By MARIE GILBERT
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Bentley Charles Nalley was born the perfect baby — 10 fingers and 10 toes, weighing 6 pounds and greatly loved by his parents.
But he came into the world the same way he left — without making a sound.
He never cried, never whimpered.
Instead, Stephanie and Blake Nalley remember the silence.
Bentley was stillborn.
Each year, according to a National Vital Statistics Report, more than 700,000 pregnancies in the United States end in either miscarriage or stillbirth. About 28,000 babies will die before their 1st birthday, often during their first six months of life.
But for many parents, Stephanie Nalley said, the loss is hidden.
“You often suffer alone,” she said. “Because who wants to talk about a baby dying? You’re told not to dwell on it or to try again. But I can tell you from experience, losing a baby is not something you just move on from.”
Nalley said part of the grieving and healing process is being able to share your story and your emotions with others.
“Yet, it remains a taboo, hush-hush subject in our society,” she noted.
That’s why the Nalleys have launched a local chapter of Faces of Loss/Faces of Hope, which is aimed at helping individuals cope with the loss of their child and realize they are not alone.
There was a time when Stephanie Nalley thought losing a baby happened to other people.
“I found out it can happen to anyone,” she said.
Weeks away from delivering her first child, Nalley had no reason to believe she would soon be facing what she calls “her worst nightmare.”
“I had your perfect, textbook pregnancy,” Nalley said. “I was 24 years old and healthy. I had no reason to be concerned.”
But when the Hagerstown couple arrived at a routine 38-week checkup, their world turned upside down.
“Once we were checked into the office for our appointment, we waited for the nurse to call us,” Stephanie, 25, recalled. “We were led down the hall to get my vitals, which were all normal. And we were placed in an exam room, where we waited for the doctor. I had been dilated for several weeks and I went to that appointment thinking that labor would be beginning soon.”
When the doctor attempted to locate the baby’s heartbeat, Nalley said “he didn’t necessarily act like anything was wrong.But he told us that maybe the baby wasn’t being active and suggested a sonogram.”
“I never imagined that at 4:29 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011, my doctor would be standing in an ultrasound room and saying these words: `Stephanie, I’m sorry. Bentley’s heart is not beating.”‘ Looking back on the experience, Nalley said it was as if “our entire world had come crashing down. And, in a sense, it did.”
“We were devastated to hear that our firstborn child, our son who we had prepared for, was gone,” she said. “We couldn’t even comprehend everything that the doctor had said. But we headed to the hospital to deliver, both of us emotionally distraught, stumbling to our car. The next day, I was going to deliver Bentley stillborn.”
Nalley said she and her husband spent the evening “crying, cuddling and asking God why. I pleaded that this was all one big nightmare. But the next morning, they began to induce my labor.”
She delivered 6-pound, 19-inch Bentley Charles Nalley at 3:54 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2011.
“He was born perfect,” Nalley said, “but his life was taken by the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck.”
Nalley said she and her husband were able to spend as much time as they wanted with their son.
“It was so difficult knowing that as we held Bentley, we would never see his eyes open or hear him laugh,” Nalley said. “We would never see him graduate or walk down the aisle with a beautiful wife. Instead, in the days ahead, we would be planning a funeral. We would be picking out a casket and flowers and we would be purchasing a piece of land and a stone to place his name on for us to visit the rest of our lives.”
Nalley said the couple was surrounded by friends and family, “who wept with us and comforted us. They showered us with cards and flowers and food. It wasn’t just Blake and I who lost a son. Our family lost their grandchild, their great-grandchild, their nephew, their cousin. The loss affected every aspect of the family; but we all experienced the loss differently. I think that is what makes support difficult.”
The couple also had the support of their church family, who ensured that they didn’t feel alone. And a friend who had recently experienced a loss lent a hand with funeral planning and running errands.
But it remained a “lonely loss,” Nalley said. “You can be in a room full of people but you still feel alone. Everywhere we looked there was a reminder of what we had lost with Bentley.”
Nalley said the last year has been “stressful, nerve-wracking, difficult, exciting, joyous and bittersweet.
But we walked this year with God.
Immediately after learning that Bentley’s heart had stopped beating, we turned to God. We didn’t understand why this was happening, but we knew that in the midst of the chaos, he was in control and we needed him to cope with this loss.”
Following the funeral, Nalley said the couple’s new normal became attending Labor of Love, a monthly support group offered at Robinwood Medical Center; going to Hospice of Washington County for grief counseling “and, literally living day by day. We would wake up every single day and say `I put my feet on the ground today.’ We have continued to live this way for an entire year.”
Although doctors stressed to the couple that the loss of a child might be difficult on their marriage, Nalley said the two have become closer than ever.
“Blake and I had gotten married in April of 2011 and we buried our son in October of 2011. I could not lose my husband. We are inseparable and we are each other’s biggest supporters,” she said.
The couple even experienced a miracle, Nalley shared — the birth of a son, Chase, who was born 10 months after losing Bentley. He is now 2 months old.
But Bentley will never be replaced, she said.
“He is our firstborn child and he is his own person. We vowed that we would always live our lives to remember him,” she said. “We let a balloon go each 18th of the month and we light candles. And I am a believer that we will see Bentley again in heaven.”
Nalley said a recently launched website called Faces of Loss/Faces of Hope “gives women like me a chance to share their stories of pregnancy and infant loss, so that we can know we are not alone.”
She and Blake, 24, were asked this past June to start a chapter in Hagerstown, where people could find a place to remember their babies and also receive resources and support in dealing with their loss.
“It is our goal to provide workshops and seminars and meetings for families and friends,” Nalley said. “My goal and my passion is to be there for someone else who is experiencing a loss and help them feel a tad bit less alone. By telling our stories and showing our faces to the world, maybe taboos can be broken, lines of communication will be opened and healing can begin.”
More information is available at http://www.facebook.com/groups/facesoflosshagerstown or by emailing Nalley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Nalleys noted that October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
“It will be an evening when baby-loss moms and dads can share their stories,” Stephanie Nalley said. “It will be an evening to remember, an evening to bring awareness and to offer hope to families affected by pregnancy and infant loss.”
For those unable to attend, Nalley said individuals can show their support by lighting a candle at 7 p.m. and join others nationwide in “creating a wave of light for our children.”
“Dr. Seuss sums it up well,” Nalley said. “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)