A LEGACY OF COMPASSION
Retiring nurse gave solace to those who lost babies
NORFOLK, VA. | Ann Prescott’s unusual work began with a medical advance.
Technology in the late 1970s meant babies who once would have died in the womb were often delivered early. Some survived, but some died within minutes or hours.
The thinking of the time was that it would be too emotionally wrenching for mothers to hold these babies destined for death. They were put in the hospital nursery, and Ms. Prescott, a nurse at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, would pick them up as their last breaths were drawn.
“I would hold them and rock them and talk to them,” she said.
Soon, hospital philosophies changed, and by the mid-1980s, a national movement was growing to ask mothers and fathers whether they wanted to see their babies. It fell to Ms. Prescott to ask, and to bring the babies and counsel families through the grieving, starting around 1988.
Over the years, she brought warm water for parents to bathe their babies, and tiny gowns to dress them. She helped parents create mementos, such as their babies’ footprints, and gave them keepsake boxes. She told them about a support group to help them after they left the hospital, and offered bereavement counseling in the following months and even years.
She also reached out to mothers who had miscarriages and stillbirths, and eventually, she helped find a place at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk where cremated remains of those babies are buried during a ceremony every six weeks.
Ms. Prescott, now 67, never kept count of the babies, but even a conservative estimate is striking: Some 7,000 spanning a 28-year span that ended with Ms. Prescott’s retirement from Sentara Healthcare last week.
Ms. Prescott sat at the Circle of Love Garden one day in mid-April, contemplating the labor of love that has defined her career. The cemetery donated the land for this garden, where people come for solace and to leave mementos. Today there are teddy bears, and pinwheels, tiny dinosaurs and even a little badminton set for children who never got to play.
A plaque bears words Ms. Prescott crafted: “In loving memory of the precious little lives who were carried with hope, born in silence, and remembered with love, always.”
Some families arrange funerals for children who are stillborn or born too early. Others don’t, and especially for women who had miscarriages, this is the place to remember a child.
It’s a societal niche most look away from, but Ms. Prescott sat quietly with parents whose babies had so many deformities they died within hours. Cancer patients who faced the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy or forgo chemotherapy treatments. Women who arrived in the ER after accidents that ended the lives of the babies in their wombs.
It seems like heartbreaking work, but she brings them out of the darkest of places, and that is where the satisfaction lies.
“What gives me joy is seeing families who were in the deepest hole they could be in continue to live and become happy again,” she said. “They find a purpose for their loss that they can use to grow.”
Ann Prescott, a nurse who worked as a bereavement counselor, is retiring after 40 years. She specialized in counseling families who had lost babies. Here she has mementos at the Circle of Love Garden at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia.
Ms. Prescott crafted the plaque at the Circle of Love Garden. Grieving families will find solace and leave mementos behind.