Knitting groups create baby hats to help grieving parents

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 8:59 p.m.

Knitting groups that meet at Dyed in the Wool, a yarn store in Ross Township, recently donated about 340 baby hats to aid the efforts of the AngelHeart Perinatal Bereavement Team at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh, dedicated to parents who lose a baby before or shortly after birth.

The hats are the type of much-needed donations on which the program relies to help parents suffering from the tragedy of perinatal loss, said Sandy Stanley, a 12-year nurse in the hospital's labor and delivery department and member of the AngelHeart team.

In addition to providing counsel and support, the team members, labor and delivery nurses, provide various keepsakes for parents to take home, Stanley said.

“It lets them know they were a mom and dad because sometimes they don't feel that when they go home with empty arms,” said Stanley, 34.

AngelHeart team members dress the babies in small hats, sweaters and blankets for a tastefully done photo. Then, they send all the keepsakes home with the parents as memories of their baby, she said.

Stanley said the hospital has so many perinatal losses that donations constantly are needed.

Perinatal loss, which refers to a miscarriage, stillborn birth or the death of a newborn, happens with one in five pregnancies, according to the West Penn Allegheny Health System website.

“We're very happy to be doing this,” said Carol Briggs Dragos, owner of Dyed in the Wool. “The mother goes home with something that touched their baby,” she said.

Dragos, 53, said various knitting groups hold weekly meetings at her store, and members always are looking for projects they can do for charity. She introduced the idea of knitting baby hats for the AngelHeart program.

Stanley said the babies can range in size from one pound to a full-term size, so the knitters were requested to make hats as small as the size of a Barbie doll's head.

“They were just really taken back by the sizes of the hats,” Stanley said.

Dragos, of Pittsburgh's North Side, said she had 28 volunteers making hats, which were knitted in soft, pastel colors. Some of the volunteers knitted different designs on the hats, such as hearts or swirls.

“It was a great way to try out different stitches,” said Dragos, who orignially is from Scotland. She first moved to Cleveland in 1980 and to the Pittsburgh area in 1995.

Ann Schelbe, 63, of Shaler meets with her knitting group at Dyed in the Wool every Friday morning and participated in the hat-knitting project. She said she always supports Dragos' ongoing charitable efforts.

“This is a store with a conscience. (We try to) be kind and help other people,” Schelbe said.

Debbie Marziano is part of a knitting group that meets every Wednesday at Dyed in the Wool.

“It was something to do for a worthwhile cause,” said Marziano, 63, of Allison Park. “It was natural for me.”

Because stillborn babies usually are at the age of 16 weeks to full term, women might have to go through the labor process for medical reasons even though they know the baby won't survive, Stanley said.

She said that alone is very hard.

AngelHeart team members also give parents memory boxes, which contain a plaster cast of the baby's footprints.

And if parents decline the mementos, Stanley said, the items are stored at the hospital for a few years in case the parents eventually change their minds, as “everyone grieves differently.”

The program also holds two big events each year for the parents who suffered a perinatal loss at the hospital to attend for fellowship and help coping with grief, Stanley said.

She knows firsthand how much suffering a perinatal loss can cause. And it's not just because she's a nurse involved with the program. Her first child was stillborn at 22 weeks, so she and her husband, Michael, 41, have been through the grieving process.

“I got to experience both sides of it. I realize what impact our group has. We give (parents) so much support and grief counsel,” Stanley said.

After losing Edward, who was stillborn on Aug. 30, 2007, Stanley wants to let parents know that in time, things can become easier to bear. She gave birth to her son Sean, now 4, exactly one year to the day after she lost her first son, without planning or inducing. She also is the mother of Leah, 19 months.

Stanley said the program needs donations of blankets and sweaters, along with hats. And it also needs small hospital-type gowns that tie in the back that are for babies who are too small for a sweater.

Dragos said it's best to use soft, pastel colors and not anything too vibrant.

If people would like to send monetary donations to help with material, shipping and packaging costs, Stanley said, they can be mailed to Angelheart Perinatal Bereavement Team E5 Labor and Delivery, The Western Pennsylvania Hospital, 4800 Friendship Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15224.

For more information, call 412-578-5763.

Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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