Few things are more traumatic for women and families than the loss of a child during or shortly after pregnancy. For those going through such heartbreak, Faribault-based nonprofit Infants Remembered in Silence (IRIS) provides invaluable support.
IRIS was founded in 1987 by Diana Kelley, two years after her son was stillborn. The organization started small, with doctors referring patients to Kelley, who began providing bereavement packages to funeral homes and hospitals. Its biggest fundraiser of the year, the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, is set for Nov. 28.
Though it has just one paid staff member in addition to Kelley, IRIS boasts an army of more than 300 volunteers and its reach extends far well beyond Rice County. Kelley says she receives calls from people across the globe asking for support and wanting to know how they can help women and families in their area.
Even with significant medical advances, one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Many of those women and families struggle to find support after their loss, with counseling services inaccessible for some and others uncomfortable seeking out such services.
IRIS primarily serves Dodge, Goodhue Le Sueur, Rice, Steele and Waseca counties. Just within those five counties alone, the group distributes 500 bereavement packages each year.
“You don’t hear about it much anymore,” Kelley said. “Parents aren’t comfortable putting information in the newspaper, so there’s a silencing going on.”
Part of IRIS’s mission is simply to bring attention to the issue, so as to show mothers and families that they are not alone in their grief. Each year, IRIS works to get as many proclamations as possible recognizing the tragedy of infant loss from cities, especially those located in the region.
Another way IRIS works to increase awareness of infant loss through its lighting campaigns. At IRIS’s request, major buildings in the Twin Cities such as U.S. Bank Stadium and Target Field have been lit up in pink and blue, in memory of the loss so many suffer.
IRIS’s most important focus is helping each family through the unique grieving process they face after the loss of pregnancy. Kelley said that she often spends as much as 18 hours at a hospital answering questions and helping families to work through their grief.
The wishes and needs of each family going through one of the worst times of their life is different, Kelley said. When a baby dies shortly after pregnancy, parents will often want something to remember their child by, be it photos, handprints or footprints. The organization also provides blankets, clothing and little boxes for the child.
There’s no right or wrong, so there’s a lot of time for people to figure out everything they want to do,” Kelley said. “The goal is to help parents to have positive memories, so they are able to smile when they think about their child.”
Ciera Federly is an IRIS mom, having lost her firstborn in 2015 and suffering another miscarriage after an automobile accident. Even though she now lives in Wisconsin, Wilson still counts herself as a strong supporter of IRIS and continues to use the nonprofit’s services.
“Diana Facetimed us and provided IRIS services over the phone and sent IRIS stuff with my sisters so they can bring it to us,” she said. “It’s an amazing organization for anyone who’s gone through that kind of loss.”
Federly’s partner, Kyle Wilson, said that he also benefited greatly from the support IRIS was able to provide after the car accident which resulted in Federly’s miscarriage.
“I remember after the loss struggling mentally, not being able to talk to anyone to get my emotions out there,” he said. “Diana would text me in the middle of the night ask me how I’m doing. She did a lot for me when no one else seemed to really understand.”