Thrive by IU Health

May 26, 2021

Infant Loss: Two Mothers Open their Arms to Those who suffer

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Infant Loss: Two Mothers Open their Arms to Those who suffer

Two Nurses at IU Health Arnett both suffered the loss of their precious newborns. Their stories are different, yet they both know the intense pain. Now they are reaching out to other parents.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

Fear, doubt, regret and even guilt – those are some of the emotions that both Jen Hittle and Sarah Norkus express. Living with those emotions has propelled them to reach out to other parents. The two nurses at IU Health Arnett recently introduced, “Open Arms Miscarriage and Loss Support Group.

Hittle family photo with Brenton

It was eight years ago when Hittle and her husband, Brock, welcomed their fifth child, Brenton, into the world. He was surrounded by the love of his family including three older brothers and a sister. But in January of 2013, at six months, five days old, Brenton passed away. Hittle shares that he was in the care of his sitter, napping on his stomach when he stopped breathing. They found nothing wrong with Brenton. The cause of death was determined as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). She shares that SIDS is caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls breathing and heart rate during sleep. Babies who have the defect look and act completely normal during the day, but defects are unmasked during sleep. The findings helped Hittle understand the importance of the “why” behind safe sleep practices.

In the years since her loss, Hittle has spoken publicly about the importance of safe sleep practices. October is Safe Sleep and SIDS Awareness Month. It’s estimated that 3,500 infants die each year as a result of sleep related deaths including SIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest the following for creating a safe space for sleeping babies:

  • Place baby on back at all times.
  • Use a firm, flat sleep surface such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib
  • Keep the baby’s sleep area (crib or bassinet) in the same room as parents until at least six months of age.
  • Keep the area clear of soft bedding such as blankets, and toys.

Hittle, now the mother of six, has worked at IU Health for 11 years. Two years ago, Sarah Norkus began working at IU Health Arnett. She had read Hittle’s story on social media. The loss resonated with her.

Norkus family photo

At the age of 26, Norkus, and her husband Bryan, a family physician with IU Health Arnett, welcomed their first child, Ethan. After struggling with infertility, they learned in November 2017 they were again expecting. She was 19 weeks along when her twin boys were born in March 2018. Evan Walter and Elliott Rey lived about an hour before they died in her arms.

“It was double the grief,” said Norkus. “After struggling with infertility. Part of the loss was the way we worked to get there. It made me angry because I didn’t feel like we deserved it,” she said. She wears a necklace with the boys’ initials, angel wings, and their blue birthstone.

Norkus with her "rainbow" twins Owen and Wyatt

She said the grief was immense and was followed by guilt. In May of 2019 Norkus and her husband welcomed a second set of “rainbow” twins Owen Walter and Wyatt Rey. “You wonder, ‘will they be OK?’ and ‘How did I not know?’”

Norkus' angel wings necklace

As Norkus and Hittle began sharing their common emotions, they recognized a need to share with other parents. With funding from IU Health Foundation, they recently teamed up to start a support group, “Open Arms Miscarriage and Infant Loss.”

After the first meeting they talked about sharing openly with the group.

“The goal is to give a place for these parents to know there is support - to give them hope that they will get through it,” said Hittle. “Before something like this happens you empathize with people, but when it actually happens, it’s so awful you can’t put it into words. You feel sick, guilty, and crazy. One day you’re fine - not crying - and the next day you’re a hot mess. You learn how to carry that and the most profound things that helped me get through it is when people reached out and said, ‘I’m here for you. I feel your pain and you will get though it.’”

Open Arms Miscarriage and Infant Loss support group meets the first Wednesday of each month from 6-8 p.m. in the physician’s lounge of the IU Health Arnett Medical offices, 2600 Greenbush Street, Lafayette.