Reaching Out to Empty Arms

by Kara Gibbs '96

Cedarville , Ohio—For an expectant mother and father, there is no greater joy than seeing their baby for the first time. Hearing it cry. Watching it wiggle. Holding it close. After nine months of waiting, a new member of the family is ready to go home. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed be.

    Patty (Thompson) Young ’00 tells a different story. She met her husband, Cyle, when a mutual friend set them up on a blind date in January 1999. She was attending Cedarville and he, a student at the University of Michigan, was visiting his family in Springfield, Ohio. Romance blossomed and the couple were engaged by June 2000, and married a year later.

    The Youngs decided to wait three to five years before starting a family. But when Patty found out she was pregnant in 2004, they were thrilled by God’s unexpected gift. “From the moment I learned of my pregnancy,” Patty says, “I made changes — in my life, career, and diet — to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. At the end of the school year in 2005, I quit my job in anticipation of being a stay-at-home mom, which was my lifelong dream.”

    On July 19, Patty went to the obstetrician for her weekly check-up. So far, it had been a good pregnancy and she was looking forward to her baby’s birth before the end of the month. But when the nurse checked for the child’s heartbeat, she couldn’t find one. After an ultrasound, Patty’s doctor confirmed her worst fear — the baby was gone. “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat” was all the doctor could say.

    “My life felt shattered at that instant in time,” Patty recalls. “All the dreams I had for that little one would never be. The grief, sadness, loneliness, and anxiety were so painful to endure.” She was induced later that afternoon and gave birth to a 7-pound, 3-ounce baby girl. They named her Peace as “a reminder of the peace that God has to offer through the trials in our lives, for we knew only God can give a peace that passes all understanding.”

    But that’s not the end of the story. While Patty was still in labor, a woman stopped by her delivery room. She wanted to give a teddy bear to Patty and Cyle. Initially, Patty’s father tried to deter the woman from seeing his daughter because he knew she did not want any visitors. But the woman insisted, and the family relented. Gently, she handed Patty the bear and told her that she understood what she was going through. She had lost her own baby in 2002.

    “I didn’t think much of the bear at that time, but after we delivered our daughter, I realized exactly what this woman had done for me,” says Patty. “Leaving the hospital with empty arms can be the most heart-wrenching experience anyone could be asked to endure. Your arms literally ache for a baby to hold. The bear was a reminder that we were not alone. God placed on my heart and my family’s hearts this desire to do something for other families leaving the hospital with empty arms.”

    At the moment of their loss, Cyle sent out a mass e-mail asking everyone they knew for prayer. And he wrote letters keeping everyone updated on how they were handling their grief. The Youngs soon decided to create a website, as it seemed the best way to keep up with the volume of letters and e-mails they were receiving. The Youngs also felt the website could be a place where others who had suffered the same tragedy could know they were not alone.

    What they really wanted to provide, Patty says, was a resource for families. “Many parents who have had a loss search the Internet frantically looking for answers, statistics, and reports. Some are searching for someone to share their story with who will understand. Some are looking for different ways to remember their baby. Some are looking for comfort in knowing that their stages of grief are normal.” So, in memory of their daughter, Peace, they started distributing Peace Bears to families who had suffered a stillbirth or an early infant death.

    The bears are purchased wholesale, a “peace” patch sewn onto a paw, and a “peace” bracelet added. Primarily, the Youngs work through hospitals, but the ministry runs strictly on donations and an annual fundraiser. So far, they have given over 300 Peace Bears all over the country and have bears in 20 hospitals in Ohio and one in Alaska. They are hoping to expand their ministry to Indiana, New England, Texas, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic.

    “It is very hard to explain to people the depth and effect the loss of an unborn baby can have on a family’s life,” Patty says. “The grief I experienced was very real. It was very long and it was very hard work. Stillbirth isn’t only the loss of memories of a loved one gone, but it is also the loss of hopes and dreams of a life to come. I had to rely on God each and every day, sometimes just to function.”

    Since the loss of their daughter, the Youngs have been happily blessed with a son, Carver Christopher, who was born on September 3, 2006. Patty and Cyle are now prayerfully expecting another little one in June.