Today we’d like to introduce you to Peyton Lauderdale.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
An unexpected, yet welcome addition to our family, I was due with our third child in late March 2014. My husband Justin and I decided to keep the gender of our baby a surprise, so when our baby was delivered via emergency C-section on April 6, 2014, I was in a haze when I found out we had a little boy. A little boy! Because of the anesthesia, my husband had the unfortunate task of telling me repeatedly as I came out of the haze, yet I was thrilled and excited each time he told me. Unfortunate, because he knew what I didn’t. He knew that our boy was only going to stay with us a short time. James Marcus’ eighteen hour life was short, yet full and we had the great joy of giving a lifetime of love in just a few short hours. Surrounded by family and friends that poured into our room and spilled out into the hallway at Cook Children’s Hospital, we said hello and goodbye to our precious son.
Burying a child is infinitely harder than anything I’d done up until that point and remains so to this day. That being said, we had a funeral for our child, a public way to say goodbye, alongside the people we love. A funeral doesn’t fix anything, but our baby was publicly acknowledged by the world. Within a week, cards and letters began to pour in, much as they do when any loved one passes away. There was something different about many of these letters; along with the normal sentiments expressed after the death of a loved one, other mothers began sharing their babies with me. Babies I had no idea existed until now. Babies they may have only shared with their husband or very close friends. Babies they somehow felt at ease about sharing now, with another mom who lost her own. These letters served a greater purpose in the formation of our organization, but I had no idea at the time.
Fast forward several months and I was well into an established routine with a counselor and leading a women’s Bible study at my church. Both of these activities played a vital role in the creation of Gathering Hope, starting with Bible study. While working through my homework one day I saw a picture of….something. It was a dark room with candlelight, but the scene was gone from my head, just as quickly as it entered. Just recently, I found where I wrote down the idea for a memorial for grieving mothers, an idea that I shared with my counselor later that week. I had no idea what it would look like, how I would get people to come, or where something like that would be held, but I think I knew it was something I should do…and I was secretly hoping my counselor would tell me that it was much too early in my journey to plan something like this. Not only did she think it was a great, she nurtured the idea. When she told he that she had a speaker for my event (“I’m hosting and event??”), it started to feel real. It felt natural to approach my church with the idea and things began to move at a rapid pace. Volunteers lined up, people offered their talents and Gathering Hope was born.
October 22, 2015 was a cloudy day. Already edgy with nerves, I was convinced, as I had been through the entire process that no one would come. Topping off my nerves with a heavy downpour, thunder and lightning, women began to arrive and our program began. Scripture, prayer and music filled the air, it was beautiful. Rain continued to fall throughout the evening–I can remember hearing it pound against the building as I prayed over the women that braved the weather that evening. As we began the second half of our program, table discussions started when we heard what sounded like an explosion outside. That explosion, what we later learned was a transformer being struck by lightning, was key to the rest of the evening–we were without power. No lights. No electricity. Only candles. There was the picture I’d seen in my head months before, only I was watching it happen before my eyes. Women leaned in closer, somehow more at ease in the candlelight, and shared their stories.
When we were saying our goodbyes, there were so many women who expressed gratitude and a desire for more. I was in awe and full of my own gratitude for their willingness to take part in the event, but in the weeks and months after, I began to doubt my ability to do it again. An entire year passed by and I hadn’t planned a second event. I prayed over the decision to do it again. Asked others to do the same, but felt myself running from it. Everyone had more confidence in me than I had in myself. In January of 2017, I was in the process of considering some other volunteer opportunities when my husband surprised me by sharing that he thought I should instead host another Gathering Hope event, It was a jolt to my senses–Justin was supportive, but had never been direct about the timing, or whether I should even pursue a future for Gathering Hope. His encouragement, along with a private Facebook message from a woman named Carol Vantine, led me down a path I could not have imagined.
Carol lost her son, Matthew, August 29, 2010 and in January of 2017 began blogging about her experience. When she began to dream about how to help other women, she started in the same place, her church. A fellow member and mutual friend connected us and the timing couldn’t have been better. Our friendship grew close at a rapid rate and we both had trouble believing that we hadn’t known each other a full year by the time we produced Gathering Hope 2017. Even now, it’s hard to believe that after two cups of coffee, we agreed to take on planning an event together, but there wasn’t any question for either one of us that it was the right move. This time, even more volunteers signed on, musicians shared their talents once again, and a message of hope led the way for a beautifully encouraging evening.
During the planning for our 2017 event, we both realized we had a heart for the ministry to grow. Knowing that one in four pregnancies ends in a loss, we felt that Gathering Hope could and should expand in our area and for the long term. We’re both dreamers, but Carol was the catalyst for shifting our ministry into a nonprofit. I knew that growth and longevity were in our future, but I didn’t know how that would evolve. After a dinner meeting with our husbands, we collectively decided to pursue nonprofit status. Moving quickly, both of our communities rallied behind us, supporting our efforts with the finances to achieve this goal. Shortly after Gathering Hope 2017, our attendees and volunteers confirmed the idea with anticipatory talk of “next year.” In March of 2018 our certification was approved, just 7 months after we verbalized our commitment to each other and three months after officially submitting our paperwork.
