Giving Back: Maddie’s Footprints

Maddie’s Footprints events like annual races and galas always incorporate memorials to remember lost children. “It’s good for the families to have a day where they can celebrate their babies, kind of like a birthday party,” says Edie Couvillon. Photos courtesy Maddie's Footprints

We like to believe that we are raising our children in a time of unprecedented privilege—and in most ways, we are. Gone are the days of Victorian England, when up to a third of all children born to working-class families would die before their fifth birthday. Gone are the pre-vaccine eras of tuberculosis or polio, which struck down millions every year. We can quell cold symptoms with a dose of medicine and contact our pediatricians without even leaving home. But when the unthinkable tragedy of the loss of an infant strikes today, the weight of grief and suffering remains as heavy as it always has. This is where organizations like Maddie’s Footprints step in to help.

Co-founded in January 2010 by chairman Lori McGrew after the experience of grieving her stillborn daughter Maddie, the organization has long based its operations in Acadiana, where it provides financial and emotional support to parents who have experienced stillbirth, miscarriage or death of an infant up to 1 year old. This year, however, Maddie’s Footprints will officially expand its work into Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes, having recently absorbed the responsibilities and services previously dispensed by the now-shuttered Anna’s Grace Foundation.

“My experience with Maddie opened my eyes to a huge need here in Acadiana,” says McGrew.

“My husband and I were very lost and wanted very badly to talk to other people who had experienced a similar loss and get answers to even our most basic questions.”

The first Baton Rouge-based Footprints Forever quarter marathon, 5K and 1-mile fun run will take place on March 27.

When McGrew found out at her 32-week ultrasound scan that Maddie displayed chromosomal abnormalities incompatible with life, she needed guidance not just about the painful practical matters ahead, but about the emotional upheaval that she and her husband would experience.

“At the time, I didn’t realize that I was still going to have to deliver her if she died,” says McGrew. “Then you have to learn about what to do with that very limited time with the baby, and how to take those moments in. Not to mention learning about how to plan a funeral, take care of medical expenses, and navigate life after the fact.”

After losing a child, mothers will more often than not have to return to work sans maternity leave or while recovering from surgery, and they’ll do so while their body continues to produce milk. Without a support system in place, the loneliness can be overwhelming. To ease the journey, Maddie’s Footprints recently brought on the services of a licensed social worker who helps oversee multiple weekly support groups for local clients, and who is also available for one-on-one sessions with parents who aren’t yet ready for a group setting. When COVID-19 hit, the organization also began to incorporate virtual support group sessions, which allowed it to serve clients all over Louisiana and beyond.

“We always want to be available, so as a staff we rotate our duties on weekends,” says executive director Edie Couvillon. “We have a good balance now with our team, so not only do our clients get the support they need, but we can distribute our roles to make sure we’re supported as well.”

 

Maddie’s Footprints sustains relationships with hospitals, OB-GYNs and funeral homes so that clients can reach them as soon as they need to. With a simple application, clients can become eligible for all of Maddie’s Footprints services, which include access to support from sensitive photography services, grief education for siblings, memorial tributes, up to $1,000 in funeral costs, and more.

“We’ve also begun to offer a mentorship program, where moms who are a little further along in their grieving process can partner up with new moms,” says McGrew. “As our presence in Baton Rouge grows, we’re looking forward to maximizing in-person support.”

In the meantime, the organization is planning the inaugural Baton Rouge edition of its Footprints Forever run on March 27, along with the first local Maddie’s Footprints fundraising gala at the Capitol Park Museum on November 11. But for former clients like Laura Woods, who stayed on as a board member after losing her daughter Nora in 2015, the work is never finished.

“We’ve never had to turn a family away financially, but what’s more important is that families can receive emotional support for as long as they need to,” Woods says. “There are very few organizations in the nation that do what we do, so I’m happy that we can help even more families by expanding into Baton Rouge.”