Nicole Olson

April 27, 2023
A photo of Nicole Olson
Nicole Olson

Supporting parents who experience baby loss

Hundreds of cheerful, stuffed animals crowded a room in UCHealth Greeley Hospital’s women and children’s unit last fall, an effort of collective kindness by staff to provide comfort to parents who had lost a baby.

One note, affixed to a golden-brown teddy bear, read: “Grief is just love with no place to go.”

A birth center nurse for 14 years, charge nurse Nicole Olson has cared for patients through many different outcomes.

“It’s the happiest place in the world until it is not,” Olson said. “Unfortunately, we have to tell them, sometimes, their baby doesn’t have a heartbeat. The impact of that can be huge.”

She saw recently how meaningful a small gift of comfort – a teddy bear – was for a family that lost a baby girl, so Olson invited her colleagues to donate perhaps a dozen bears, but generous staff and providers gave a total of 299 stuffed animals. Olson donated the bears to 3HopefulHearts, a local nonprofit offering support to bereaved parents and families. The organization makes each teddy bear weigh the exact weight of the lost baby by swapping out the stuffing with heavier-weighted materials. The gift is presented to parents before they leave the hospital, along with resources for further support.

A photo of teddy bears
Teddy bears with notes of kindness. Photo courtesy of Nicole Olson.

“Just the thought that when they’re missing her, they can hold her, really touches my heart,” Olson said. “We try to start them off on the right foot for their grief journey.”

At the time, the nonprofit was nearly out of bears, and Olson was working on a research project around bereavement care and wanted to help. She spoke at staff meetings throughout the hospital to spread awareness and promote the teddy bear drive. Patients who could benefit from the program – or whose feelings are triggered just from being back at the hospital – might be visiting the hospital on other units, and she wanted to make sure colleagues knew about the option.

A few days before the drive ended, something appeared in the birth center’s pneumatic tube that made everyone laugh and smile: A teddy bear with a note of kindness. Twenty minutes later, another appeared. Eventually, there was a table full of colorful drawings and bears with little notes such as, “Swaddles, snuggles, birthday cuddles.’’

ICU nurse Aimée Olson planned the surprises with ICU colleagues. She was inspired by Nicole’s presentation at their staff meeting and coordinated the 40-bear donation.

“When Nicole told us about the teddy bear drive, we thought it was such a wonderful gesture,” Aimée said. “Not just so the families had something to take home with them and snuggle, but also for the nurses to be able to give a gift to the families which, I suspect, would help the nurses cope as well, so they don’t have to discharge them empty-handed.”

Nicole said the same day they dropped off all the teddy bears to 3HopefulHearts, one of them was already in a parent’s arms at Greeley Hospital less than eight hours later.

“It was really cool to see the hospital pull together for something people don’t really like to talk about,” she said. “It’s kind of taboo for people to talk about that, and here we raised 299 bears for that. The more you talk about it, the easier it gets.”

Birth center nurse manager Jillian Brakovec said Nicole has a passion for supporting patients experiencing loss.

“The participation of the entire Greeley Hospital team in donating to this cause was truly inspiring,” she said.

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About the author

Robert Allen loves meeting new people and learning their stories, and he's continually inspired by the patients, staff and providers he meets at UCHealth.

A journalist for 12 years, he joined UCHealth after reporting and editing at the Detroit Free Press. He is the author of Fading Ads of Detroit, a book exploring connections between classic Detroit brands found on ghost signs and in the personal histories of Detroit residents. He previously reported for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Summit Daily News and Montrose Daily Press.

His outdoor adventures include scrambling summits, hunting powder stashes via snowboard and rafting whitewater. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from Oklahoma State University and MBA from Colorado State University. He lives in Windsor with his wife, Rachel, and their obstinate pug, Darla.