I was 8 years old when we lost my 3-month-old baby sister. I remember holding my middle sister’s hand as we passed through the hallways of the hospital. We walked into a room, crowded with people - family and friends, all women - who surrounded my mom. She wasn’t crying — she was howling, her pain too intense and horrifying for tears. She pulled me and my sister into the tightest of embraces, and she didn’t let us go as she told us our baby sister was gone.
As a child, it didn’t make any sense to me. One day, my beautiful, bright-eyed sister was there. She was happy, healthy, almost advanced for her age. She smiled and giggled, and we have video footage of her coo-ing the words “hello” back to us, when we would say it to her. It didn’t make sense that she could be gone so suddenly.
After she died, I watched my mother suffer, day after day. She was the one who found my sister, who had died of SIDS, sleeping in her crib during a nap. I worked hard to combat her grief, taking on the role of caretaker for our family. I left my mom love notes daily to encourage her to come out of bed, reminding her that there was still life to be lived with my sister and I. I soaked up every back rub and song my dad gave us at bedtime, knowing that now whenever he kissed us goodnight, or said goodbye, he did it in a manner of sincerity, in case it was the last time.
And I cared for my younger sister. We shared a bed, holding hands whispering secrets to each other until we fell asleep. We became the closest of allies. Later in life, we begged our parents to please have one more baby, and along came my baby brother, who is 12 years younger. I spent the days changing his diapers and swaddling him, tickling him and making him laugh… and at night, I would go into his nursery to check his breathing.
It’s no coincidence that when I grew up, I would become a nurse, caring for new mothers and babies. I wanted to be around women during their pregnancies and in their first weeks home. I think that what happened with my sister cemented in my mind the importance of care and support in young motherhood — love and worry, and sometimes grief, all wrapped together so tightly during this short period of time.
Although I witnessed my parents’ grief at a very young age, it was when I delivered my first baby girl, and held her in my arms, that I could finally even begin to try to understand what my mom had experienced. I will always remember that moment - delivering and holding that baby that you grew inside of you for 9 months. The love and bond is unbreakable, indescribable. It was that first week home from the hospital, in the middle of the night as I held her, that I thought of my mom. And while I will never know the level of agony and pain that she has lived through, for the first time, I understood it.
I became more interested in the loss of my sister and SIDS. What did we know about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, really? What did the latest research say? What could I do to teach parents about safe sleep and caring for their babies throughout their development; not just sleep, but feeding and bathing and diapering and learning?
Alongside my best friend and business partner, we grew our company NAPS and our online membership Nurture by NAPS. And yes, it’s chock full of education — evidenced-based research and content from real medical experts — who happen to also be moms. But it’s also full of support. Parents can log in to our ask-a-nurse forum, get expert advice within 24 hours, and learn new skills on our weekly live calls. We’ve worked hard to build a judgment-free space that takes parenting worries seriously — all your concerns are real concerns, and there are ways to make things better.
I spend my days talking to moms — just like my mom, just like myself — answering the questions parents are afraid to ask.
My sister’s death is a tragedy that I will carry in my heart for the rest of my days. The pain my mother suffered will be there as well. But when I think about that sweet little baby, I try to see not just the devastating loss, but also the way she changed me; the way her death shaped me into a life-long caregiver. A person who understands how much support can help a new parent. That’s what we hope NAPS is about; helping new parents navigate the worry and fear and love that comes with a new baby. We try to do it with humor and fun, but also understanding and gentleness. Because we understand — we really do. And we’re here to help.
About the Author
Emily Silver is a Family Nurse Practitioner and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She is also a co-founder of NAPS. NAPS supports women throughout pregnancy and up through early childhood with an in-depth online learning platform, Nurture by NAPS, a wide array of virtual classes and consultations and even in-home lactation and nursing care.