Paige Bears give parents something to hold onto

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Chris and Erin Mammen, of Farmington, donate Paige Bears to metro hospitals in memory of their stillborn daughter, Paige. The Mammens both work at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville.

Couple started donation campaign after stillbirth

When Erin Mammen became pregnant for the second time, her husband, Chris, began dreaming of the child’s future.

It all came into focus, from birth to college. At 20 weeks the Farmington couple learned the baby’s sex and named her Paige, their chosen girl’s name. At 24 weeks Erin went into labor, the same day — March 8, 2015 — she was told her daughter’s heart had stopped.

“I’m not going to say it’s like your heart is being pulled out, but all of that planning and vision and everything just gets removed, and you just feel so alone and lost and reach for whatever you can grab onto as a symbol of that,” Chris said.

“There’s a physical ache in your arms after you’ve lost a baby,” said Erin, who was told the stillbirth was probably caused by a cord accident that prevented Paige from receiving nutrients.

“You want to be holding a baby and there’s not a replacement for that, but having something to hold onto helps just a little.”

That’s what Paige Bears are for. To keep Paige’s memory alive and help other parents cope with stillborn or newborn loss, the Mammens donate stuffed bears to metro-area hospitals.

The bears are brown with a purple bow and come with a note of condolence and solidarity signed, “Love, Paige’s mom and dad.”

Erin started the project in 2015 to mark Paige’s June 28 due date. She donated the first five bears to Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, where she delivered Paige and where both Mammens work — Erin as a nutrition supervisor and Chris as an MRI technician.

Encouraged by the response, the couple kept at it, donating about 125 bears two years ago and 165 last year. This year they’re on pace to donate 180, said Erin, who attracts about $1,100 a year in crowdfunding to help support the effort.

Some 20 hospitals have received Paige Bears. Erin buys them in bulk at a discount and affixes the purple bow because “purple I consider my daughter’s color,” she said.

Most of the bears are donated in March, around Paige’s birthday. Recipients have included most of the Fairview Health Services hospitals.

“It’s just been bigger than I ever imagined,” said Erin, who promotes the campaign through Facebook and formed a partnership with the Star Legacy Foundation, which promotes stillbirth prevention, education and family support. “It’s been really cool.”

At first she wasn’t sure how the bears would be accepted.

“I didn’t really know how people would react to it, just because stillbirth has come a long way over the years, where babies are recognized as your babies, as they should be,” she said. “But 35-40 years ago, I’ve heard of many stories where women were just told, ‘Don’t see your babies; don’t look at them.’ It has come a long way, as it should have.”

Many of the bears have gone home with the families and become part of the household, Erin said. She and Chris, who have a 5-year-old daughter, Ellie, and a son, Grant, who turns 2 on July 9, will always make room for Paige’s memory.

“We named her, we buried her, she has her own little headstone with her name on it,” Erin said.

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