Robin Allen was 38 weeks into her second pregnancy when her doctor broke the devastating news: there was no heartbeat.
Allen was sent home, where a baby shower had been planned for the following day. She and her husband were told to decide whether they wanted to deliver the fetus or have it removed by cesarean section, and whether they would bury the body or have it cremated.
"There are so many things I don't remember (from those days). You go into complete shock, but you still have to make all of these decisions, and you haven't ever considered these things," said Allen, 49.
Marissa Allen was stillborn May 27, 1995. Allen and her husband were reluctant to see or hold her, but a nurse named Betsy Lurey encouraged them to spend time with her and even take some photos.
The Allens were grateful for Lurey's guidance and followed her advice. They left the hospital empty-handed and brokenhearted, sharing the elevator ride to the lobby with a glowing mother and her newborn.
"There are so many things I'd encourage hospitals to do differently," said Allen. "They really should segregate mothers without babies, because you can hear babies crying and it's torture." Allen went home to care for her first child, daughter Alexa, then 2. She started attending a support group hosted by the organization Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, where she met and befriended several women who shared their own losses. Many, including Allen, intended to try again.
Just nine months after she lost Marissa, Robin became pregnant. Seven and a half weeks later, she miscarried.
When she got pregnant the fourth and final time, a change in her husband's job forced the family to move from Atlanta to Charlotte.
Although it was a homecoming for Allen, who grew up on Carmel Road, the stress of selling their home, settling in a new one and taking care of a toddler took its toll.
Allen went into preterm labor just 25 weeks into the pregnancy and was put on bed rest before ultimately being admitted to the hospital. Doctors treated her carefully until 35 weeks, when the baby was induced.
Son Nikolas was a robust 8 pounds, 5 1/2 ounces, but he entered the world with several health problems that required surgeries and close monitoring. Allen put all her energy into caring for him and Alexa.
Losing two babies within a year and suffering through an extremely difficult pregnancy would have been traumatic enough, but Allen also was losing her marriage.
"Marissa's death, without question, pushed us apart," Allen said. The couple divorced after 14-and-a-half years together.
She said she gained knowledge from each of her pregnancies, births and losses, and she decided to share that experience to empower other women.
Allen became a facilitator for the Carolinas chapter of Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support and has been helping other parents through losses for the past 12 years.
Allen works as a doula, providing physical, emotional and informational support to mothers before, during and after birth, a role she often fills for women who have suffered a loss and are dealing with extreme anxiety.
"You cannot have a death and not have fear, the rest of your life, that you will suffer another one," said Allen. "I've been there. I get it. And I really care about these women."
Several years ago, Allen's work expanded when a friend introduced her to reflexology. Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific points in the feet, hands, face and ears that have a dynamic connection with the rest of the human body.
The practice is used to reduce stress, improve circulation, alleviate pain and even enhance athletic performance. Allen completed coursework at the Laura Norman School of Reflexology before opening her own clinic, Namaste Wellness, across the street from Phillips Place on Fairview Road.
She advises those who seek a session to select a reflexologist who has gone to a certified school.
"A lot of massage therapists call themselves reflexologists, but to do it properly involves careful study, specific skill, faithful practice and extensive knowledge of techniques," Allen said.
Allen sees her practice as one more way she can help other people. Now living in the SouthPark area with Alexa, 18, and Nikolas, 14, she said she has found peace and purpose in her life.