Three years ago, when Ashley Opliger's daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at just over 24 weeks, it was a heartbreaking moment.
But because of the hand-knitted cradle her mother had lovingly made for her first grandbaby, it served as a turning point in both of their lives.
At just 13 ounces, Bridget could hardly be swaddled in a bulky hospital blanket.
"So my mom took the cradle out, put her in it, and it changed everything for us," Ashley said, as she and her husband, Matt, and other family were able to hold and view their baby as they said their goodbyes.
It was an experience that she wanted other families who experienced this kind of loss to have. So her mother, Teresa Golik, began knitting cradles and prayer squares to provide to Wichita hospitals, including the NewLife Center at Ascension's Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, where she had once served as a nurse.
As word spread, the demand grew and their nonprofit organization, Bridget's Cradles, was born.
"Hospitals around the country were saying they needed something for these babies," Ashley said, so they recruited more volunteers and began donating their cradles and prayer squares to hospitals nationwide.
Kara Calhoun, RN, who previously served as a labor and delivery nurse in the NewLife Center and currently serves as a childbirth educator, is one of those volunteers.
"I see what families have gone through firsthand, both as a nurse and as a friend of mothers who have lost a child," Kara said. "It's heartbreaking that these parents aren't able to experience their children on earth, so I'm glad we can touch their lives in this way."
Equally important as the cradles and prayer squares are the resources and support groups the program makes available to parents, Kara said.
"It makes an impact both inside the hospital and after families have returned home," she said.
In 2017, the organization's hundreds of volunteers produced more than 16,000 cradles and 16,000 prayer squares, which are provided free of charge to hospitals and the families who receive them. Currently, 450 hospitals in all 50 states, including 13 Ascension hospitals, receive and provide the items at no cost to parents whose babies have died. And Bridget's Cradles is looking to add more.
"Our mission is to reach as many families that are experiencing a loss as possible," Ashley said.
Casey Siegrist, whose son Jack was stillborn two weeks before Bridget and is buried next to her, understands the grief of losing a baby. She now serves as a volunteer and member of Bridget's Cradles board of directors.
"On what was one of the worst days of our lives, we received the best care from the nurses and doctors at St. Joseph. They were very compassionate and took extra special care of me and my son," Casey said. "Since the day Bridget's Cradles became a ministry, my family and I have been dedicated to providing families experiencing the devastating loss of their precious babies the comfort and love they need through the handmade cradles and prayer squares."
"There's nothing you can do to fully comfort a family in this time, but the cradle is a sacred item that provides comfort and allows families to cuddle and make memories with their babies," Ashley said. "It's become my life's work and a purpose God has given me. I was born at St. Joseph, so it's special and surreal for me to know that my daughter's life impacts families at this hospital."
For more info about volunteering or donating to Bridget's Cradles, go to bridgetscradles.com/hospitaldonationrequest.Photos, from top, down:
- From left, Casey Siegrist, Teresa Golik, Kara Calhoun, NewLife Center director Michelle Armbrister, and Ashley Opliger, Bridget's Cradles founder. - Hand-knitted and crocheted cradles are designed for babies born into Heaven in the second trimester of pregnancy because babies are so tiny and fragile in this gestational period. - Matt and Ashley Opliger, founders of Bridget's Cradles
- Teresa Golik — Bridget's "Grammy" — knitting a cradle - Cradles provide stability for the fragile baby, giving bereaved families confidence when holding and loving on their baby during their time of loss. - Cradles are made by volunteers across the country.