Support, Healing, Hope and the Comfort Cub

Support, Healing and Hope -these are all of the things I hoped to bring to a grieving mother when I created the world’s very first weighted therapeutic teddy bear called The Comfort Cub back in 1999.  When I was six months pregnant I got the devastating news that the beautiful baby boy I was carrying named George had a “life limiting” disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type II .  I was told he could die any day due to a heart attack or if I was lucky enough to make it to term, he would be killed during the birthing process.  The doctor said the best case scenario was that he would be born alive and die shortly thereafter.  Not much hope with a diagnosis like that, huh?

Well, Luckily, George was born alive and lived long enough for us to hug him, hold him, kiss him and to look into his big blue eyes and tell him we loved him.  It was a precious and sacred time I will never forget for as long as I live.

Along with the obvious emotional pain of his passing, I got some surprising physical symptoms as well.  My heart was in pain, I mean it literally hurt and my arms were aching.  When I held a weighted object in my arms immediately that physical pain went away.  (For me, it was a large terracotta pot that had been sent to the gravesite- which ended up being the right size, weight and circumference of a newborn baby.)

Marcella Johnson, founder of The Comfort Cub

I had no idea why the pain stopped, but it did.  I then read that it can be a common thing that happens when women lose a child that they seek weighted objects to hold.  I read of a woman who carried around a five-pound sack of flour, and a woman who carried around throw pillows with rope wrapped around them to give them heft.  What broke my heart and made me decide to do something was when I read about a woman who after her loss went to the grocery store after and found a pineapple the  exact length and weight of her baby.  She brought it home, wrapped it in her baby’s blanket and would rock with it in her arms to give her comfort.

I thought to myself, if it is happening to me and with these cases I have read about, there has to be a lot more women out there who have been suffering alone just like me.  I wanted to reach out and help them.  I wanted to make the road easier for them then it was for me.  One of the worst parts for me was leaving the hospital with no baby in my arms to hold.  It didn’t help that as I was being wheeled out they put me on the elevator with a mom who had her arms full of flowers, balloons and a beautiful, healthy baby boy in her arms. It took everything I had in me not to break down in tears.  I just wanted to sob and sob. Instead I bit my lip, mustered up a smile and told her how beautiful her baby was and what a lucky mom she was too. We chatted as we were wheeled all the way out to our cars together.  Her husband had pulled in right in front of us. My husband and I got to watch him leap out the car with excitement take photos of their first trip home and then load his wife and brand new baby into the car.  They drove off happily together.

And there my husband and I were with our empty arms, empty baby seat and empty hearts. That was one the most painful experiences of my life. After that I wanted to make sure no mother who lost a child would ever have to experience that sadness of leaving the hospital empty handed after losing a child the way I did.

With the funds we had intended to put aside for raising my son, my husband and I used the money to make and distributed The Comfort Cubs to every hospital in San Diego.  We also had a hotline (as this was in the days before the prominence of the internet back in 1999) that anyone in the USA and Canada who had lost a child could contact us and we would send them one for free.

Mind you, this was not any easy sell to the hospitals back then.  Nothing like this existed before and I got a lot of negative feedback.  “What?  You want to give a mom who has lost a child a teddy bear?  Isn’t that a little insulting?”,“Is there any science behind this?”  What?  You just know it in your heart to be true?  Sorry, that is not good enough.” I even had one of the women in my loss group tell me she thought it was “creepy.”  I almost gave up on the idea.  My heart was so broken and rejection was the last thing I could stand.  But something inside of me told me “No, keep pushing for this.  You know this is a good idea and that women will find comfort in this like you did.” So, I suggested to the hospitals just to give it a try and lo and behold they saw that many moms were responding positively to it

At first I made the cubs by hand and filled them with spilt peas to give them weight. I attached a hand written note that told them they were not alone. I wanted

to let them know there was another mother out there who had lived through this devastation and had survived and was even trying to help others on this journey too.  I thought it might give them hope that brighter days ahead were possible.

One of the people who got one of our original Comfort Cubs was a mom named Bridgett who had lost her sweet baby girl, Molly. She really liked the Comfort Cub but wanted a teddy bear the exact weight and length of her own baby.  So she took another teddy bear and stuffed it to the exact weight of her baby and that is how The Molly Bear was born!  Bridgett and I are friends and we are very proud of the success of Molly Bears as it all ties back to both George and Molly’s legacy and our both wanting to help other mothers who struggle with the greatest loss there is.

Since we started the program 17 years ago, science has now caught up with what we just instinctually knew by feeling comfort by holding a weighted teddy bear.  It is something called deep touch pressure which occurs by firm holding, hugging and squeezing. Holding something weighted in your arms and pulling it close to your chest actually causes your brain to release the neurotransmitters of serotonin and dopamine which are your body’s happy hormones.  When these hormones are released it decreases your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure and produces a feeling of calm in your nervous system.  As for the pain in my heart, I was experiencing something called Takotsubo Syndrome or stress -induced cardiomyopathy.  In layman’s terms it is called “broken-heart syndrome” where your heart is physically affected by the acute grief you are feeling at the loss of a loved one. It has only been given a clinical diagnosis in the last 6 years.

We are so grateful for the grant that has been given to Share to send a Comfort Cub to every chapter in the USA so that everyone will get a chance to hold and feel a Comfort Cub for themselves. We hope you will find support, healing and hope when you hug one too.

Share is deeply honored and grateful to be the recipient of a donation from Arthur Johnson, which enabled us to purchase enough Comfort Cubs to send one to each of our active Share chapters! A group of volunteers will be packaged them up and sent them out this month. Thank you, Arthur and Comfort Cubs for this very special gift!

 What an honor it is for us to participate in the 40th year of Share. We are so thankful that Share has been holding a torchlight for all of us grieving mothers for so long. We need each other desperately to survive this almost indescribable pain of losing your baby. Thank you for leading the way for moms like me. Without your light, we could not find our way out of the darkness. It is in this light that we find the strength to help each other. 

Thank you Share and Happy 4oth!! -The Comfort Cub Team

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