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  THE SEARCH FOR MEANING IN OUR BABIES' LIVES  


An Address by Scott Hessek, Guild President

     We are all drawn here through many unfortunate circumstances, ... and we all have faced one of the ultimate tragedies of human life, ... the loss of our babies, ... and in that loss, we have one overriding question. WHY????
     But in asking that question, perhaps we don't formulate it enough, ... we want to know the reasons behind our babies' deaths and the facts involved, ... but, more importantly, that question of "WHY" should be a question in a search for meaning in your baby's brief life, ... and there was a deeper meaning in it than what may appear on the surface of a brief life ended too soon.
     My regular work requires me to call and talk to people all over the country, ... and last night in what seems like chance I talked to a young mother of two children in San Francisco who blurted out that when she was five, she found her infant brother dead of SIDS in his crib. She said her mother had tried to have more children, but never succeeded. Nevertheless, the death of this woman's baby brother more than 30 years ago had made her a more caring, compassionate mother and human being than she might otherwise have been. She didn't say that in her conversation, but you knew it when you heard her talk so lovingly about raising her own children. Her little brother, who had died so very many years ago, and left a hole in her heart, and her parents' hearts, had nevertheless reached across the generations to touch babies and families living today, and many more generations to come.
     When a baby dies in day care, most sitters suffer almost as much as the parents, and need compassion, understanding and help. But there are bizarre and cruel exceptions. One family in our group lost a baby who was murdered by the sitter, ... that's right, ... the baby was murdered by the sitter who is now in prison, ... and they have found meaning in the life of their son by using his brief life to stop this woman who had secretly been abusing children in her care for years, and are working to have military and social service agencies stop the circumstances that lead to the abuse, hopefully for all future generations. His life has continuing meaning for others.
     Sometimes the meaning in a baby's brief life is apparent immediately. At other times, it takes years to come into focus.
     When Saul and Sylvia Goldberg's baby girl died on a beautiful, sunny day in Baltimore more than 30 years ago, that brief life started an international association of parent groups such as this one. When Dick and Regina Raring of Newport News lost their baby, Steven, in 1971 they were in contact with the Goldbergs and started this organization, and then Dick wrote the first major book ever on SIDS which helped focus national attention on the problem.
     When Wayne and Sharon lost Ryan in 1988, they helped develop the AFGIS Test which helps spot high-risk infants who superficially appear normal, but are at high risk. Once spotted, some steps can be taken to lower the risk and save some lives. That is Ryan's Legacy.
     When Vicki's son Russell died, she thought it was the end of the world, ... but, his little life inspired her to write the first public brochure ever on how to reduce the risk of SIDS, and she and her husband Scott now have a vigorous three-year-old son Jeremy and daughter, Melissa.
     When Jackie Wilson's son died, and she could not have any more, she adopted an emaciated little Russian baby who has turned out to be a vigorous, healthy baby known as Josef "Turbo Tot," and has inspired countless others to follow her example. She also runs the Guild's Support Group on the Virginia Peninsula.
     Randy and Blenda gave meaning to their son Freddie's life by working vigorously with the infant monitoring program and working with the Guild on numerous projects, ....
     All these people were just normal, average folks until tragedy struck and removed their most precious possessions from their lives, ... their babies.
     But the Bible says that babies are the ones closest to the face of God, ... and our little angels, through their brief lives, have made great impacts for good on our lives in the world despite the terrible pain that their loss has cost us.
     When we began this work twenty-five years ago this spring, there were between 20,000 and 30,000 babies dying in the U.S. from SIDS or other forms of sudden, unexpected infant deaths. This year the number of SIDS deaths is expected to be about 2000, ... enormous progress considering we still don't really know the causes, but are concentrating on treating the symptoms and the general environment. As we so sadly know, our babies are still dying. Yet the meanings of the lives of the babies who have gone before have been the real spur to the progress made up to this point.
     But our babies aren't just statistics. They were our hopes and dreams deferred whose little lives had meanings rooted in the past, present, and future, ... in the past in the joy and happiness we felt in their little lives. These happy memories we should examine, and enjoy as much as we can. We feel them in the present in the emptiness and loneliness of our hearts, ... in the broken records of pain that keep replaying in our heads, ... and in the sadness of them not being there when we momentarilly forget and start to look for them. But they can be there positively in our futures as we see the meanings that they had for each of us in their lives, and as we begin working to rebuild our lives without their physical presence.
     Helen Keller once said that we could never learn to be brave or patient if there were only joy in the world.
     The loss of our babies severely tests our bravery and patience. Our joy had been taken away. It also tests our faith when we want to scream at God and lash out at him for not intervening to stop what happened. We say, "How can God hurt us this way?"
     Yet it is not God who has taken our babies, but rather that they, in their spirits, have chosen to go to Him.
     A missionary priest in the jungle of Latin America who was trying to protect his native tribe from terrorists, drug lords and Shining Path communist guerrillas wrote poignantly about faith under fire.
     He said: "I see God as a force that can do all, (and yet to us it seems he does nothing), ... and omnipotent Being who has more confidence in his creatures than we have in Him, ... a Father that loves us so much, He leaves us to our own choices, I am starting to understand the words of Christ on the cross when he said, 'Father, why hast thou forsaken me?'"
     Yet it took God's apparent abandonment of Jesus at that most crucial hour for Jesus to fulfill HIS destiny, to die and be resurrected as the Messiah, ... which could not have been accomplished if God did not let Jesus do something by Himself.
     This terrible time of hurt is when God is letting us do something for ourselves, ... to draw from the well of inner strength from within that He has given us. He has given us training wheels for our ride through life, but this part we must ride alone. He won't let us fall, but He will let us test ourselves to be strong for the future, and keep the memories of our babies' lives as a source of joy and strength throughout our lives.
     There's a little poem we've always used in counseling that describes how you can handle a tragedy in life, but it's a poem that has suddenly taken on new meaning. The poem is as follows:
     "To each is given a bag of tools,
     a lump of rock and a book of rules,
     And each will carve before life has flown
     either stumbling block or stepping stone."
     Consciously or unconsciously you determine for yourself whether this tragic loss to you will be a stumbing block or a stepping stone for your life. It is also a stumbling block or stepping stone for the life of your baby.
     You can make your life, your family's life, and your baby's life have meaning beyond the mere circumstances of his or her passing. The deepest need that God has put in human nature is the craving to be appreciated, both you for yourself, and your baby for himself.
     In the movie "Clara's Heart," Clara, the nanny makes a powerful point about grief. She says, "Those that die don't create the agony and struggle in life. Only the living do that."
     Make a pledge to yourself to make the tragedy of your loss a stepping stone for you, your family, and your baby.
     The answer of how you are to do this may not become apparent for days, weeks, months, or years. But you can be assured that your life, and the life of your baby, has a grand purpose in the grand scheme of things.
     And in this search for meaning, with your friends in the Guild and God on your side, you are not alone.



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