Sadija Smiley, Founder & CEO of SAILS
By Mylika Scatliffe
Special to the AFRO
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated October as Pregnancy And Infant Loss Awareness Month. Stillborn And Infant Loss Support (SAILS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those who have lost a child or children before they draw breath. SAILS was founded in November 2017 by Sadija Smiley in memory of her daughter Ivyanna Salene, who was stillborn on November 13, 2003. The mission of the Laurel-based organization, according to its website is to “provide a platform of community mentorship, education, and advocacy to families impacted by pregnancy loss or death of a baby before their first birthday.”
Ivyanna was one of 24,000 babies stillborn in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Stillbirths affect approximately 1% of all pregnancies, the cause of which is still largely unknown. The website for SAILS, bornintosilence.org includes a video of Sadija telling her story. She details how one day week 36 of her pregnancy she suddenly realized she had not felt her baby move in a while. She called her husband, who agreed to bring home French fries because the baby liked them, and her doctor who suggested she have a drink of cold water. Neither of these worked and she went to the hospital to be examined and learned the unthinkable. They were unable to find her baby’s heartbeat and learned she’d passed away, and she would have to deliver her. Once she returned home, well-meaning friends and neighbors asked about the baby. Sadija, not knowing how to respond, just went inside her home and cried. One neighbor followed to check on her and when Sadija told her what happened, she confided she too had given birth to a stillborn baby.
In 2017 Sadija, having spent her career in the non-profit sector and personally experienced the grief of losing a baby, realized she should start SAILS.
“I needed an organization like SAILS when I lost my daughter, and I started the association to raise awareness of the issue of stillborn and infant loss and to support individuals who’ve experienced tragedy similar to my own,” according to Sadija’s statement in a media release.
Historically, issues such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and sudden infant death were taboo and talked about in hushed tones, if at all. Even today, with increasing awareness, mothers are often isolated in their grief because no one knows what to do or say, or how to help. SAILS provides influence and resources through outreach and fundraising, especially the Survivor’s Summit. This year the third annual gathering was held virtually on August 28. Mental health and grief professionals shared their expertise, and participants heard from parents who’ve experienced a loss. Guests were also able to participate in a candlelight ceremony to honor the many babies who were born sleeping. Plans are already underway for next year’s event scheduled for August 27, 2022.
CuddleCot presented to GBMC by SAILS’ Founder & CEO.
More than $2600 was raised at this year’s summit, with the proceeds going towards purchasing CuddleCots for Baltimore area hospitals. A CuddleCot is a cooling pad inserted into a baby bassinet that helps preserve a stillborn infant’s body. This allows families the option to spend time and form a bond with their baby, whether that means dressing, taking photos, or just having the baby close to help deal with their loss. SAILS donated a CuddleCot to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in October 2020. The cost of a single cot is typically between $3000-$5000.
The SAILS website also provides a list of resources to help parents navigate the grieving process.
*4Lunas Heart Inc., an organization dedicated to raising awareness for congenital heart defects and supporting parents who’ve experienced infant loss. *Alaina’s Gift Inc. whose mission is to assist families and eliminate the stress of paying bills while grieving the loss of a child they never even got to bring home.
These are just a couple of resources you will find on the SAILS web page. There is also a remembrance wall listing names and birth/sleep dates for babies born sleeping.
Today, all 50 states honor those who have lost a child during pregnancy or infancy. Organizations like SAILS have made considerable contributions to reducing the stigma surrounding these tragedies.
To follow SAILS’ journey of healing, learn more about its work, donate, and/or join the mailing list, visit the organization’s website at bornintosilence.org. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @bornintosilence.
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