Wisconsin mom launches baby funeral gown project

Every day, little things remind Hazel Jones of her son, Mattie.

In her apartment, dozens of plush and ceramic turtles adorn the walls. Hazel’s husband Artrell Jones was the first to link Mattie to the turtles. He loves animals himself and suspects his son would have, too.

Other things, like the smell of peaches, red and black butterflies, and yellow daisies, bring Mattie back to Hazel. Each of them has a meaning in one way or another. Every day without him is always a struggle, she said.

Matthew Aaron Jones is stillborn. During a routine ultrasound while she was 20 weeks pregnant, the doctor told Hazel that Mattie’s heart was not beating. What followed was a pain that she “didn’t wish on anyone.”

Amid the wave of emotions that followed, there was a mountain of paperwork and process for the family. Medical bills began to pile up that Hazel and Artrell had no hope of paying. With their eldest son, Robert, they experienced homelessness for about 10 months trying to pay the bills.

What stood out most for Hazel, however, was her son’s funeral. The baby was only 6 inches long and weighed only 3.5 ounces, so the hospital didn’t have clothes small enough for him to wear.

That’s why Hazel decided to help those who lost children – in memory of Mattie.

Hazel created the Mattie’s Memory organization in 2012, with the goal of providing “memory bags” and information about bereavement to hospitals in Southeastern Wisconsin. The bags include items that families should keep in mind for their child, as well as burial dresses and other clothing for the babies themselves.

After the project was announced, she received a deluge of fabrics and wedding dresses, which Hazel turns into funeral dresses for the children who are gone too early. She also makes hats, blankets and baby cribs.

Every month, she delivers donation bags to local hospitals for families who have lost a toddler or child in diapers. The donations help alleviate the shortage of funeral gowns in hospitals and bring comfort to those in mourning, Hazel said.

“I just hate to see people in pain,” she said.

Hazel is also gathering information for families trying to figure out what will come next after the loss of a child. The process can be difficult and confusing, she said, and difficult to navigate through grief.

In her own experience, she struggled to obtain a stillbirth certificate, an official document acknowledging the death of the child. In some states, a stillbirth certificate is required to get tax credits available to parents.

“If you don’t know, the hospitals won’t do it for you,” she says. “They will make your birth certificate, they will make your death certificate, but this stillbirth certificate – you have to fight for it.”

Hazel is also involved in an effort to obtain a tax credit for parents of stillborn children adopted in the Wisconsin legislature.

This kind of support is especially important in Milwaukee, where 10 in 1,000 pregnancies end in infant mortality, and another seven in 1,000 end in stillbirth, according to a report from the Milwaukee Department of Health on stillbirths and infant deaths. from 2012 to 2015 in the city.

Wisconsin also revealed the worst infant mortality rate among black children in a 2018 report covering the years 2013 to 2015. The state had the highest rate in the country with 14.26 in 1,000 black pregnancies ending in one. infant mortality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black children died three times more often than white children before their first birthday.

Getting the job done by Hazel can be intimidating, but Hazel doesn’t do it on her own.

Artrell is involved with Mattie’s Memory, providing support every step of the way.

“I have to be strong for her,” said Artrell, known as AJ. “I try to be tough about it, but I cry too. Because it affects me, but back then being there for her was more important than what I felt.

Their roommate, Mike Isler, is also lending his artwork to the project, designing logos and graphics for the Mattie’s Memory Facebook page and creating artwork for freebies.

Maggie Skovera, a volunteer at Mattie’s Memory, works alongside Hazel to make blankets and do other sewing tasks. Skovera knows that what they do makes a difference.

“I know it’s heartwarming to just have something,” she said.

Skovera is also an important part of the big picture: the community. Among those who have lost children, there is a sense of solidarity and a common pain that few others can relate to.

“It’s like walking through a dark tunnel and the people who get it are at the end with a light,” Hazel said.

Skovera has also lost children. And Hazel said they could get up when they were down without saying a word.

“We’re just going to sit there, do nothing, just sit there,” Hazel said. “And we don’t have to wonder what’s wrong. We understood.”

Although she has learned to live with it, Hazel said grief still shows up in her day-to-day life. Sometimes a movie or a visit to the store will bring up bad feelings.

“We call it the ‘Ugly Shoe Journey,’” Hazel said. “Because it’s the ugliest pair of shoes you’ll wear in your life, and it’s the most painful.”

The saying is based on a poem by an unknown author, Hazel said, which many who have suffered loss can relate to.

Hazel also found another calling as a recorded doula in Milwaukee. She also offers grief doula services as part of Mattie’s Memory.

Two years ago, Hazel even gave birth to one of Skovera’s grandchildren: a little boy named Taylor, whom Hazel calls “Squishie.” It’s far from being afraid to hold babies just a few years ago, Hazel said.

As her work continues, Hazel said the end goal is to help bring comradeship to those who have lost children.

“It’s that unity of knowing there’s someone out there who gets it,” Hazel said. “We don’t hear about families very often, but when we do, it’s normally ‘Thank you for not making me feel alone. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your understanding.'”


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About Daniel Lange

Daniel Lange

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