- Associated Press - Saturday, July 30, 2016

ODENVILLE, Ala. (AP) - The path to healing after the loss of a child is a slow one.

No one knows that better than Abby and Cary Nicholas, of Odenville, who lost their beloved twins at 22 weeks gestation.

“The first year it was so overwhelming,” Abby said. “We couldn’t believe it actually happened.”

In an attempt to give themselves and others “a little peace,” the Nicholases and their friends, Justin and Loni Hodge, who lost a daughter at 20 weeks gestation, founded the Baby Steps Memorial Run eight years ago.

The event supports The Amelia Center at Children’s of Alabama, which provides counseling and support groups for those who have lost loved ones.

This year’s 5K and one mile memorial run is set for Saturday, Aug. 13 at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park in McCalla. Online registration is open through July 31.

The event also features live music, children’s activities, door prizes and race awards. The race will conclude with a balloon release.

The services provided by The Amelia Center were invaluable to Abby in the months following her loss, and she wanted to make sure those services were available to anyone who needs them.

“They provided a comfort that friends and family couldn’t provide,” she explained. “They were able to help me get through the struggle.”

Being able to help other families through Baby Steps, also gives Abby and her loss a purpose.

“We wanted to do something to make a difference in remembrance of our children,” she said.

The Baby Steps Memorial Run has since raised tens of thousands of dollars to help support The Amelia Center.

“Since we, the Nicholas and Hodge families, started the Baby Steps Run in 2009, it’s allowed not only for the Amelia Center to provide more services to grieving families it has helped our families build bonds with families who attend each year in honor of their child,” Abby said. “Each year we have new faces at the run, but we also see some who have been with us since the beginning.

“Over the years I have seen The Amelia Center add new support groups and host various events to help children as well as adults cope with their loss,” she added. “I can only imagine that our race provides funding to allow this to take place. When we make our donation each year, we tell them to use it for anything they see fit for the center.”

And, the race itself, puts smiles on the faces of grieving families.

“It is just a day we can come together to remember our loved ones and friends and not feel so isolated from the world,” Abby said.

Braden Lee and Brody Lee

Abby and Cary Nicholas were high school sweethearts.

“We got married young but had talked about wanting a family,” she said. “I never imagined it would be such a long road.”

The couple spent years trying to get pregnant and finally resorted to in vitro fertilization (IVF).

“I enjoyed being an aunt but wanted to experience raising a child of my own,” Abby said, of what drove her to keep trying to get pregnant. “I longed for the love of being a mom and seeing Cary be a great dad.”

The couple learned they were pregnant in late 2007. Shortly after, they learned they were blessed with twins.

On April 12, 2008, though, tragedy struck. At just 22 weeks pregnant, Abby went into labor.

“It was kind of unexplained,” she recalled. “I was literally sitting at work, and I didn’t have a clue that I was in labor.”

The Nicholas’ twin boys, Braden Lee and Brody Lee, were stillborn and weighed just under a pound each.

“We never got any answers about why it happened,” Abby said. Because of that, she said she blamed herself.

“I wondered what I did,” she said. “It was really hard in that first year.”

Through individual counseling at The Amelia Center, Abby learned that what happened wasn’t her fault. “There was obviously some medical reason, but we don’t know what it is,” she said.

Still longing to become parents, Abby and Cary finally decided to put their fears aside and got pregnant again through IVF in 2011.

“The pregnancy was hard with him because I feared that loss,” Abby said, but she gave birth to their healthy son, Bryant, on Mother’s Day 2012.

“Once we walked through our house with (Bryant), we had a little bit of relief,” she said.

Abby said her son knows about his brothers and loves to participate in the memorial run.

“(Bryant) has definitely been a blessing to us,” she said. “He has helped us heal.”

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