FORT JOHNSON, La. –
Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital hosted a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day observance at the Angel Baby Tree Memorial Oct. 15, at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson, Louisiana. The Angel Baby Tree was donated in 1994 to the hospital from grieving parents as a constant and living reminder of the estimated one in four individuals and families whose lives are altered by that death of their children during pregnancy, at birth or in infancy.
Maj. Walter Gradzik, JRTC Operations Group, and his wife Chelsea spearheaded the event at the hospital in honor of two miscarriages they experienced and the emotional toll it took on their family.
Chelsea spoke about her personal journey and offered a tribute to Louis and Zellie Martin the patron saints of illness, mental illness, marriage, parenting and widowers. The Martins had nine children together with only five daughters who survived to adulthood.
“We are part of a club that nobody ever wanted to become a part of,” she said. “We’ve lost twins to miscarriage in 2020 and another child in 2021 before we had our beautiful little rainbow baby Maggie. We understand the ache of loss and the fear that comes with subsequent pregnancies.”
Gradzik said many people share the desire to see something positive come from tragedy.
“We’ve been called to make sure that our children’s lives are not forgotten, but those who experience miscarriage or pregnancy loss have the support they need during the experience as well as in the months and years that follow,” she said.
Gradzik said Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is something she and her husband hold sacred and wanted to create a space and an opportunity for those who wanted and needed it.
Col. Takako Barrell, deputy commander of nursing and acting hospital commander, said it’s important to recognized and honor babies who have died due to miscarriage, still birth and neonatal death.
“This was a great opportunity to bring those who have experienced this type of loss together as a community in a safe and supportive place to share their experiences,” she said. “We are mindful that it is important to have reasons to hope and a feeling of renewal each morning and we recognized that through the shared tragedy these parents have experienced, events like this bring us together to provide comfort and peace to each other.”
Capt. James Walker, hospital chaplain, led the group in prayer and invited them to place a rock under the Angel Baby Tree Memorial in honor of lost pregnancies and infants.
“While this is a relatively common occurrence that affects many, we don’t often create a space to talk about it and support one another,” he said. “Thank you, Chelsea and Walter, for helping us create this space to support others.”
Editor's Note: In August of 2020, when Hurricane Laura devastated south central Louisiana the Angel Baby Tree memorial was uprooted. Maj. Ellen Jones, former emergency department chief at BJACH replaced the tree in the spring of 2021 as place for those affected by infant loss to find comfort.