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'Angel' babies remembered with balloon release
Moms celebrate lives of children lost in labor
Angela Ewars of with Rock Goodby Angel prepares to release a group of balloons Saturday during a ceremony at River Forks Park. - photo by Tom Reed

Christy Kunkel knows her daughter's life has purpose.

Kunkel, 28, gave birth to Evelyn Marie on Oct. 29. Evie arrived as a stillborn.

"I was 40 weeks pregnant and noticed she stopped moving, so I went to the hospital and they induced labor," she explained. "When she was born, the cord was wrapped around her neck. It was a normal pregnancy, and you never think it would happen to you. I was already on maternity leave and ready to go into labor."

Kunkel was able to spend time with Evie before saying goodbye.

"It was an amazing experience to give birth, even thought I knew she was not alive," she said. "I got to hold her, dress her and take professional pictures with her. The time I had with her was amazing."

Although talking about the day still brings tears to hear eyes, Kunkel doesn't hesitate to share Evie's story. She has created a website in honor of her daughter and hopes to reach out to other women who have lost a child.

"Her life mattered and she is touching people through the site," Kunkel said. "Her life didn't come and go in vain. She had a purpose."

Kunkel was one of a group of moms who remembered their "angel" babies Saturday at River Forks Park on Keith Bridge Road. Rock Goodbye Angel, a Gainesville-based nonprofit, held the event to celebrate the babies and release balloons in their honor.

"This is a way to acknowledge my daughter and to express to the world that she matters," Kunkel said. "She is a person, and though she's not here on Earth, she had an existence and is alive in Heaven."

Rock Goodbye Angel is a peer-to-peer support system created by bereaved moms to provide encouragement, material resources and weekly group meetings to help families during the grieving process. The group features a program that introduces the seven steps of grieving for those who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, perinatal or neonatal loss.

"This is a special time because some women don't know whether to celebrate Mother's Day, and this affirms those moms," said Angela Ewers, founder of the nonprofit. "They will always be that baby's mom. Our goal is to love those moms and celebrate them in a helpful, not hurtful, way."

Through the program, moms receive a silver charm bracelet and can add charms as they experience the milestones that a grieving parent goes through during the first year after a loss.

"Whether they're a bereaved parent of 30 years or three days, they can be part of the program because they're survivors," Ewers said. "We all have wisdom and experiences to share, and for some this is the first time they are given permission to talk about it."

Rock Goodbye Angel hosts Monday night support group meetings that are attended by five to 15 people. The group also holds a candlelight service in October during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and Ewers speaks to community and church groups around Hall County.

"We want people to be aware that these moms are out there," Ewers said. "So many people don't know what to do or say, and it's helpful to receive coaching from a bereaved point of view."

Tonya Lowry, who gave birth to her stillborn son in November 2008, hopes to start a Gwinnett County chapter of the group by the end of August. She wants moms to know all of their options before leaving the hospital.

"Someone gave me a book that had invaluable information about how to make the most of your time with your baby, but I had already left and the time was over," she said. "The staff did the best they could, but moms in shock may not know what to do."

Lowry wishes she knew about the opportunities to bathe and clothe her son, as well as make molds of his hands and feet and take pictures with him.

"Starting at the bedside is crucial, and I want other moms to have that support," she said. "I know this is how I'm supposed to use his story. You don't carry a life for 36 weeks and five days and it mean nothing."