Registration is open now for The Peapod Project Pounds the
Pavement 2nd annual 5K run/walk, which funds the memory keepsake
boxes for families and training for hospital staff members.
The fundraiser will be held at 4 p.m., Aug. 22, at Diversey
Harbor in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Registration,
available at www.thepeapod
project.org, is $35 adults, kids 12 and under free. It also
features activities for kids and raffles.
This year, a table will display photos of children who have died
to honor their memory and let people know for whom they are running
The Peapod Project raised $20,000 in its first year. One family
also donated eight digital cameras to help capture moments in a
dying child's life. This year, Kodak donated 150 memory cards and
Jewel-Osco provided coupons for processing, Annette Battaglia
The keepsake boxes include professional photography, ink prints,
knitted hats, booties and blankets for infants and toddlers, a
small box for a lock of hair, an engraved Hope Stone and a handmade
card that includes a poem with a Swarovksi crystal charm. There are
resources to help families through the process of losing a child,
age-appropriate books for siblings, grandparents, parents and
extended family. The project has also developed resources for
hospital staff who become close to the children.
Donations can be made directly to The Peapod Project. Contact
Stenstrom at (312) 560-4413 or [email protected].
Annette Battaglia Stenstrom couldn't contain her
excitement. The baby girl of her dreams was about to be
Never mind the heightened tension in
the operating room as doctors and nurses prepared her for a hasty
C-section or Annette's nagging feeling something was wrong. At
exactly 8:30 p.m., she and husband Ted peered over the tent
covering her belly and spied little Moreland Grace, catching a
glimpse of long chocolate brown hair and instantly falling deeply
Then they noticed the silence.
Annette met Ted at her best friend's
wedding. She wasn't looking for love; she was just out of a bad
relationship. But by the end of the week they both whispered, "I
They wanted to fill their home together
with love and children. Four to be exact. "It didn't happen for
us," says Annette simply, belying the grueling trials and emotional
ups and downs eight years of infertility treatments dealt them
Until that day the pregnancy test came
"I fell to my knees and I just started
crying," Annette says. She immediately called Ted, but she
remembers crying so hard he couldn't understand her. "We're
pregnant, we're pregnant!"
News of their baby spread nationwide
and into Canada to far-flung family and friends. It was a huge
celebration, Annette remembers-leading right up to her baby shower
at the Drake Hotel that showered her with lots of pink and purple,
polka dots and stripes, hats and bows, sweet little socks and tiny
"I was so happy, I can't believe
actually sitting there having a baby shower for a little girl," she
remembers thinking. "I felt like I was walking on clouds."
As a high-risk pregnancy because of the
infertility treatments, Ted and Annette became used to frequent
ultrasounds and doctors' extra caution. Other than horrible
heartburn, Annette relished her very uneventful pregnancy.
Until 24 weeks and a Level 3
The ventricles in the baby's brain were
slightly enlarged. Barely, Annette remembers hearing. An MRI at
Children's Memorial Hospital later confirmed the ultrasound, and
doctors told the couple the size would either get larger, get
smaller or stay the same. For the rest of Annette's ultrasounds,
nobody mentioned the ventricles again. "We figured that if it was
an issue or a problem, somebody would have said something, but they
didn't," Annette says.
At 30 weeks, a fetal monitor in the
doctor's office registered a drop in heart rate. It bounced right
back. It fell again at another visit, but again bounced back. At 34
weeks, when it dipped again, doctors decided it was time for Gigi,
as Ted and Annette planned to call her, to meet her parents.
"I was just so thrilled," Annette
remembers thinking. "Oh my gosh, she's going to be born." Ted's
employees shooed him away from a meeting at the Merchandise Mart to
Northwestern Memorial. Fetal monitors captured Gigi's heart rate
falling. "And then that's when I started to get this kind of bad
In the operating room during the
C-section, nurses and doctors surrounded the 3-pound, 9-ounce
"They took her out and we didn't hear
her cry," Annette says.
It seemed like an eternity to Annette,
but likely only 10 to 15 minutes passed until nurses rolled Gigi to
her. She wasn't breathing on her own and the medical team was
awaiting a transport team to Children's Memorial Hospital, they
"At that point, I threw up," Annette
remembers. "That's when we knew something was horribly wrong."
