Program helps parents after loss of a baby

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Diana and Ken Allen's journey to parenthood wasn't easy.

After an early miscarriage in 2015, they were thrilled when Diana got pregnant again in 2016.

"I wasn't worried about the pregnancy at all, it was going smoothly, I felt great," Diana Allen says.

Then, in April of 2016, just halfway through her pregnancy, Allen suddenly went into labor that couldn't be stopped.

KJ Allen, a boy, was delivered at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.

"He lived for an hour and a half," Allen says.

They had just 90 minutes to say good bye to their baby.

"We were kind of numb," she says. "We had no idea that was going to happen, that we were going to lose him."

In that moment, they first realized they weren't alone.

A nurse came into the room and asked them if they would like to have their son baptized.

"We had no idea, and being Christian, we were like, absolutely," Allen remembers.  "They came in right away, and they gave us a gown. And we were able to dress him and take pictures with him.  Get him baptized and everything. We spent a good hour and a half with him, and we will never forget that time. Then he passed away just peacefully in our arms."

At home, they built a little memorial to remember KJ. 

But Diana Allen struggled with guilt.

"I thought, I must have done something wrong," she remembers.  "I overexerted myself, I didn't eat enough, I didn't drink enough. I did too much."

Melissa Petersen has been there: the pregnancy, the ultrasounds, the hope.

"December 1, 2009, I lost my third baby to stillbirth," Petersen explains.  "Her name was Elizabeth."

She'd delivered at another Atlanta-hospital.

"I got no support at all, it was a really difficult experience, trying to find my way afterwards," Petersen says.

She turned to Northside Hospital, where she'd worked in the past as a labor and delivery nurse.

Today, Peterson counsels grieving parents like Diana, with the H.E.A.R.T.strings Perinatal Bereavement & Palliative Care program.  

She also trains the nurses, doctors and other employees on what to do and say when a baby dies.

"My answer is there is not a right or wrong," Petersen tells them.  "So, don't focus on doing the wrong thing. Acknowledge their grief and ask for their baby's name.  Be willing to discuss with them the elephant in the room, so to speak."

Diana Allen found counseling and support groups through the program.

"It helped for us to talk about our son, and talk about our pregnancy," she says.

The Allens still talk about KJ, and their daughter, whom they call their "rainbow baby," born after a loss.

They're now H.E.A.R.T.strings volunteers, mentoring other couples one on one.

"They have a companionship program, so we are paired off with other parents who have lost their baby also," Allen says.

"And I let them know, 'Hey, I've been where you were. I've been where you are, and I've gone through this whole process.'"

Diana Allen says grief is a lifelong process, and they still think about and talk about KJ all the time.

"Because we have our daughter, we definitely want to instill in her that, "Hey, you do have a brother. Not you did, you do, have a brother," she says.  "He's basically your guardian angel."

The H.E.A.R.T.strings Perinatal Loss Program is free and available to parents who have suffered the loss of an unborn or newborn baby, regardless of whether they are a current or former patient of Northside Hospital.

To read more about the program, visit