A Central Florida woman created a seven-step holistic program to deal with infant loss after discovering a lack of resources following her personal experience with devastating grief.
Noelle Moore can smile again. She has been through the most soul-squeezing grief known to parents — the death of an infant. But she can finally say she finds joy in life again.
The path has been lengthy and torturous, and suicide was a constant thought in those days, weeks and months following baby Finley's death after only 23 days on Earth.
What would end up being Moore's passion and life calling began in 2013.
“Everything I knew was pulled out from under me,” Moore said. “My dad, who was my best friend, my No. 1 fan — he died unexpectedly. That was my first encounter with grief. Why did it have to be my dad to navigate through my grief?”
She was five months pregnant when he died.
Four months later, Moore was in the hospital to deliver her daughter. The mother was in labor for 30 hours before staff determined she needed an emergency Caesarean. There were no doctors onsite, she said, so she waited in the operating room 30 to 45 minutes until a doctor arrived to perform the surgery.
Finley came into this world 7 pounds, 8 ounces and with hair on her head. She was beautiful, but she was not breathing.
Moore said her daughter was resuscitated and put on life support, where she would remain for her entire 23 days of life.
“I remember a very sympathetic neonatologist kneeled down beside me and said, 'The most selfless thing you can do as her mommy is to let her go. She will never know you, she will never walk, she will never talk. And that was the moment that we had to decide and make the worst decision of our lives. I prayed to God to take her. I didn't want to make that decision as her mom.”
On a Friday afternoon, with family and friends gathered, Finley's parents said goodbye.
“I can remember walking down the NICU hallway and thinking, 'How can I just leave her here? Who's going to taking care of her?'”
THERE'S NO ONE ADDRESSING INFANT LOSS
After Moore left the hospital, there was no followup, no offers of support from a professional organization.
“This is an epidemic,” she said. “Over the next few days, I was very desperate for help and I started looking for help in this area. I needed help right away, and I couldn't figure out where to go. So that's when I realized there was a very big gap between the hospital and the home.”
At a friend's suggestion, she attended a Grief Share meeting at a local church. She says participating in that program — and meeting other people who have suffered devastating loss — saved her life.
“I've always been an advocate for injustice,” Moore said. “Helping the down and out has been my calling, helping women has been my calling. I never knew that thing that was always inside me would become my purpose.
“When I started seeing the gap between the hospital and the home, I knew I had to do something,” she said. “I started asking, probing, seeing what was out there. And what I realized was there was not a program walking with families once it happened and supporting them through their basic needs and getting them in counseling.
“There's no one addressing infant loss,” she said matter-of-factly.
Thus, the Finley Project was created.
“We wanted to meet the basic needs of mothers just to help them get through the initial few months and then to offer them support for the years to come,” Moore said.
THE FINLEY PROJECT
According to Moore, the Finley Project is the only organization in the country that offers a seven-part holistic program to support grieving mothers emotionally and physically at no charge. Team members work with these mothers for five years — starting immediately after the loss — to help them on their healing journey.
The first step is planning the funeral, and a Finley Project team member researches and presents options to the family, walking them through the entire process.
Meal and grocery gift cards are provided for five weeks. Professional massage therapy sessions are offered for the mother's well-being. Household needs are taken care of with professional house cleaning services for three months.
Team members find a local support group for the mother to interact with other women who share their grief. Weekly one-on-one counseling sessions are arranged for three months. The mother also is assigned a volunteer support coordinator who stays in contact with her throughout the five-year program.
“My objective was that no mother go at it alone, so we serve mothers who lose (children) from 22 weeks gestation to 2 years of age,” Moore said.
Though based in Central Florida, the Finley Project can be organized anywhere. Moore uses Molly Maid and Massage Envy exclusively, because they are recognized nationally, but the other services can be individualized to any community.
Licensed mental health therapists who can donate their time are asked to contact Moore at [email protected]. Volunteers who have experience in bereavement or the loss of a child are needed, as well.
This program is financially supported mostly by individual donors. Currently, 52 families are receiving services.
The Finley Project is run by Moore, who is full time; one part-time employee; and 19 part-time volunteers who work with the mothers.
“(For) a lot of our families, it's a very lonely and desperate space to be in,” Moore said. “There's nothing more lonely than being in a crowded room but feeling misunderstood. … This is my life. This is my work. I will never stop.”
Through The Finley Project, The Pregnancy and Infant Loss Resource Network was started to connect the few resources that are in Central Florida, including The TEARS Foundation, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, Florida Hospital, Kaleb Kares and TAPS for Babies. This resource is available to anyone who has experienced infant loss.
Finley is Moore's only child.
“It's amazing to look back on it honestly and to think I survived,” she said. “I didn't think I would survive. And to think I have days where I can just be and can laugh again. I will never be the same person again. Everything is so fragile. ... I felt like heaven was more real to me. I felt like it was more close to me than ever.
“You don't move on; you learn to carry it with you,” Moore said. “She's with me. She's not behind me, she's literally with me as I go along. There's so much peace in that. People said I need to move on; (but) she's always my daughter.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry at [email protected].