Hamilton-based charity Huggable Hearts is a free service provided to families in New Zealand who have experienced the loss of a baby.

Grieving families are provided with a fabric heart made to their baby's birth weight to give families something to hug and hold once they have said goodbye.

Huggable Hearts came about after Andrea Olliver-Thompson lost her daughter Amber 19 weeks into her pregnancy last year.

As a part of her grief journey Andrea threw herself into creating memories for her beautiful first born. This ranged from jewellery to shoes to pictures and toys.

Advertisement

One of the items that really stood out was a doll Andrea had made to Amber's weight (100g) and height (10cm).

This doll became a huge part of helping Andrea and her husband work through their grief, providing them with a comfort they never knew existed.

For a while the doll was carried around everywhere. This provided the inspiration for Andrea to provide weighted hearts for other grieving parents.

Huggable Hearts was launched in February with the help of CJ, another mum whose baby girl Peanut was stillborn a couple of weeks after Amber, at 30 weeks.

The Huggable Hearts team, comprising family and volunteers, make heart shaped pillows out of minky, fleece or flannel fabrics, upcycled blankets, wraps or items the families provide.

The pillows are then filled with rice/wheat and polyfill to the recorded weight of the baby. If the weight is unknown they will use an estimate weight for the age of the baby.

They also offer early loss packs for early miscarriages, which consist of tiny nappies and wildflower seeds to accompany the small palm-sized heart they offer.

"Having angel babies ourselves, we know what the families are going through and how hard it can be," said Andrea.

"Baby loss is still largely a taboo subject in our society and families may find it hard to grieve their loss properly because of society's expectations.

"The hearts are a small way of offering comfort and support to fellow angel baby families, in the hope that it will bring some comfort and remind them that they are not alone. It can also help to create much-needed special memories of their gorgeous baby and be a physical connection to them."

Susan Coram-Stanley and her husband had been told they wouldn't be able to conceive naturally due to her age, so while they wanted another baby (they had three between them from previous relationships) they decided not to pursue it.

Six months later they found out they were pregnant.

"It was a miracle! We were so excited, as were the kids, and found out at our 20 week scan we were having a boy," Susan said.

A short time later things started to go wrong.

At 22 weeks Susan was admitted to hospital for observation as she was bleeding.

Her waters broke in the middle of the night two days later.

Their baby, Koby, passed away.

"Nothing in this world can prepare you for giving birth to your baby who does not cry. This is not what is supposed to happen and the grief and pain I felt is something beyond anything I could have imagined," said Susan.

They took Koby home to meet his siblings and his funeral was several days later.

"Arranging a funeral for your little baby is something no one should ever have to do. The thing with losing your baby, no longer having them physically with you, is that you still want to parent them. You still want to do things for them, and because of them, you want to make their life worthwhile, make it mean something. You want people to remember."

It's been four years since Koby died and Susan still collects things for him, buys him presents and remembers him.

"Andrea at Huggable Hearts offers a wonderful service making her gorgeous hearts for people. The heart she made us for Koby is beautiful. She kindly made it out of a wee outfit that my husband bought for Koby," Susan said.

"I'd wanted to get something made with it for a long time so when I discovered Andrea could make the heart out of it, it seemed perfect. Having the heart made to Koby's weight is just amazing. Sometimes, it seems like he wasn't real, that the memories are fading.

"I can look at photos and know, of course, that he is, but holding the heart, and feeling his weight is really lovely and comforting as well."

Huggable Hearts currently makes about six or seven hearts a week.

To learn more visit www.huggablehearts.co.nz .

If your community organisation wants to be featured in this column, contact Kim Cable at Community Waikato - email kim@communitywaikato.org.nz or phone 838 1583.