Gail Fasolo's first child, a girl she named Christina, was stillborn just a week before Gail's due date in February 1991. Still in despair the following Christmas, the Ohio woman walked sadly past the "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments at Sears. She would have no baby to shower with gifts.
Then she spotted a gold-sequined heart emblazoned with the word "Hope." She realized that hope was what she desperately needed. She bought the ornament and hung it in her den at home.
"After Christmas I took down all my ornaments but left up the hope heart," she recalls. The message of hope sustained her, and a year and a half later she conceived again. During her pregnancy, she often thought of others facing the same challenges.
She made some hope hearts out of felt and gave them to six friends who were trying to conceive after a loss. "It was like therapy during my pregnancy," she says. Within two years all six women had babies. She continued to send hope hearts to women as far away as Canada, England and Japan, whom she heard about from friends. Many conceived and sent back pictures of their new babies. Now she gets many names from the SHARE Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support group newsletter. At first, she put the pictures on her mirror, then on a small heart-shaped poster. Now the pictures-142 of them at last count-cover her closet door.
"You shed tears putting these up because you know what they went through to get to this point," she says.
On each heart, she embroiders the word "hope" in pink or blue thread, then edges the heart in pearls or beads and adds lace and a bow or a little rose. Fasolo, who lives in Maryland Heights, Ohio, now has a 7 1/2-year-old son, Mario, who likes bugs, dinosaurs and climbing trees. Yet, she still thinks daily of Christina, who died of a blood clot in her umbilical cord.
With each heart Fasolo tries to include a personal note along with the story of the hope hearts. Sometimes she includes a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier:
Behind the cloud the starlight lurks,
Through showers the sunbeams fall;
For God, who loveth all his works,
Has left his Hope with all.
Several of the women have become her pen pals, and they exchange letters on their children's growth. "I'm reaping the results of my efforts by sharing the joy now, not just the sorrow," she says.
She stresses that the hope communicated by the hearts is meant to transcend the wish for another baby.
"It's for hope in the midst of grief. Hope in heaven. Hope that God will pull them through. Not everyone goes on to have another baby. For them it's hope for recovery and to be able to live again," she explains.
She has come to think of her eight years of crafting hope hearts as her personal ministry.
"It's what I love to do," she says. "I feel God has led me in this direction and opened doors to me to reach out to other women. When I first started out with my little six hearts I never dreamed I'd be making hundreds of them."
In March 1995, Baptist missionaries Kathy Cooksey and her husband, Ronny, were in Texas joyfully awaiting the birth of their second child and preparing to leave for their first church-planting mission in Nagasaki, Japan. Everything changed when their baby, David, was born with an underdeveloped heart. Despite heroic surgery, he lived only 26 days.
Cooksey and her husband were working through their grief when they received one of Gail Fasolo's hope hearts. She continued to send inspirational notes during their stay in Japan.
"At that time I really, really did want another baby. It was nice to know somebody cared," remembers Cooksey, currently on stateside rotation in Irving, Texas, in preparation for a move to Sapporo, Japan, in May. The Cookseys now have four children and are expecting a baby in March.
Fasolo has thought about concluding her personal ministry, but the requests for hope hearts keep coming-so much so that she sometimes struggles to keep them from taking over her life.
"You have to set your priorities and just do the things that are most important. There's way too many people with losses [for one woman to respond to them all]," she says. "I could do this day and night.... Instead, I set aside one day a week for this and I do what I can in one week."
Setting clear goals and firm limits has helped her avoid burnout, she says. And finding ways to keep her daughter's memory alive has brought her great comfort, even joy.
Last Feb. 9, the day after the anniversary of Christina's burial, Fasolo wrote in her journal, "I never thought I'd look back and see any good coming out of losing my first baby, but now it is easy to do so. Other women have inspired me, and I've tried to be an inspiration for them."
In some of the letters that accompany her hope hearts, she writes that with hope, dreams, prayer and a mother's love, anything is possible.
"In every heart I make, a little bit of Christina lives on," she says. "I promised her that the world would know that she had been here."