When Marlena Diedrich and her husband Joseff learned they were expecting twin girls, they were ecstatic. Like most parents, they hoped and prayed for a healthy pregnancy, and for the majority of the pregnancy, all was well.
However, at 30 weeks, Marlena went into labor. Doctors were able to stop it, but they discovered that one of the girls – already named Grace – was under distress and wasn’t taking in any amniotic fluid. Grace was given a very poor prognosis, and Marlena was transported to a different hospital with a new team of doctors and a more advanced neonatal intensive care unit.
She was told she must remain there on bed rest with the hopes of making it to 36 weeks’ gestation. Doctors were unable to diagnose Grace or determine if Elle, her twin, was going to be affected. Because she kept going into labor, Marlena was on multiple medications. And though her husband and mother were able to be with her, she still dealt with a great deal of sadness and frustration.
“This was the black hole of my life,” says Marlena. “We talked a lot about what was going to happen and what could happen. We knew we were going to have to make this decision of what we were going to do when the babies came. One might not be living. They both may be in the NICU. I was devastated. I was angry. I had a lot of anger because I took care of myself and my babies, but felt guilty wondering what I did wrong. My emotions were out of control and all very negative. I was really scared. We would have been such great parents to twin girls.”
But while she was in the hospital, Marlena started to realize that her situation wasn’t as bad as some of the other mothers’. There were women in the hospital who had come from other states and were alone there. Some women were only 23 weeks along and had months to go. Marlena was able to have her family with her as well as her extended support network, which included her friends and her pastor. In that way, Marlena knew she was blessed.
After seven weeks in the hospital, at 37 weeks’ gestation, Marlena gave birth to her girls, but Grace was stillborn. Elle, however, was healthy enough to go home right away. Marlena was glad to be home, but at the same time, she was still dealing with a great deal of emotion. She had a newborn to care for, but she was also mourning Grace. And she couldn’t stop thinking about those women in the hospital, alone and worrying about their babies. Marlena wanted to help them, and she also wanted a way to remember Grace.
“I wanted to show that my baby, now in Heaven, was a human being, and though she didn’t have a life here on Earth, her life still had meaning,” explains Marlena. “So we started the Acts of Grace Foundation as a tribute. We go to hospitals and provide social activities so the women can get out of their rooms. They might not have everything in common with each other, but at this moment in time, they are in the hospital together, and they all want their babies to be okay. That’s what connects them.”
While Marlena and Joseff both work full-time and care for Elle and their son, they find the time to run The Acts of Grace Foundation. Acts of Grace holds game and craft nights to bring the women together for support, provides necessities like shampoo, and also gives out luxuries like books and DVDs to the women. They currently do most of their work in the Denver area, but they send packages to other hospitals and are hoping to expand.
In the five years since Acts of Grace was founded, Marlena has been able to help over 1,500 women. All of the women are from different backgrounds – some placing their children for adoption, some in unstable relationships – but all of them are concerned for their children. And right alongside Marlena and these women is Elle.
“Elle knows about Grace. She loves to go with us and go into the hospital rooms and give the women the gifts, hand out ice cream, push the wheelchairs. And the women love to see her. We explain a lot to her, but I don’t know how much she fully understands. She talks about Grace a lot and tells her classmates that she has a twin and she’s up in Heaven and that we’re all going to see her when we go to Heaven.”
The number-one way you can help the Acts of Grace Foundation is by spreading the word about them. You can also donate books, movies, and personal hygiene products. Additional volunteer opportunities are listed here.
If you’re able to donate financially, Acts of Grace has a $7 on the Seventh program where you can set up a recurring donation of $7 on the seventh day of each month. Just visit this page to sign up.