When Nate Evins learned his co-worker’s baby boy had passed away 11 days after birth, he felt a lot of sympathy. He and his wife had also experienced the loss of their baby, who lived 28 days after she was born. He asked his wife if she was willing to talk to his colleague, Brittany Cogdeill, as she coped with her sadness and grief.
Darcy Evins, Nate’s wife, was more than happy to help. She understood all too well how long the process of healing can take.
“Nate was very emotionally affected by Brittany’s story,” said Darcy of Kent, Ohio. “Our experiences were similar, including the fact that our babies spent time in Akron Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Both our families also received bereavement support from Akron Children’s when our babies passed away.”
Developing a supportive friendship
Darcy and Brittany talked a lot by phone and through electronic exchanges. They discovered that their first-born babies were born prematurely. Both babies were born in February: Kara Evins in 2017 and Austin Cogdeill in 2019. They also talked about the care Akron Children’s Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center provided, including in the immediate aftermath of losing their babies and the ongoing bereavement services they continue to receive.
Over the years, the Evins and Cogdeill families have found it cathartic to support Akron Children’s NICU and Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center, especially in February while remembering their babies’ birthdays. Separately, each family has donated books or money, hosted a pizza party and sent small gifts to express appreciation to the Children’s staff and/or support families who have lost a baby.
Nancy Carst, bereavement coordinator at Akron Children’s Palliative Care, knows how important this is to the bereaved families who receive these gifts, as well as the clinicians who care for them.
“These young families feel very isolated,” she said. “Acts like this can be very healing for the families.”
Finding solace through writing
Brittany made a deeper commitment toward personal healing in 2021. She decided to participate in a project that involved writing a chapter for a book, which features different authors discussing how they transformed pain into purpose. In Brittany’s chapter in “Stories of Alchemy,” she talks about her experience with losing Austin and the healing that followed. “Stories of Alchemy” was published in October 2022, which Brittany continues to market on her website.
“I write about how much Austin has changed our lives for the better,” said Brittany of Akron, Ohio. “My husband, David, and I went through a lot of trauma. Not just the sadness after Austin’s birth and death, but also with the birth of our second child, Anna. Like Austin, Anna’s birth involved an emergency situation, requiring her to spend weeks in Children’s NICU. During that time, she was diagnosed with craniosynostosis.”
Craniosynostosis is a birth defect in which the bones in a baby’s skull join together too early. Babies with craniosynostosis typically require surgery during their first year of life to reshape their head. Although Anna is now a thriving toddler, it was a difficult situation for the Cogdeills.
Importance of reading to babies
Darcy found her own way to heal after losing Kara. When she visited Kara in the NICU, she walked by another room where she saw someone reading to her baby. At first it didn’t make sense to her. Years later, she learned how soothing it is for the baby to hear the mother’s voice.
“It brings a sense of normalcy to the family,” she said. “It makes me sad that I never got to read to Kara.”
In 2021, Darcy began donating children’s books to NICU in honor of Kara. She has been able to double the number of books donated because her employer, PaperPie, offers a 50 percent match on charitable donations.
Last year, she asked Karen Gerberry, whom she learned about through her job, if she would make knit caps for prematurely born babies in Children’s NICU. Karen, who owns Life is the Berries, uses leftover yarn from projects to knit baby beanies for people she knows or learns about through her church.
“My family has not personally experienced the NICU but after watching so many friends and family and church members experience the journey of a preemie baby, we knew we wanted to help, even if it was in a tiny way,” said Karen of Columbiana, Ohio. “I use all the leftover yarn from every order to make preemie hats and donate them directly to families or the hospital. When Darcy reached out to me it was a no-brainer to participate.”
Organizing a birthday bundle fundraiser
This year, Darcy and Karen made plans to donate to the NICU. Brittany was also planning to donate a few copies of her book to Palliative Care and had begun the process by contacting Nancy Carst.
But a conversation between Darcy and Brittany soon blossomed into something bigger, a birthday bundle fundraiser. Through Facebook, Darcy and Brittany let friends and family know that they planned to donate children’s books, knit hats and “Stories of Alchemy” to the NICU and Palliative Care. For every $15, they would be able to donate a bundle.
Their collaboration resulted in a generous donation of more than $1,600, allowing them to deliver more than 100 books of “Stories of Alchemy” to Palliative Care and nearly 150 children’s books and knit caps to the NICU.
Already making an impact
Once delivered to the NICU, a sticker was placed inside of each of the children’s books that indicates it is in memory of Kara. Likewise, a sticker was placed inside of “Stories of Alchemy” saying it is in memory of Austin.
“I’m so pleased to be passing out the books Brittany gave us,” Nancy said. “It’s well-received. A recent bereaved mom gave me this feedback, ‘Thank you for the book. I just finished it. Now my mind is swirling with ideas for direction and purpose.’”