Elizabeth Kennedy lost her second child when she was 26 weeks and six days pregnant.
On Feb. 25, 2018, she heard the words from her doctor that no mother wants to hear, that their unborn child Grace Ann’s heartbeat could not be heard. Struck with grief, Kennedy, a Rocky Point resident, felt she needed to find an outlet to help her cope with her loss, so she began researching different infant loss support groups. Through her online search, she found the Star Legacy Foundation.
“I’ve gotten in touch with other women and families who have lost babies and it’s been such a relief to know that I’m not in this alone,” Kennedy said. “It has made me want to let other people know that they are not alone, either.”
When she found the strength through the organization, she knew she had to give back and help other women who have gone through the same thing.
“It has made me want to let other people know that they are not alone, either.”
— Elizabeth Kennedy
Last year, through the nonprofit, Kennedy took the initiative to try and make Oct. 15 a county-wide Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Awareness Day. The month of October was proclaimed as “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month” by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Earlier this year, she met with Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who sponsored the resolution. The legislator said Kennedy’s story moved her in a personal way.
“Many other families in our county have experienced this kind of tremendous loss,” Anker said. “I hope that designating this day will help provide necessary support to those who are grieving and remind them they are not alone.”
The resolution was approved unanimously by the Suffolk County Legislature Oct. 6. Anker said the day will increase awareness of the causes and impacts surrounding pregnancy and infant loss. It is also a means to improve understanding as well as offer support and potential resources for those who grieve the loss of a pregnancy or infant.
According to the Star Legacy Foundation, thousands of families in the United States experience pregnancy and infant loss each year. In the U.S. there are approximately 24,000 stillbirths, or one in 160 births a year. In addition to stillbirths, current research suggests that between 10% and 20% of medically confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s not just the experience that’s traumatizing for families,” Anker said. “It’s everything after, too.”
Kennedy is also using her new platform to establish a support group collaboratively with Stony Brook University Hospital.
“I want to put as much information out there as possible so when people go through this, they don’t just crawl into a ball and feel that they’re by themselves,” she said. “To be able to talk to these people and have somebody who understands what you went through, to cry with them, remember our babies with them — it just needs to be out there more … it needs to be talked about. We need to change the stigma.”
On Thursday night, Anker joined people across the country and hosted a virtual “Wave of Light” on Facebook Live and through Zoom. With Kennedy’s family online, and several other local families who experienced such a loss, they lit a candle in honor of the children who are not here today.
During the candle lighting ceremony, Kevin Kennedy, Elizabeth’s husband, spoke on behalf of his wife.
“We’re all grieving the loss of a baby or a friend’s baby,” he said. “Every one of these candles has a name attached to it … a life’s flame blown out too soon, and it’s our responsibility as survivors to honor and remember them all.”
Although getting over her loss is not easy, Kennedy said she finds comfort in knowing maybe this happened for a reason — that losing Grace will help get the message out to families to know they are never going to be alone.
“I hope people catch on to this now and realize we’re not hiding anymore,” she said. “We’re not going to hide our babies; we’re going to be okay.”