1st Breath Helps Grieving Parents
1st Breath, a nonprofit located in Leland, helps parents grieve the loss of a stillborn child. We asked Pat Flynn why she started her organization and what it means to the community.
Pat Flynn recalls her husband, Patrick, coming home one day in 1993 complaining that everything went wrong from him on the 26th of the month: computer failure, flat tire, snarling traffic. Flynn told him that he didn’t understand how bad the 26th could be.
“Then the story I had never been allowed to share poured out of me,” Flynn says. She revealed that her son, Christopher, was stillborn on September 26, 1978. “I had been put on bed rest due to toxemia,” she says. “His death never crossed my mind.”
Flynn’s first husband couldn’t accept the loss despite the birth of a healthy boy named Matthew on July 3, 1979. The couple divorced and Flynn returned to college earning not only her bachelor’s and master’s degrees but also a Ph.D. with a specialty in nonprofit work.
Patrick’s compassion at hearing the story of Christopher spurred Flynn to action. She organized 1st Breath to provide comfort, support and resources for grieving families of stillborn children. In April 2008 it received nonprofit status. “Someone had to step up,” she says. “I wanted to open doors and get babies recognized.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines stillbirth as the death of a baby in the womb 20 or more weeks after gestation or during delivery. About 24,000 stillbirths occur each year in the U.S. At New Hanover Regional Medical Center they record about 70 stillbirths each year and Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center has less than five.
In 2009, Flynn worked to include stillbirth loss at First Candle, the 24/7 hotline assisting families who lost a child from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She worked with state directors of the National Stillborn Society to change laws. “States didn’t give birth certificates,” she explains. More than 40 states now give them.
The movement to recognize stillbirth in the U.S. began in 1988 when President Reagan designated October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. Through the efforts of Robyn E. Bear of Texas, the federal government now recognizes October 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance day, and all 50 states passed resolutions to that effect. A few cities, including Kansas City, MO where the Flynns previously lived, passed a permanent resolution recognizing October 15.
The couple believed Leland was the ideal retirement location, so they moved to Brunswick Forest in September 2015. Following their move, the 1st Breath board voted to move its headquarters to Leland as the Flynns are the founding members.
In Leland, the pair continue to make people aware of 1st Breath. As a result, Leland Town Council voted to proclaim October 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance day. Wilmington City Council has done likewise. The proclamation recognizes and legitimizes the goals of 1st Breath. “It was like we were meant to be here,” Flynn says.
Leland has gone even further. Today at Town Hall is a Baby Loss Memorial Garden. On October 15, 2016, about two dozen parents gathered at the site and were given a piece of paper embedded with flower seeds. The parents wrote notes to their departed child and the notes will be planted in the Memorial Garden when the weather allows.
Flynn isn’t stopping and has more plans. She hopes to change a law to allow parents to count the stillborn child as a tax deduction. She also feels that employers don’t always understand the mother’s need to physically recuperate and many employers give minimal sick leave.
“We come together as a community and understand we can support each other, and we’re not alone,” Flynn says. “Patrick made sure Christopher is acknowledged as a member of our family and showed Matthew that it was not only allowed but appropriate to remember his big brother.”
Learn More About 1st Breath