Member Spotlight: Sherokee Ilse of Babies Remembered

Amanda Wilton  ·  Sep 24, 2018

Sherokee Ilse has taken the statistic of 1 million U.S. pregnancies ending in loss annually and turned it into advocacy and caring.

The Samaritan Ministries member from Arizona co-founded The Pregnancy and Infant Loss Center, which helped establish the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, among other accomplishments.

She also has worked to launch the Babies Remembered Consulting Team, which supports families and caregivers through training, consulting and sharing resources, while also helping to enhance the direct care professionals provide during and after loss.

Sherokee’s commitment comes from personal loss.

Expecting her first child in 1979, considering names for the little one growing inside her, picking out colors for the nursery, and dreaming about all the adventures yet to come, Ilse soon found herself dealing with tragedy. At 2½ months along, just after announcing the pregnancy, Ilse miscarried.

The medical community defines miscarriage as the premature end of a pregnancy before the 20th week. Most women experiencing a miscarriage are not admitted to the hospital but are usually seen in an outpatient facility or perhaps an emergency room. This was true of Ilse’s experience. Shocked and disappointed, she and her husband, David, were sent home with words that were meant to encourage, such as, “You can try to have another.”

A few years following her miscarriage, Ilse was pregnant once again. Fears from her first pregnancy crept in all throughout the 40 weeks. Ilse went into labor and delivered her son, Brennan, only to find that he was stillborn. She wrote in her book, Empty Arms: Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Early Infant Death, “If your baby was stillborn, it means that you had to say goodbye even before you had the chance to say hello. The immediate and intense pain of experiencing a stillbirth comes from the abrupt change of feeling euphoric and high with anticipation to the unbelievable blow of hopes dashed. All at once you have to face the news that the baby, who was kicking and obviously so alive, now has died.”

After these two tragic losses, Ilse was blessed with two living sons, Kellan and Trevor, but then she experienced tragedy again when her fifth pregnancy turned out to be ectopic. An ectopic pregnancy happens when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, most often in the Fallopian tube, and in most cases the baby is unable to survive. Ilse feels these experiences, even though extremely painful, prepared her to minister to others who have walked the same road.

Following her second loss, Ilse began writing Empty Arms, which is intended to help parents cope through those initial hours, days, and weeks. Often after finding out the heartbreaking news, parents feel rushed to make decisions they could not possibly have prepared for, and years later regret not taking their time to make room for memories they could carry with them. She says of her stillborn son, “Sadly, I hardly remember him now, and we didn’t spend enough time with him. Not knowing our rights and what options to consider made this experience far worse than it needed to be and has haunted me for years.” This motivates her to travel the world, mentoring thousands of mothers and fathers, so they will not experience this same kind of regret.

Her efforts extend beyond The Pregnancy and Infant Loss Center and Babies Remembered.

Adding to her complete care strategy for grieving parents are Baby Loss Family Advisors and Baby Loss Doulas.

Baby Loss Doulas, also called bereavement doulas, aims to support mothers and couples through the painful process of grieving their loss. Hospital staff can call a Baby Loss Doula from the moment a baby miscarries or is stillborn to help families walk through many difficult decisions such as possibly taking a child home until the funeral.

Ilse has had many clients opt for a home funeral, such as Emma and David, who said goodbye to their son Darrius in 2011 after he entered the world without ever taking a breath. Ilse believes that though such funerals may not be common practice in the United States yet, they should be. She says they offer parents, siblings and other friends and family a chance to mourn with and encourage the parents, while also making memories that a grieving mom and dad can one day look back on.

Much has been accomplished over the past several decades, namely the improved standard of care hospitals give to grief-stricken parents—in large part due to Ilse’s efforts and her never-quit attitude.

She’s quick to not take all the credit, though. She recognizes improvements and advances made were a team effort of organizations and individuals across the country.

When asked what drives her, she says, “God, love, and story after story of parents telling me (or others) that they are so thankful, blessed, and grateful because they lovingly met their babies, said a special goodbye, and created lasting memories. We do work that helps make that difference. This work is sacred and helping parents do this well helps them heal down the road.”

Yet, there’s a long road ahead to improve even further the standard of care hospitals provide when loss is the outcome for a laboring woman. Ilse prays the next 30 years see hospitals, medical professionals, and support staff partnering with Baby Loss Advisors and Doulas on a regular basis. The goal is a team approach that begins early in the process and does not end when the family walks out the door. This paradigm gets people care from the moment they find out, through the crisis, and then provides care on an ongoing basis for even a year or more.

Losing a child to miscarriage or stillbirth isn’t a statistic. It’s a loss that needs comfort and understanding, something Sherokee Ilse has seen to for years now. 

Related stories:

Babies matter: a look at pregnancy loss

Why SMI? Sherokee Ilse wanted to find pro-life health care

When it comes to miscarriage or stillbirth, we tend to lack words

Pro-choice concern for miscarriage gives the lie to abortion

Member letters: Samaritan members felt love of others after miscarriages