We were looking forward to the birth of our daughter for many reasons. Not the least of which was the fact that my wife’s father died just before we got pregnant and her mother died in the fifth month of the pregnancy. At 37 weeks, all of our hopes for a bright spot in our lives were shattered. Our daughter, Chelsea was born on November 26, 1989. She was perfect, 7 pounds, 10 ounces, but apparently had died the day before. She was an active baby, so my wife knew quickly that something was wrong, and was able to pinpoint when she had stopped moving.
We were shocked at the support we received from friends and family. My parents had lost a child many years earlier, and being members of this “club”, were very helpful and supportive. We began the agonizing process of accepting the loss of our daughter. Looking back, I realize that even though I was a psychotherapist with years of training, I reacted in a very typically male role. In my attempt to supporting my wife in her agony, I neglected my own loss and my own grief. When she suggested a support group, I was stunned. I thought I had “fixed” that. I agreed to go to support her.
That group was immensely helpful. I was approached by the director of Women’s Medicine at a local hospital to design a support group for others experiencing this loss. I was intrigued by the idea of using my profession and my personal experience to help others in a way I had never imagined. We were now pregnant, however, and I knew we had to focus on this pregnancy. During the pregnancy, I worked on the design of the group I wanted to run. I designed a seven week, structured support group for couples (knowing I had taken a typically male approach to our loss) who had experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss. I named it HEAL, after the group we had attended. Our son was born healthy in December 1990. I began facilitating the group in January 1991, and have been facilitating the HEAL group since then.
At the end of the first session, I ask the parents to bring mementos of their babies the next week so we can share them. When I first began the group, few people had pictures of their babies, and those that did had Polaroid photos (as I had). The first time a couple shared their NILMDTS photos, I was blown away by what I saw. A few years later, I was a speaker at a perinatal bereavement conference, and one of the other speakers was the local representative for NILMDTS. Scott Taylor and I have been friends for several years now, and I have the greatest admiration for the work he does. Scott and I are a part of a local organization that brings together non-profits in our area that focus on pregnancy & infant loss. This organization is called: PILR (Pregnancy & Infant Loss Resources), and we all support each other’s missions. It was my involvement in PILR that has led me to become involved in the NILMDTS Annual Remembrance Walk.
Many of my professional achievements have been as a result of my loss. I have written and published three books on the subject of perinatal loss. I have traveled across the country speaking on the uniqueness of this loss. I have lobbied in the state legislature for the passage of a bill to allow parents of a stillborn to receive a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth (prior to this bill, parents received a death certificate, but not a birth certificate, our argument was “How can you have one without the other?”). The bill was unanimously passed into law in 2006. I am also a member of the Board of Directors for the SIDS Alliance of Florida, a position I’m proud of.
My greatest achievement is bringing the Angel of Hope to Central Florida. One night, after group, a mom approached me, asking what I knew about the Angel of Hope. I hadn’t heard about it, so I researched the angel, and immediately knew I had to do everything in my power to make this happen. The mom and her husband, myself and a few other parents, formed a group, incorporated a non-profit, raised the money, and dedicated our statue, all in 15 months. We never held a fundraising event. We told our story to as many people and organizations as we could, and the money just came in. We host two ceremonies a year at our site, one on October 15th, a National Day of Remembrance for Pregnancy & Infant Loss, and December 6th, a day of remembrance at all Angel of Hope sites for parents who have lost a child.
I recognize how fortunate I’ve been. I have been able to utilize my position as a Clinical Psychotherapist and my personal experience to help literally thousands of parents struggling with the loss of a child. As spiritual beings, I believe we all have the spiritual need to know that our lives matter. My daughter wasn’t here long enough to do that for herself. As her father, I can do that for her. The essence of parenting is doing things for our children they can’t do for themselves. So, making her life matter is my way of parenting her. All that I do validates her life, and therefore, my being a father. What I do is not about me. It’s about her. I am her dad.
~Gary Vogel, LMHC
For more information about the walk in Orlando, Florida on March 30, 2019, click here.