Anne Mathay: Helping to Heal the Pain of Infant Loss
In October 2012, Anne Mathay had seven weeks to go before her baby was due. But during an ultrasound her doctor said, “I don’t see a heartbeat.” The next day, Oct. 16, 2012—a date she will never forget—Mathay had a C-section, and the baby was stillborn.
In memory of her son, Henry Shaffer, Mathay founded Hank’s Hope in 2015. As executive director of the non-profit, she gives women the help she had difficulty finding during her time of need.
“I felt I had no resources when I came home from the hospital with empty arms,” says the Wilmington resident. “I knew there were others out there like me.”
Hank’s Hope provides support to women and their families who have experienced a pregnancy or infant loss, promotes awareness of the physical and mental effects of these losses, and offers emotional support. Since its inception, the organization has helped about 1,000 women.
“I grieve through doing,” says Mathay, 38, whose husband, Noah, is also active in the organization.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stillbirth is far more common than sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and Down syndrome. Stillbirth occurs in about 1 in 100 pregnancies, meaning each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States. It is more than 10 times as many deaths as the number that occur from SIDS. Down syndrome occurs in about 1 in every 700 babies.
There is a stigma around infant loss, says Mathay. “People think, ‘oh, she must not have taken care of herself’ or ‘she must not have done something right.’”
In 2015, thanks to Mathay’s efforts, March was proclaimed Pregnancy Loss Awareness month in Delaware. The proclamation raises awareness about pregnancy loss and the anxieties women face during a subsequent pregnancy.
Mathay knows the feelings women live with during pregnancies following infant loss. Two years after she lost Henry, she gave birth to a daughter, and, in 2018, a son.
“Not many people can say to bereaved parents, ‘I know what you are feeling right now.’ But Anne knew,” say Allison Kerr. Hank’s Hope helped Kerr and her husband after the loss of their six-day-old son, Alexander, in 2016.
“One of the biggest benefits has been being able to openly grieve my son and not having any judgment passed on what I say, do or feel,” she says. “Anne also runs a support group, Pregnancy After Loss, which was extremely helpful when I was pregnant with our daughter, Genevieve, after the death of our son. I cannot say enough about Hank’s Hope and Anne.”
Hank’s Hope, which last year received the Lt. Governor’s Wellness Leadership award, partners with Delaware Hospice in Camp New Hope—a grief camp for children aged 6-17 who have lost loved ones. Other partners include Delaware TEARS Foundation, Julia’s Light, Bayhealth Medical Center, Nanticoke Memorial Hospital and Christiana Care Health System.
Donations allow the nonprofit to also provide education to hospital staff on bereavement care under the Resolve Through Sharing program, and to purchase drawstring bags with such items as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste and comfy socks for hospitals to give to mothers.
“Often mothers come in under emergency conditions to deliver a baby that they will lose, and they have nothing personal with them,” says Mathay. “Each bag has a handwritten note from one of our volunteers, letting them know that they’re braver than they think.”
To volunteer or for more information on Hank’s Hope, visit hankshope.org or Facebook.