As soon as Abi Crouch found out her baby had passed away at the end of an otherwise perfectly healthy 41-week pregnancy, she plummeted into the darkest depths of grief.
Her son, Cobin, it was later determined, had died as a result of an umbilical cord accident up to 10 hours before Abi went into labour. After arriving at her home for the birth, Abi’s midwife was unable to detect a heartbeat. They went straight to hospital, where their worst fears were confirmed. A day after Abi returned from hospital – having endured a heartbreaking labour to deliver her son – her midwife, Rachel Fox-Tierney, came over for a follow-up visit.
As well as an understanding shoulder to lean on, she brought with her a stuffed blue and white flannel heart. It weighed about 4kg – the same as Cobin – and was sewn by a mum who had also had a late-term stillbirth. Rachel tells Huffington Post the mum had also been given a stuffed heart early in her grieving process. “I could see what an impact it had, so I called her up and asked if I could get in touch with the friend who had made her the heart, so I could make one for Abi,” she says. “Instead, that mum actually made the heart for Abi herself.”
Abi says at first, she ignored the heart. But a few hours later, she asked husband Dave to get it for her – and the connection was powerful. “It blew my mind that someone had taken time out of their life – with their job and children and husband and all their stuff – to sit down and make something with their hands for my husband and I, to help us with our grief,” she says. “Once I got my hands on it, it was not far for probably the next six to eight weeks.”
She says it provided physical as well as emotional soothing, for a body that had been expecting to hold a child. “I carried that heart everywhere,” she writes on her website. “I slept with it, ate with it, laid on the couch with it … If I wasn’t holding it, my husband or our oldest son was. It provided so much comfort to me and my family. It was a gift, born of the deepest sadness, that represented love and kindness and would come to represent hope and healing.”
She thought a lot about the heart and how much it was helping her family. As she worked through her grief, she thought about how she could help other families in a similar situation.
In July 2011, exactly six months after Corbin was stillborn, Abi and Dave launched a charity, A Heart to Hold, to help others touched by pregnancy and infant loss. In the first three months, Abi made six to 10 weighted pillows in her living room. Her story was covered in a local paper and seen by a charity that takes photos for parents who have lost a baby. By October 2012, it had shipped 1000 hearts to eight countries. It now makes an average of 30 to 60 hearts a month.
Funded solely by donations, volunteers attend workshops to sew hearts for families. Abi also sends patterns to volunteers, who make the hearts and send them to her for stuffing. The hearts can weigh as little as 20g, for families who have miscarried at five weeks, and up to 7kg.
Abi now has a third son, one-year-old Bodhi. She says she looks back on the brief time she had with Corbin as a “blessing” and says a photo of Corbin taken shortly after his delivery is “a gift beyond measure”. “You can see the grief on our faces,” Abi tells Huffington Post. “But you can also see the awe and the wonder at this beautiful baby, who we were waiting for for so long.”