Eight years ago this month, Marcia Villarreal and her husband Gil welcomed a daughter to the world.
“She was wrapped in blankets right away after she was born, and at the time we didn’t know whether she was a girl or boy yet,” recalls Villarreal, already a mother to two boys and stepmom to a third. “We felt very thankful to be having another child at all, but we’d been hoping for a girl. So when we met her for the first time, we felt so grateful. So blessed.”
As happy as the family was after the baby’s birth, Villarreal recognized the experience as a bittersweet one. Before her daughter—her last child—was born, she had suffered four miscarriages over the course of about six years.
“For our family, there was something that felt redemptive about our daughter’s birth after our losses,” she says. “But we know that so many others never get that chance.”
Miscarriage is defined as the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks gestation. According to national estimates, approximately 15 percent of known pregnancies in the U.S. will end this way—with even more likely happening in mothers unaware. The majority of miscarriages occur in the first trimester, as they are far less common beyond 12-13 weeks. (The loss of a child after 20 weeks is known as stillbirth, which occurs in about one percent of pregnancies nationwide.)
In 2010, long before her daughter was born, Villarreal experienced two of her miscarriages during that calendar year. She and her husband were heartbroken, feeling alone, and struggling to make sense of their losses without much support.
“At that time there were no resources in the valley that we could find to help us get through the pain,” she recalls. “Aside from paying for private counseling, there weren’t any groups or other services for parents in our situation. What we needed was a community of people who understood what we were going through.”
Villarreal connected with a childhood friend, Amanda Emerson, who was also experiencing pregnancy loss. Together they felt led to start a group for local families like theirs, providing support, education, and resources for healing. By August 2011 the group held its first public gathering, and has been going strong ever since.
“We named it One Moment,” Villarreal recalls. “We wanted to encompass all situations, all emotions, all kinds of pregnancy-related losses. It’s the one moment you see the positive lines on the pregnancy test, or negative ones if you’re struggling with infertility. The one moment you first see your baby on an ultrasound. The one moment they tell you there’s no heartbeat. The one moment you say hello and goodbye to your stillborn child. The days of being worry-free are over once you experience a loss, so we wanted our name to reflect the ‘moments’ that change your life forever.”
Although Emerson is no longer involved with One Moment, Villarreal has stayed on, carrying the group toward its 10th anniversary this year. The organization has expanded into a full-fledged 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides numerous regular services to the community.
“We hold our Walk For Hope every September, when families gather to honor and celebrate their babies who are no longer with them,” Villarreal says of the annual event now held at her family’s property in Silt. “We’ve developed incredible relationships with other parents over the years and been able to connect in ways that are difficult to explain.”
In addition to the walk, One Moment holds separate monthly support meetings for the Roaring Fork Valley and Eagle River Valley communities. Villarreal facilitates both, and they’re open to anyone dealing with pregnancy-related loss: mothers, fathers, siblings, or grandparents. She sends cards to families on the anniversaries of babies’ deaths, and leaves care packages for newly grieving mothers and fathers at the hospital. As a certified bereavement doula, Villarreal also attends the labor and delivery of stillbirth pregnancies. And sometimes, if parents wish, she engages her skills as a professional photographer to capture images of the sensitive, fleeting minutes that families have together with their stillborn infants after delivery.
All of the services are donated and free of charge through One Moment. One couple that Villarreal recently served, Jake and Whitney Reddy, suddenly lost their full-term daughter Grace in August 2020. Villarreal got the call from staff, dropped everything and rushed to Vail Health Hospital where they had delivered.
"We were heartbroken and in complete shock," Whitney recalls. "We didn't know who Marcia [Villarreal] was, but she just came in and immediately was such a sweet and comforting presence for us."
Jake adds, "At the time we didn't understand how valuable it was to have Marcia there with us. Looking back, I think our healing journey started there with her in the hospital." Villarreal gently helped the Reddys take photos with baby Grace. Although the couple found it difficult at the time, they say that they're now incredibly grateful for the images of their daughter.
"Marcia will always have a place in my heart because of what she did for us during that time," Whitney says. About a week after their hospital visit, the Reddys drove to Silt to meet with the Villarreal family and talk about their experience. The ultimate purpose of One Moment, Villarreal says, is to help families like theirs find community with others who know exactly what they’re going through.
“At the Walk For Hope, at our monthly meetings—parents can look around and see others who understand how they’re feeling,” she explains. “It’s not a club that any of us want to be in, but here we are. You know that mom gets it, that dad gets it. And together we can all be a little less alone.”
Despite how common pregnancy and infant loss is, cultural taboos around the subject persist. Through personal experiences in her work with One Moment over the past decade, Villarreal has seen firsthand that families often feel isolated by societal discomfort with the loss of a child; this compounds their private grief in many ways, and can stifle the natural progression of mourning they should be entitled to express after loss.
She hopes that One Moment can offer them freedom from that isolation through compassionate connection, support, and just plain love.
“We want parents to have the hope of healing,” Villarreal says. “We want to help them smile again, feel joy again. We’re here for them as long as they need us, but we hope to let them set sail bravely on their own journeys when they are ready.”