have a dedicated space where all the babies can be remembered and the parents can go there, just kind of have a moment, I think that's the least we can do for them is to provide that type of place."
Tobin, who now has two healthy sons, has built connections with families so they're comfortable enough going to the support group meetings.
"Being able to grow a community that is more understanding and empathetic of this is opening doors so that people cannot feel alone in their grief," she said.