Breaking the silence about life after loss

By Sharon Reynolds

Katie Schlieve and Holly Aldredge have created a voice for families who have lost babies too soon. Both Dallas women lost their first children during the third trimester of their pregnancies to stillbirth. 

Despite an outpouring of love and support from their families and friends, they felt deeply isolated and alone. They returned to work and their daily routines in a world that seemed to go on without them. After connecting through mutual friends, they comforted each other and shared their grief. 

(From left) Holly Aldredge, Kiley White, and Katie Schlieve present a Cuddle Cot to the Women’s Services Department at UT Southwestern's Clements University Hospital in memory of Austin White.

“After the loss of my daughter, Olivia, I quickly realized that the topic of stillbirth, miscarriage, and infant loss was taboo,” said Mrs. Aldredge. “Katie and I knew we needed to change this. Our children deserved to be remembered, and we wanted to find a way to honor them and all of the other children who were taken too soon. There is a tremendous need for support, not only for moms during a loss, but also for fathers, grandparents, and other family members.”

After researching organizations serving the pregnancy and infant loss community, they discovered most to be small and volunteer run, and there seemed to be a common need for more available funding. Recognizing an opportunity to channel their heartbreak into hope for others, they joined forces and launched the One Wing Foundation in January 2016. The Foundation’s mission is to raise and distribute funds to nonprofit organizations providing medical, physical, and grief recovery services to bereaved parents throughout Texas who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss. The group works to help these families break the silence and stigma surrounding pregnancy loss, stillbirth, and infant death, guiding and supporting them with these resources through this painful journey.

Since its inception, the Foundation has donated more than $48,000 to organizations to provide infant burial resources for families who cannot otherwise afford them, grief services for families, a special Mother’s Day luncheon honoring mothers and their children gone too soon, and other support services. 

“One Wing Foundation has fallen in line with a nationwide movement to talk about loss and the grief surrounding it,” said Mrs. Schlieve. “We want to continue to advocate to not only keep the conversation going, but to let families know they are not alone and that there are resources available for them.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stillbirth affects approximately one percent of pregnancies annually in the U.S. (24,000 babies). It is about the same number of babies who die during their first year of life, and it is more than ten times as many infants who die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The Texas Health and Human Services Department reports 2,200 stillbirths in the state in 2014. Some babies who are stillborn have genetic abnormalities or are born too early, but there is usually no identifiable reason. Oftentimes women blame themselves, but rarely is stillbirth caused by something a woman did or did not do. 

The One Wing Foundation recently made donations of cooling bassinets to three Dallas hospitals that will help parents after losing a baby to stillbirth. CuddleCot™ bassinets keep a baby’s body at an appropriate temperature to slow the natural processes that occur after death and give parents additional time to spend with their newborn. The first hospitals in North Texas to receive CuddleCots include UT Southwestern's William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital (in memory of Austin White, son of One Wing Foundation volunteer Kiley White); Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas (in memory of Hudson Schlieve); and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital (in memory of Olivia Aldredge).

As Director of Nursing, Women’s Services, at Clements University Hospital, Amanda Truelove, M.S.N., RNC-OB, NE-BC, has already witnessed the positive impact of the Foundation’s work.

“These parents have imagined a long life of hopes and dreams for their babies that will never be realized,” said Ms. Truelove. “It’s important that they are given the opportunity to spend time and care for their babies and allow them to bond as a family. Having the CuddleCot prevents the family from having to release the baby before they are ready.”

Mrs. White lost her son, Austin, in 2013, to stillbirth and was one of the first people to reach out to Mrs. Schlieve after losing Hudson. She has since become a dedicated volunteer and supporter for One Wing Foundation, connecting with mothers dealing with loss and getting others interested and involved in fundraising activities. She is pleased to see the community of support that’s been created by the Foundation since its inception. 

“This is such an isolating, lonely experience,” she said. “Even when you have an amazing husband and strong family support, nobody else understands what it’s like to be the mother. Having other mothers that ‘get it’ is just invaluable.”

One Wing Foundation raises funds and distributes financial assistance to organizations that provide resources for the medical, physical, and grief recovery of bereaved parents who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss in the state of Texas. The organization hosts multiple events throughout the year to increase awareness and support of their mission.

Mrs. Schlieve is hopeful that the Foundation’s impact will continue to flourish and make infant loss a more open topic of conversation, while also providing for this grief community through One Wing Foundation’s mission.

“A friend’s mother lost a baby at birth, and she shared with me that they were never able to see or hold her baby,” she said. “Their grief was silenced and was never expressed to anyone outside their home. The pain lived in their hearts, and they were forever altered. She recently said to me ‘I wonder if I would have been a happier person in my life if I had been able to deal with my sadness in the ways that you are trying to make available for others.’ We hope our efforts will lessen the burden on mothers and fathers so they can mourn the life lost, and someday feel joy again.” 

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