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Loss of child inspires Sebastopol couple to help others

When Chris and Amie Lands met at Johnny Garlic's 13 years ago, it was love at first sight. That love held them together through periods of deep sorrow and loss, and now motivates them to help others through the trying times they experienced.

On May 9, the Sebastopol couple will be part of Santa Rosa's Human Race, raising money for a nonprofit effort to soothe other parents who must leave the maternity ward empty-handed.

On Amie's 30th birthday, in 2010, Chris and Amie found out she was pregnant. She miscarried and got pregnant again.

This time she carried the baby with no indication that it was anything other than normal. The baby they named Ruthie Lou arrived three weeks early and was immediately rushed into the neonatal intensive care unit.

'When she didn't cry, we knew something was wrong,' Amie said. 'Chris followed the doctors, and I was left alone in the delivery room with my fear.'

Ruthie Lou stayed in the NICU for six days before Amie was allowed to hold her for the first time. Amie remembers marveling at the child's gorgeous head of hair and how beautiful and perfect she looked.

'There is nothing in this world more wonderful and amazing than finally holding that sweet little angel you have dreamed about for so long,' she said.

It took nearly two more weeks of testing for doctors to discover that Ruthie Lou had a nonhereditary chromosomal abnormality that meant she had no chance of surviving. To ease the process of her inevitable death, the couple and their daughter were invited to move into the George Mark Children's House in San Leandro, a free-standing palliative care facility.

'We were able to stay together in the same room as a family, and Ruthie Lou was no longer hooked up to machines,' Amie said

For 13 days, they fell asleep with their daughter between them, took walks together in the garden and held her while watching the sunsets. Friends and family came to visit, making lots of memories and taking lots of pictures.

On Amie's 31st birthday and with Chris cuddling Ruthie Lou, the child took her last breath. She was 33 days old.

'My husband has the largest heart of any man I have ever met,' Amie said. 'It's amazing that you can be with someone for 10 years and still continue to learn things that make you love them more and more each day. Ruthie Lou gave us that gift.'

In 2012, exactly one year after Ruthie Lou's due date, they welcomed a son, Reid Warren Lands. Today, he is a healthy, fun-loving, rambunctious toddler, and any fears that something might go wrong have long since melted away.

'I hold Reid in my arms and stare at Ruthie Lou's pictures and compare their similarities, their differences,' Amie said. 'I see a lot of her in him. I love being able to see their connection to one another..'

For a long time, Amie asked herself what they were going to do with their grief, how they could make it better. The answer was always the same: reach out to others. To that end, the couple founded The Ruthie Lou Foundation and began to offer resources, support and hope to families whose babies had died before, during or shortly after birth.

Their mission is to provide those families with comfort boxes before they leave the hospital, boxes that contain two hand-made blankets, a digital SD memory card and photo album, hand and foot imprint mold, memento bags, soothing tea and an aromatherapy candle, as well as a l list of resources and online support.

The pilot program, with input from the nursing staff, is being tested at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa. More than a dozen comfort boxes were given away this year.

'The Foundation has been awaiting its creation since our family was in the hospital and since our time at George Mark Children's House,' Amie said. 'It is an honor for us to finally be able to give back.'

More info: Ruthieloufoundation.org.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Amie Lands teaches at Windsor Middle School. An earlier version of the story misidentified the school.

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