Program helps with loss

Kristi Schichtl, coordinator of the perinatal bereavement program, has worked in labor and delivery for 12 years. While she has served as the program coordinator only since August 2008, Kristi has been keenly aware of the needs of families who have lost a baby. She said the attitude was generally, “We’re so sorry, we’ll see you next time” when what the families need was so much more.

“I wanted them to go home with something,” she said. “That was the worse thing, going home with empty arms.”

Thanks to the Mike and Jeanne Smyers family who provided the financial resources to start the perinatal bereavement program at Conway Regional, that is no longer the case today. The Conway hospital is one of only two in the state with a full-time program coordinator.

“I can’t tell you how fortunate we are with the things that we can provide these moms that are provided by the community,” Kristi said, explaining that the program is run completely by donations.

Kristi works with health care professionals to provide support for women who have stillbirths as well as those who have a miscarriage. Some months, she may work with as many as 10 to 12 women. “We help everybody for a minimum of a year, and some moms well over a year.”

Support ranges from someone to hold your hand and a shoulder to cry on to email messages and cards. Kristi also provides grief materials specifically designed for each patient (teen moms, single moms, dads, grandparents).

“Bereavement comes in many stages,” Kristi said. “One day you’re doing very good and the next day, bam. You are back to the beginning.”

There are also special memory boxes as well as other items that help families remember, including baby rings, blankets and booties. The program also has baby clothing suitable for photos and funeral services. Photographs and photo books are a big part of the program, according to Kristi. She also will put the baby’s handprints and footprints on items as a keepsake.

Cards are also important. “We know certain milestones are going to be hard, like your due date if you didn’t make it to term, and the first birthday. I make sure they get birthday cards. I’ve even developed a card for Mother’s Day.”

According to Kristi, it is particularly hard for women who lose babies because oftentimes those around them don’t know what to say or how to express their feelings, so too many times they say nothing. Typically, moms feel alone because they are unable to share their feelings with others.

Kristi encourages those around a grieving mom to say something simple like, “I’m so sorry” which will acknowledge the loss. “It’s more upsetting not to have their loss acknowledge. It’s still a loss of a life. It lets moms know you remember.

Kristi said it is often difficult for moms when life appears to get back to normal for other family members. “Everybody’s life goes on but they aren’t ready to go on with life. We let them know someone is still thinking of them and knows they are hurting.”


Tabitha – who has a 4-year-old and is expecting another child Oct. 26 – lost a daughter at five months.

Tabitha, who lives in Conway, feels so strongly about the program that she has volunteered her time to help prepare materials for other families and has helped with plans for this year’s walk. In fact, her photo and her daughter’s are featured on this year’s walk brochure.

“It helps me to know that I’m not the only one this happens to,” she said.

Tabitha’s first pregnancy was normal and “everything was going great in the beginning” during her second pregnancy. At 5 ½ months, Tabitha’s doctor noticed that her amniotic fluid was low. After a week of bed rest, a re-check showed the fluid was even lower.

Her doctor told her it was most important for her to feel the baby move. The following week all was well until Thursday, when she did not feel the baby move. She called the doctor and was asked to come into the office as quickly as possible. Her amniotic fluid had dropped to zero and the baby had no heartbeat. A second doctor in the clinic was asked to double check the findings and concurred with Tabitha’s physician.

The couple was given the option of checking into the hospital immediately or waiting until the next morning. Tabitha returned home where she and her husband grieved and turned to their faith for strength. “That’s all we did all night was pray,” Tabitha said. “Our faith was the only thing that got us through.”

The next morning she checked into Conway Regional, where her stillborn daughter, Ava Grace, was delivered on May 30, 2008.

She is buried at Crestlawn Cemetery in the Garden of Innocents.

“The nurses started helping me at the hospital,” she said. “They sit, talk and cry with you and make you feel very comfortable.”

Tabitha said a special keepsake box given by the hospital was also helpful. It included footprints and handprints of her baby, two dresses (one for photos and one for burial), a baby ring and a blanket. “I wanted photos because I didn’t want this to be a forgotten thing.”

The staff has remained in contact with Tabitha through calls and cards, offering their support and assistance. “They keep in contact with you constantly,” she said “They are there for you. They truly do care.”

Tabitha was uncertain if she was emotionally ready when she learned she was pregnant again. It is difficult for the couple not to worry and wonder everyday. “We’re OK now and everything is great.” (She delivered a healthy baby after her interview with 501.)

After the death of her baby, Tabitha was surprised to hear about others who had suffered similar losses. “I knew it happened but I had no idea it happened so much and to so many people.” She offered words of encouragement for other women who lose a child. “You feel like the world is crumbling down around you but you can make it through it.”


Katelynn Taylor Nicole Downes was Aimee Reeve’s fourth child, born April 23, 2008. Born “perfect” and at full term following a “textbook” pregnancy, she died about three hours before delivery.

“Everything was light-hearted and routine (in delivery) but suddenly everybody’s attitude changed. I knew something was not quite right,” Aimee said, explaining that a “cord accident” is believed to have occurred.

Prior to the stillbirth, Aimee admits she knew little about the subject. “It’s just not talked about.”

Aimee is thankful for Kristi Schichtl, coordinator of the Conway Regional bereavement program and the help that is provided. She said Kristi and others on staff help families work through the grieving process.

While the loss was still heavy, a few hours after delivery pictures were taken of her precious Katelynn which she says sounds “crazy” but she would not trade anything in the world for those photos. “I love those pictures,” she said. “When you’re in that situation who thinks to take pictures.”

Aimee pointed out that with the loss of a baby, parents don’t get to celebrate that child’s first birthday or their first Christmas.

However, the Walk to Remember provides a special time for these infants and their families as well as an opportunity to meet others who have suffered similar losses and who understand.

“You’re kind of blown away by the number who are going through this.”
In addition to helping Aimee, the program provided support for her other children. “Each child handles it differently,” she said.

“They provided a lot of support for them.”

Aimee, who had the difficult task of returning to be a mom to other children while still grieving Katelynn’s death, found it helpful to reach out to others who have suffered similar losses.

Aimee said moms “don’t ever get over” the loss of a baby but with time and help from groups like the perinatal bereavement program, it becomes more bearable. “I really appreciate everything Kristi does and Conway Regional. I couldn’t make it without them. I wouldn’t have the memories of Katelynn without them.