Holbrook native’s organization helps nurses comfort mothers of stillborn babies

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Mike Jones/Observer-Reporter

Lori Beth Blaney and her mother, Carlyn Grimes, are shown at Washington Hospital in late February before Blaney led several classes teaching nurses how to comfort mothers of stillborn babies.

Mike Jones

Expectant mothers are supposed to be making plans for a nursery, not funeral arrangements.

Lori Beth Blaney learned how a parent’s dream can turn into a nightmare in a moment when she was involved in a serious car crash Dec. 5, 2006, near her home in McDonough, Ga., about 30 miles southeast of Atlanta.

The Holbrook native was eight months pregnant with a little girl on the way when a teenage driver who’d had her license for less than three weeks struck her car while speeding.

“We had a heartbeat when we got (to the hospital). But it faded,” Blaney said of the baby. “They said she saved my life. At the time you don’t want to hear that, but you come to acceptance.”

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Mike Jones/Observer-Reporter

Holbrook native Lori Beth Blaney was eight months pregnant with a little girl on the way in December 2006 when she was involved in a car crash near Atlanta that killed the unborn baby and severely injured Blaney.

Mike Jones

But accepting the loss was hard to come by for Blaney. She had suffered numerous broken bones in the crash and various injuries that required seven surgeries over the next two years.

“All the focus was on my physical recovery, but I was struggling emotionally,” Blaney said. “It’s such a silent grief.”

Blaney, the daughter of former Greene County president judge H. Terry Grimes, was away from her West Greene family. Her mother, Carlyn Grimes, spent time in Georgia helping Blaney with her recovery, while also tending to daily house chores and watching the couple’s two sons, Jake and Shane, who were 5 and 3 at the time.

During Blaney’s downtime from surgeries and rehabilitation, she began looking for resources and other women who went through a similar experience, but she struggled to find a group.

“In every conversation, it was the same thing,” Blaney said. “There was a piece missing and it’s your responsibility to figure it out.”

Seeing there was a need, Blaney launched a nonprofit organization in 2008 to train nurses how to interact with mothers of stillborn babies, while offering them the memories and resources they’ll need during their darkest moments to properly grieve and heal emotionally. She named the organization Rachel’s Gift.

The organization gained momentum in 2011 after many panel discussions with nurses and mothers who had lost their babies. Blaney noted that there is a two-hour window after delivery to let the reality of the situation settle, but that certain decisions must be made before the mother is discharged.

There is isolation and avoidance along with regrets of decisions made – or not made – in the hospital, Blaney said. Something as simple as a photograph or as monumental as holding the baby are memories that can be cherished forever. Her training courses with nurses teach them about the “bonding, denial and grief” associated with the loss, but insist that a candid conversation about the situation and keepsakes must happen before the woman leaves the hospital.

The nurses who treated Blaney weren’t trained how to handle such a difficult moment in a mother’s life, and were unsure of how to react to the grief. While some mothers don’t want to see the baby, Blaney’s top regret was not holding Rachel.

“Everyone is a little different,” Blaney said. “They’re not going to read something you hand them. You have to have a conversation.”

Blaney returned to the area late last month for a three-day training session with delivery nurses at Washington Hospital. She and her mother spent time in the various classes discussing the hard decisions that must be made immediately and how nurses can have a candid conversation with the patient. The organization also supplies keepsake boxes that have teddy bears, blankets and clothing, all of which the mother can hold and even smell as a reminder of their child.

Blaney, now 49 and a 1987 West Greene graduate, has taught the classes in several states, including Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma and now Pennsylvania. She hopes to eventually partner with colleges and universities to construct a curriculum that will be able to teach aspiring nurses before they enter the field.

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Mike Jones/Observer-Reporter

Rachel’s Gift supplies keepsake boxes that have Teddy bears, blankets and clothing, all of which the mother can hold and even smell as a reminder of their child.

Mike Jones

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