Today we’re in the midst of planning our third event, where we hope to host well over 100 moms. Each year we make a few adjustments, learning from the last event. We are so excited to see what takes shape over the next few years!
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Nothing about losing a child makes for a smooth journey. Trauma and overwhelming sadness follow, not just for families who experience late term losses, and much of the process is lonely, hard work. For the most part, I had a very supportive system in place, with family, friends and weekly counseling sessions, but if there’s one thing I know from doing this kind of work it’s that there are plenty of parents who do not have a safety net for their grief. There’s something about losing a baby that makes you feel like there is no one else who has ever been in your shoes, and to some respect, it’s true. I’m the only mom that’s ever lost James Lauderdale and he is an incredibly special, very missed little boy. However, I am not the only woman that has ever lost a baby and that is what bringing so many moms into the same room has the power to do–show them that they are not alone. They know that each woman, to their left and to their right, is missing someone from their family that they love very much.
The very nature of what we do for women who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss is not a subject that is widely discussed, which can be a challenge. The conversation surrounding this topic is slowly shifting, however there aren’t many people who want to talk about the death of a baby. But we venture to look at things differently. We want to give space to the woman who desires to talk about her child who lived, if only for a few weeks in the womb. We want to give space for women to be seen as a mother, to share her baby and her story. We want to encourage moms and equip them with the knowledge that while know what it’s like to grieve, there is comfort in community and hope on this side of Heaven.
While we’ve faced obstacles, and have no reason to expect that we won’t experience more as we move forward and grow, it’s been fascinating to see the beautiful partnerships that have formed, starting with my partner, Carol. Out of our friendship and mutual loss, Gathering Hope continues to reach many different types of women: new leaders within the organization, women who need support, women who feel permission and courage to share their experience, some for the first time. All of these new connections inspire us to keep going, which can be difficult when our own grief surfaces again. When we see new relationships forming, women supporting women, Carol and I know that we’re on the right path.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Gathering Hope story. Tell us more about the business.
Gathering Hope started off as a onetime event, but over the years has evolved into an annual event, at the request of so many of our guests and volunteers. Each time we share what we do, the response is most often, “What a needed ministry”, usually because miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss has touched their life in one way or another. Sometimes it’s personal, but if it isn’t, they almost always mention a sister, their own mother, a cousin or friend who has walked this path and how they wish something like Gathering Hope had been available for them.
When we began moving toward becoming our own organization, we knew that maintaining our larger event was vital, but decided that our desire to guide women toward the resources they may need in between our annual gatherings would also be important to future development. Over the last several months, we’ve worked to develop relationships with mental health professionals, other organizations that provide different avenues for assistance, and authors to build up the resources where we can point moms for ongoing care. We also host two different Facebook groups, our main group for anyone who has experienced a loss and then a second group specifically for pregnancy after a loss. Members of those groups do not have to attend any Gathering Hope events to be able to take advantage of what our online community offers. The kindness exchanged between the mothers in our groups is something really special.
This October 14, our third gathering will take place at The Summit in Aledo. The event will include live music, two guest speakers, Sarah Philpott, author of Loved Baby: 31 Devotions Helping You Grieve and Cherish Your Child after Pregnancy Loss and Ashley Judd, a local speaker and friend with a powerful message to share. The second half of the evening is geared toward connection with the other moms in attendance. We believe this is the most powerful part of what we do, guiding discussion among moms who have experienced loss at all stages, some only recently and some years ago. Sharing your story is *never* required, but we’ve found that some moms just need a little time to warm up and hear from a few others first. We consider it an honor to help mothers gain the courage to share with each other, because of the strength and bonding that occurs when they do. You might see tears shed, but you’ll also see smiles and some laughter, too. It’s a beautiful thing when women come together not only to remember their babies, but also to be seen and heard by others who have walked a similar path. Women leave encouraged, filled with hope and a sense of community. The relationships that form as a result of our gatherings is why we continue to pursue a future for Gathering Hope.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
For me, luck has very little to do with the story of Gathering Hope. While we would give anything to have our sons on this earth with us, Carol and I are both slowly realizing this is a calling in our lives. We’ve both seen God work in miraculous ways, most of them behind the scenes, before and after our events, and in the relationships that have blossomed out of loss. I can say that faith has played a huge role in my healing process and in the formation of this organization.
- Gathering Hope 2018 is a free event. Registration is required through our website
- Sponsorship opportunities are available. Contributions support our 2018 event and ongoing program development to serve a population of mothers who have previously grieved in silence. Together we can give them each a voice.
- Address: Aledo, Texas
- Website: www.gatheringhope.net
- Phone: 940-268-5412
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/gathering_hope
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/gatheringhopedfw
Whitney Lott (Milk + Honey Birth Photography)