Facing grief with grace after infants’ deaths

Ryan Farnsworth, executive director of Forever Footprints, holds one of the special Moses baskets for hospitals used to carry babies who are lost in pregnancy or stillborn.
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

The two mothers had heard varying stories of women who had lost children during pregnancy or shortly after birth.

Families told of seeing their child being lovingly carried away by a nurse at the hospital, but others had watched as the body was put in a box or a drawer in the hospital room. Some babies were even put in plastic bags.

The two wanted to help, mother to mother.

Kiley Hanish and Kristyn von Rotz had both lost children — Von Rotz delivered but the baby died shortly after birth, and Hanish’s child was stillborn — and wanted to ensure that families who had suffered a similar loss received the best support and comfort possible.

So they took that sentiment and poured it into the Costa Mesa-based nonprofit Forever Footprints, founded by Von Rotz. Hanish is a member.


the two came up with the idea to provide hospitals with what have come to be called Moses baskets, so nurses had a way to transport the babies with dignity. The baskets would also be a way for families to spend time with their baby and have photographs taken. And it would allow the hospital staff to reach out to families in a comforting and appropriate manner.

Hanish and her husband lost their son in 2005 to a liver cyst that had grown rapidly in the third trimester. The newlyweds did have the opportunity to spend time with their son in the hospital, but their experience with the medical professionals was what Hanish described as “appalling.”

Hanish, who serves on the nonprofit’s advisory committee, shared her story on the organization’s website, stating that it was her mission to educate the doctors and nurses working with pregnancy, labor and delivery to interact and care for their patients who experience loss.

Ryan Farnsworth, Forever Footprints’ executive director, and his wife lost their son in 2008. They named him Dustin after learning the name meant “brave warrior.” Farnsworth said he and his wife were thankful to have had the chance to hold their son in their arms.

“We were lucky enough to have a good nurse take our baby away in a loving way,” Farnsworth said in late December. “And that’s the main thing we’re trying to do.”

Forever Footprints held a Moses basket drive on its website and received 11 donations of all shapes in December.

The finished basket, usually made of woven palm leaf or rattan, includes a sheet and a removable foam pad. The team delivered them to hospitals throughout Orange County, including UC Irvine Medical Center, Saddleback Memorial Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente in Irvine and Anaheim.

They also dropped off a basket at Fairhaven Memorial Services in Mission Viejo so a mortuary representative could use it to accept babies at the hospital and carry them to the van.

“We tell our families who deliver at Saddleback Memorial that the basket was donated by a family in memory of their own loss,” Sharon Pendergast, a licensed clinical social worker at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, wrote in a testimonial. “We find that families do find comfort in knowing that there are other parents who understand their loss by this gesture of giving.”

It was a mission that fell under the nonprofit’s support-system umbrella. Every second Monday of the month, bereaved parents may attend the free support group “Balancing Life & Loss: Parenting After Loss Group,” led by a licensed social worker in her office in Newport Beach. It’s a place where parents can open up to other bereaved parents and share struggles and challenges as well as hopes.

Farnsworth said that along with recommending local support groups and therapists throughout Orange County, the organization provides books, informational brochures and memory boxes that sometimes serve as the only memento of a family’s baby.

The organization also offers education. Angie Bailey, Forever Footprints’ director of community education, along with other parents who have miscarried or lost babies, speaks at local hospitals to educate nurses, doctors and social workers on how to care for patients who have had or know they are going to have a baby die in pregnancy or infancy. The group recently partnered with UC Irvine Health Paloma Comfort Care Program.

“We’re constantly asking ourselves and the program, ‘What can you do to make that mother’s stay in the hospital better?’” said Farnsworth.

To honor each baby, the organization has set up a memorial page on its website to provide remembrances to families. And Von Rotz, to help herself come to grips with the loss of son Joseph to a rare brain abnormality, created in his honor OC Walk to Remember, which includes the organization’s memorial service and a 5K walk.

From about 100 participants in its first year, the annual walk has grown to more than 3,500 participants. The 11th walk will be held in October at the District at Tustin Legacy. Each mother is given a rose, and each baby’s name is listed on a memorial wall displayed at the walk.

“It’s a special time,” Farnsworth said.

To provide additional support to the fathers, the group has set up “Golf to Remember,” where dads, supporters and sponsors can attend a golf tournament followed by a dinner.

Farnsworth, who learned of Forever Footprints from a friend who had read about the organization, said he is thankful that the support offered is making a difference for families. Thank-you letters from parents are hung on a cork board in his office.

“We’re here to help anyone during this healing process,” he said.

For more information or to donate a Moses basket, call (800) 714-9320 or visit