Ted went with Gigi while Annette stayed
behind to recover. She says he often recalls that short ride as one
of the most horrific moments of his life, watching the team working
on their baby, frightened beyond imagination.
He started to cry.
By 2 a.m., he was on the phone with
Annette. Gigi was resting comfortably, she remembers him telling
Ted spent his days, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., with
Gigi at Children's, then drove to Northwestern to be with his wife
through the night.
Every day, he'd bring more bad
Her hands are webbed.
She has a kidney abnormality.
She has a club foot.
She has a cleft palate.
When doctors released Annette to be
with Gigi, she rushed to Children's to find her tiny baby hooked up
to a respirator and covered with tubes.
"I thought I was going to die. I
remember walking into the room and the first thing I wanted to do
was just turn around and run down the hall screaming. I couldn't
believe this was happening," Annette recalls.
Soon guided into a private family room,
as kindly and gently as she could, Annette remembers a nurse
telling them their little Princess Peapod, as Ted and Annette and
family dubbed her, wasn't compatible with life.
"I said, 'Does that mean she's going to
At that moment, the seed that would
grow into The Peapod Project began to sprout.
"You get desperate. You are afraid
people are going to forget that she was here, so we started taking
all these pictures. We wanted proof that she was here, that we
loved her," Annette says.
She and Ted made ink prints of her
feet, molds of her hands and feet, cut off a piece of her chocolate
brown hair. Children's Memorial offered the services of a
professional photographer, Todd Hockberg, to document a day with
Gigi. He left them with a lifetime of memories captured in black
And they read to her. Every poem and
every children's story they could think of, they read for
"We were trying to fit an entire
lifetime into 16 days."
Then another devastating blow as
doctors outlined Annette and Ted's options: Gigi was deaf and
"She never heard our voices, she never
heard any of those stories. It just made me so sick in my heart. I
just thought, oh my God, I can't believe this is happening,"
Doctors tried to prepare Ted and
Annette for the life ahead for Gigi, kept alive only through
machines. Then they gave them time to think. The couple knew the
heart-breaking decision they had to make.
"I can't go home and wake up one day
and say today is the day," Annette thought. "If I leave this
hospital, I will never be able to come back to make this decision.
It has to be today."
Ted and Annette tried to make it a
normal day with Gigi. Just as they always did when they left the
hospital for the night, they gave Gigi a bath, changed her clothes
and her diaper.
Except this time everybody was waiting
for Annette to say she was ready to remove life support. Annette
remembers thinking she would never be ready.
Sinking into a reclining chair, Annette
snuggling Gigi and hugging Ted, doctors disconnected the
"It only took 10 minutes, but it was
the longest 10 minutes of my life," Annette says.
They kissed her, told her how much they
loved her. As the breath left her tiny body, Annette noticed Gigi's
face changing color. In a fleeting moment, she had second thoughts.
"Oh God, I don't want to do this!" she cried.
Time of death: 6:40 p.m., May 31,
The Peapod Project
Ted and Annette waited a week and a
half to hold a memorial service for Gigi. "How do you plan a
funeral for a baby?" she thought.
Over the long nights that followed,
Annette and Ted suffered as those 16 days played back through the
darkness. They began to realize just how precious those keepsakes
of Gigi's life had become to them.
Within three months, Annette channeled
her anger and sadness into The Peapod Project to help other
families facing life and death save those precious keepsakes, a
lock of hair, a footprint, photos.
While Children's Memorial had its
Heartlight bereavement program, The Peapod Project built on the
effort and now keeps it fully funded.
"I knew it had to be about other
people, not just us," Annette says. "My heart is so warm and so
happy that we can do this for other families."
Last year, The Peapod Project provided
memory boxes to 110 families, every family that needed one at
Children's. This year, Annette wants to raise even more money,
first to make sure Children's program will never worry about
funding, then to provide memory boxes and professional
photographers for families and training for staff in all
One day, Annette hopes The Peapod
Project will reach all Illinois hospitals, then spread
"My life's work now is just to do this."
Tamara L. O'Shaughnessy is the editor of Chicago Parent and
mom of three.
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