By the time she was pregnant with triplets, viewers of Illinois television anchor Stacey Skrysak knew all about her three-year struggle with infertility.
When she shared the heartbreak of trying to get pregnant, hundreds of viewers reached out to her, many sharing their own stories.
So it’s no surprise that when Stacey, 35, delivered triplets 17 weeks premature, she would share her journey – and the heartbreak she and her husband, Ryan Skrysak, 35, experienced after losing two of the triplets – on Springfield’s WICS.
“I went public sharing my experience with child loss in hopes of raising awareness about pregnancy and infant loss,” Stacey tells PEOPLE, noting October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. “I was blown away by the feedback and the amount of people sharing and commenting. It’s a taboo subject.
“But I want to talk about the children all day,” she says. “I want people to know they existed.”
When Stacey, of Springfield, went into labor at 22 weeks on June 23, 2013, she gave birth to one triplet, Abigail, who died two hours later, cradled in her arms.
After Abby’s birth at St. John’s Children’s Hospital, doctors tried to prevent the other babies from being born. They delayed the birth for 17 hours, but Stacey’s health turned critical as she went into septic shock. She then delivered Parker and Peyton, kept alive with wires and cords in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Five weeks later, Parker’s tiny body was weakened by a surgery that caused severe brain damage. He needed more surgeries, and doctors said Parker might not survive.
“We came to the point where we decided to stop care,” Stacey says. “We didn’t ever want him to suffer.
“It is the toughest thing you ever have to go through. It was devastating,” she continues. “We went to a store to find that last outfit for him and that was so heartbreaking.”
At 2 p.m. on August 16, 2013, all the cords and tubes were removed from Parker. For four hours, Stacey and Ryan read him picture books as they held him.
“I kept my composure,” she says. “I didn’t want his last moments to feel that we were sad. We just wanted him to know there was love.”
“At first, he closed his eyes and we said, ‘Okay, it’s time’ and four hours later we said, ‘Parker, you can go, you can go,’ ” she recalls. He died at 6:12 p.m., cradled in her arms. “The day after we said goodbye to him, it was peace,” she says. “I never felt anything like it.”
While struggling with the loss of their two newborns, they focused their attention on daughter Peyton’s survival. It wasn’t until she was three months old that Stacey knew she would pull through. “She just kept getting better and better,” she says, “and that’s what kept us going.”
At four months, Peyton, who is Abby’s identical twin, was able to leave the hospital. Now at 2 years old, she is thriving.
“People say that the loss of a child is the worst grief you can ever go through,” she says. “I completely agree. It’s a different kind of grief. Your children are supposed to outlive you. The best advice is to allow yourself to grieve.
“So many people think, ‘I need to be strong, the tears need to stop,’ and I was like that. I said to my therapist, ‘Why am I feeling so sad three months later?’ And she said, ‘This is not going to go away. You never move on, you move forward.’ ”
Stacey and Ryan share in their loss with many grieving parents. Some 48,000 babies die in his or her first year of life or are born stillborn each year in the U.S., according to the CDC. And one in 10 of every pregnant woman suffers a miscarriage, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
When Beth Winick of Decatur, Illinois, became pregnant with her fourth child, she connected with Stacey once the pregnancy developed complications at the halfway mark and she would be entering the same NICU as Stacey.
At 22 weeks, Winick gave birth on March 1, 2014 to a boy, Holden, who lived just a few hours. Winick turned to Stacey for support and found “hope, very much hope,” says Winick. “Even though I had the experience of loss, she gave this uplifting hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Indeed there was. Eight months after Holden’s death, Winick was once again pregnant. On July 15, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Atticus, her “rainbow baby” – a child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant/child loss that is like the rainbow after a storm.
Skrysak, meanwhile, keeps Abigail and Parker, her “angel babies,” close – their ashes stored in a heart-shaped box in her living room. Peyton “will always know she is a triplet,” says Skrysak, and the toddler walks around with two stuffed bears made by a non-profit for parents who lose a child. Each weighs what the late child weighed.
“She will put them on her nursery rocker and she will rock them at night. It is just precious, it’s as if she knows who they are,” she shares.
Skrysak and her husband have found that giving helps with their grief. They have donated hundreds of children’s books to the NICU, with a label that reads: “In memory of Parker and Abby.”
“It fills my heart,” she says. “This is a way to keep their memory alive.”