May 2011

“Celebrating Moms,” featured in Southpark Magazine May Issue by Alison Henry

Friends Emily Harry, Heather Leavitt and Cat Long have much in common, but their strongest bond is something many women can’t quite comprehend.

As mothers of stillborn children, they shared the heartbreak of enduring one of life’s most trying experiences. Now, each mothers to healthy children, they also are sharing in the joy of honoring the memory of the babies they lost while helping new mothers in economic hardship through their nonprofit, Baby Bundles.

“Baby Bundles is about celebrating moms,” says Cat, a creative force behind

Baby Bundles’ handmade bags of new and gently used clothing and newborn essentials. “You don’t have to be a rich mom to be celebrated. It’s is about celebrating all babies being born.”

Sad and happy chapters

“Emily and I always felt that our friendship was built on purpose, but at the time we had no idea what that was,” says Heather, whose childhood friendship with Emily was rekindled after Emily gave birth to a stillborn son in 2008. No stranger to loss, Heather’s experience losing three of her own children to stillbirth, plus the death of her brother earlier in life, put her in a unique situation to be able to care for her friend.

“People sort of can’t imagine it,” says Heather, who reminded Emily that after the sad chapters in life, there are happy ones. “It was a gift I was able to give to Emily. I was able to be a unique friend for her.”

As was Cat, who had lost a daughter at 36 weeks and reached out to Emily after she heard the news through mutual friends.

“I just knew something horrible was happening,” says Emily, recalling the moment the doctor told her that her baby, also 36 weeks along, didn’t have a heartbeat. “I remember looking at the wall at that moment and knowing this was not the end of my story.”

Inevitably, it wasn’t.

Through harrowing heartbreak came the birth of miracle – twin girls in 2009, followed by an idea: A way to honor the children they lost while helping to alleviate some of the stress of new motherhood for low-income families.

‘A year in the making’

After consulting with a friend in Nashville who launched a similar nonprofit called Strick’s Gift, the ladies joined forces with Presbyterian Hospital and Nurse Family Partnership, a program of Care Ring that provides support for first-time, low-income mothers.

“When we approached Presbyterian Hospital, the response was overwhelming. We continued to hear, ‘This is so needed. We have so many women in need,’” says Heather. “It’s really hard being a mom – even under the best circumstances.”

“We really wanted to provide a support system for women who may not have family or friends to lean on,” adds Cat. “We wanted to help these women focus on the amazing, incredible gift of having a baby, without having to worry about the initial essentials.”

Each Baby Bundles bag is filled with items like hats, socks, bibs, burp cloths, blankets, clothes, pajamas, onesies, a toy and a book – all provided through donations and valued at around $150 – plus a blessing card for the moms. “It’s really packaged like a gift,” says Heather.

Recipients are chosen by Presbyterian Hospital and Nurse Family Partnership, and the bags themselves are delivered by nurses, leaving the ladies to exclusively handle the collection effort. But that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally get to see the fruits of their labor.

At the kick-off event in February at Presbyterian Hospital, the women got to see first-hand the joy of their very first recipient, Asatu Horne.

“I wanted to cry after I gave it to her,” says Heather. “She and the dad were so grateful.”

Pat Campbell, vice president of women’s and children’s services at Presbyterian, was also there to witness the excitement. “The mom and dad were just so appreciative…. It just makes you feel so good.”

Emily told the parents: “We have been thinking about you for one whole year. We just didn’t know who you were. But we were thinking of you. You are our very first mother.”

Heather adds: “It was a year in the making.”

The bundle was a great help to Horne with her new son, Olujimi – while she has other children, her youngest are girls so she didn’t have any boy clothes at home, she says. “I think it’s an excellent idea and they are an excellent group,” Horne says of the fellow moms.

Horne has a business making quilts and crocheting clothes, hats and other items, and she plans to make some donations to Baby Bundles as soon as she’s back up and running, she says. “I thank Baby Bundles so much. It was a wonderful experience.”

A bright future

After the success of their official launch at Presbyterian Hospital, the ladies – and the hospital staff – are looking forward to the future of Baby Bundles.

“This has had a real impact on our staff,” says Pat. “Our plan going forward is to have something within the hospital like a baby clothes drive or toy drive so employees can give back to the program and even help expand it to other hospitals.”

This is exciting news, as the women increasingly begin to realize just how much their services are needed. “The need in Charlotte is so much greater than what the three of us are doing,” explains Cat. “We want to provide these bundles to so many more than we can provide right now.”

Information about how to make a donation can be found on their website – babybundlesnc.org – along with news on deliveries and a list of frequently asked questions. They are currently looking for donations and volunteers to help them sort through those donations.

And they’re willing to make house calls if needed. “So many moms have bins in their attic collecting dust, and we would love to have it,” Emily says.

Exclaims Cat: “We’ll even come and get it!”