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Searching for answers

A family loses its first child to stillbirth, but no one can tell them why the baby died

Nearly seven years have passed, and Cary Mallon and Carol Cohen still don't know why their firstborn son died.

That makes it very difficult to get through their grief - not knowing why, because an autopsy did not reveal the cause of death.

Cohen and Mallon were simply visiting the doctor in September 2005 to discuss the date for the C-section because the fetus had grown to its full size.

While they were in the doctor's office talking about inducing labor in two days, an ultrasound revealed their baby's heartbeat had stopped.

Both parents were in shock. Disbelief is a better word. Carol was probably the healthiest and best physically fit pregnant woman in the county, and her full-term baby had died just before birth.

'I ate right, I exercised right,' she said, 'I had no (medical issues) and I was probably the healthiest pregnant woman around.'

That's enough to make a person never want to become pregnant again. In fact, the couple were hesitant; they were unsure and confused.

They also were embarrassed that they had received lots of gifts at baby showers and there was no baby.

'I felt like a failure,' she said. 'People were so happy and excited for us, and then I had nothing to show.'

The first stage of their grief was denial, followed immediately by anger and blaming - especially self-blame. They say they're still feeling some grief - because there has been no closure.

The one thing they are happy about is the fact they had the presence of mind to bring a camera to the hospital when the C-section was performed.

Now, Cary says, the photo is all they have to trigger their memories of the child they cannot hold.

'People say the best way to get over the loss is to forget,' Cary said, 'but that's not the best way.'

Instead, they needed to remember and they needed some personal support, but there wasn't that type of support group in Sandy.

So they formed a support event, calling it Noah's Quest, and made it into a local activity: a walk/run event, with a guest speaker of interest to people who have lost a child before or after birth.

The Noah's Quest event, which occurs in Sandy, is a 10-K run, 5-K walk and run, and a 1-K kiddie run. But the 'competition' is not important to most of the participants, Carol said. They're there for the support from people who know what they are going through. They also need a chance to talk or listen to people who know firsthand what they are feeling.

Sometimes they are feeling nothing.

'When I became pregnant with Sidra (more than a year after the stillborn birth),' Carol said, 'I was very detached. I had no feelings because I felt like anything could happen again.'

This time, she was monitored more closely by physicians, and she delivered by C-section early at 37-1/2 weeks - to avoid a possible repeat stillbirth.

Even though she must manage the activity, Carol says the Noah's Quest event has even helped her move toward an attitude of not placing guilt on herself.

The event is a fundraiser, but the most important value in participation is the support given to everyone.

'The one thing I have learned over the (seven) years of running the event,' Cary said, 'is that no matter how much money we raise or who we give it to, we're not going to eliminate the problem of stillbirth.'

Instead, their goal is to provide a venue where they can help minister to others in grief from the loss of a child.

The money raised is donated to Brief Encounters, a Portland-based nonprofit that offers information and support to people who have lost a child. The money helps the group accomplish its goals.

Along the way, there have been some setbacks such as the 34-year-old man, Sly Manivong, who died while participating in the 2008 Noah's Quest.

'Do you think I wanted to do the event the following year?' Carol said. 'No. It was really hard for me to do the event the next year.'

But she did it anyway because it was important to hear the founder of Brief Encounters speak.

Besides the runs and walks, Noah's Quest includes a talk, a candle lighting ceremony and a moment of silence before releasing doves.

As a thank you for participating, each runner/walker receives a pair of running/walking socks.

The event is scheduled to begin with registration at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 30, at Sandy Bluff Park, near the new high school.

For more information, visit noahsquest.org.