PORTSMOUTH, Va.

Naval Medical Center Portsmouth’s (NMCP) Labor and Delivery Department, along with the Weighted Angels Organization, hosted a donation ceremony, on Aug. 23rd, to honor families who have experienced the great loss and heartache of losing an infant.

Weighted Angels is a non-profit organization operating in the Hampton Roads area. Their mission is to provide weighted stuffed animals to grieving families who have experienced stillbirth and infant loss. The stuffed animals, gifted to the families, is a way to end families leaving the medical center and various hospitals, having suffered a tragedy, with empty arms. The Weighted Angels’ belief is that no family should have to go home empty handed.

“Our organization started as a support group of grieving mothers,” said Casey Ballard, president of Weighted Angels. “We mothers consecutively agreed that the worst part of experiencing such a loss after giving birth is being discharged and wheeled away without having our babies with us. We wanted to make sure that families have something that feels similar to their baby in their arms to try to alleviate the emptiness that they feel.”

The actual weighted angels are various stuffed animals made in honor of babies, each having been made with different weights, to give to families to take home with them. Each weighted angel also comes with a letter written by members of the organization to add a personal touch to the gift.

“This gift is an extension of love, from mothers to other mothers, who have experienced and lived through this type of loss,” Ballard said. “We want to show that life does continue, even though it continues in a different way. These weighted stuff animals fill the void families feel and gives a mother something to have with them forever.”

Perinatal bereavement follows perinatal loss which is a complex and multifaceted occurrence that is of concern to nurse clinicians and nurse researchers around the world. Perinatal loss is commonly defined as the unintended early loss of an infant from factors such as miscarriage, still birth or neonatal loss.

The Perinatal Bereavement Team at NMCP lends support to families and provides spiritual, religious and culturally sensitive bereavement services for families experiencing losses with pregnancy, infancy or childhood.

“Our program allows us to take better care of our patients,” said Norma Dawn Knight-Pongratz, perinatal educator and bereavement advocate nurse at NMCP. “We want to be able to meet their emotional needs. We’re good at the medical aspects of patient care, but filling that emotional gap and taking care of that long-term need that the patient has once they leave the hospital is very important to us.”

Knight-Pongratz believes that, with the generous donation and partnership with Weighted Angels, the emotional feel of the department will be deeply impacted.

“This donation will mean a lot to our patients,” Knight-Pongratz said. “As bereaved mothers go home without a baby in their arms, a weighted angel is something that is tangible so they can hold that and think of their baby. The gift is not something meant to be a replacement, but it is something to fill that space in the family’s hearts and arms.”

As the U.S. Navy's oldest, continuously-operating military hospital since 1830, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth proudly serves past and present military members and their families. The nationally-acclaimed, state-of-the-art medical center, along with the area's 10 branch health and TRICARE Prime Clinics, provide care for the Hampton Roads area. The medical center also supports premier research and teaching programs designed to prepare new doctors, nurses and hospital corpsman for future roles in healing and wellness.

For more news from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, visit www.navy.mil/local/NMCP/.

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