MUSKEGON, Mich. (WXMI) — Jen Cantrell has experienced the happy times, and some of the most heartbreaking that come with carrying another life. Over the years, she’s suffered 15 losses.
“When you ask how many kids I have, you might see four, but there’s a lot more,” Cantrell told FOX 17 News. “With my living kids, I leaned on them. And I learned to love them more.”
Cantrell’s losses have compelled her to become a bereavement doula and chaplain, helping other moms who are experiencing the same unimaginable pain. She’s also launched a non-profit called Angels Wings Bereavement Services.
“I assist families, before, during and after the loss of a pregnancy,” she explained. “I want to be a shining light in the darkest time of their lives.”
Cantrell volunteers her time to support Michigan families, helping to create memories and pay tribute to babies lost through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. Doing so, has helped Cantrell cope and heal herself over the years.
“When I got into helping and doing memorial events and things like that, that was my way to keep [my babies] lives going. and to be able to honor and remember them.”
Every October, in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Cantrell plans a special vigil to remember her children, along with hundreds of others.
“I did balloons for many years,” she said. “Last year I did rocks and made an angel garden with all the rocks… it just becomes bigger and bigger every year, and this year I think there’s close to four thousand names.”
This year, Cantrell’s tribute includes wooden hearts of different sizes that she plans to scatter all around West Michigan. She’s been collecting names online, submitted by mothers wishing for their children to be remembered.
If you find one, you’re asked to snap a picture and post it with the hashtag #pailhearts.
“Something so simple that you don’t know who’s life you’re changing, because they may need that,” said Cantrell. “I get a lot of thanks, I get a lot of praise… For someone to say their child’s name is a big deal for them, everyone is just so in love with the fact that they know, every year I’m going to remember them.”
For the 10th year, Cantrell has also planned a special vigil with luminaries on October 15th, which is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. The event is set for 6:45-8:15pm at Heritage Memorial Garden, located at 545 W. Western Ave, Muskegon, Michigan.
Cantrell wants other women to know their babies will be remembered this month, and always.
“I want to spread awareness that this does happen,” she said. “That 1 in 4 pregnancies does end in some kind of loss. That’s 1 in 4 moms, and 1 in 4 dads that their hearts get broken. Sometimes multiple times…My goal this month is just to make sure everyone knows they’re not alone.”