In 2019 Vanessa Sencherey and her husband went to the hospital, excited to welcome their son into the world. They joked light-heartedly about Sencherey’s swollen feet and bigger size from pregnancy.
A finished nursery was waiting at home, and the baby’s car seat was already set up in the car.
But then everything changed. Sencherey delivered a stillborn baby.
Grief and confusion replaced the lightheartedness and excitement.
“My life had just turned upside down,” Sencherey said. “I had so many questions and literally zero answers.”
Sencherey said she had experienced no issues during her pregnancy and even had a prenatal appointment not long before that which had been fine.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that the rate of stillbirths among Black women is 10.3 per 1,000 births, a higher rate than their White and Hispanic counterparts. One in three stillbirths go unexplained, according to Columbia University Libraries.
Sencherey was left with one big question: “Why did this happen to me?”
After returning home from the hospital following her stillbirth, Sencherey began to research stillbirth rates among Black women. She found little explanation for why.
“I’m not familiar with all the stages of grief. I know part of it is disbelief, some of it is anger. I went through all of those things not really understanding why it happened,” Sencherey said.
In the years that followed, Sencherey found one thing to be therapeutic — baking, a hobby she learned from her mother.
After her loss, Sencherey said baking became her “form of escape” from tragedy.
“At first, I was really, really bad, like really bad,” Sencherey said of her early baking skills. However, she continued to hone her skills by practicing and participating in bake sales.
Then, Sencherey decided to share the comfort she found in baking with other women who had experienced stillbirth, whom she called “angel moms.”
“I’m almost taking the power back and giving the experience a reason and a purpose. I have to turn that pain into something.” Sencherey said.
The “something” became a baking business, Sweet Pavilion, and an annual initiative called Cupcakes with Compassion. The initiative launched last spring.
In the days leading up to Mother’s Day, Sencherey baked cupcakes for 14 women that experienced stillbirths. She delivered them all herself.
Sencherey said she did not realize how a “new cupcake” would impact other women.
Sencherey recalled one particular delivery that she said was powerful. She had delivered cupcakes to an angel mom, and they cried together and embraced one another.
“It just showed the power of someone saying I see you. I know you. I know this is a hard weekend for you,” Sencherey said.
However, delivering cupcakes to fellow angel moms did not come without its challenges. Sencherey said she spent last Mother’s Day weekend delivering cupcakes across North and South Carolina.
Sencherey said her entire body was in pain the days after Mother’s Day weekend. “I realized that, I think this is more than physical pain. I think this is like the emotional pain that’s manifested in physical symptoms.”
After an “emotionally taxing” weekend, Sencherey was not sure she would do Cupcakes with Compassion again this year. Ultimately, she remembered her “why” to show grieving mothers that they are not alone.
“Although you’ve suffered from child loss, there are other people out there that are thinking of you. That’s why I’m doing it again this year,” Sencherey said. Angel Moms can be nominated to receive cupcakes on the Sweet Pavilion website.
Today, Sencherey has a son, her “rainbow baby,” a term used to describe a child born after a miscarriage or stillbirth. Sencherey said she felt fear until the day he was born and frequently wept during the pregnancy. She offered two pieces of advice for women sharing her experience.
One, she said, was “speaking life into herself.”
“Sometimes we rely on others to help bring us out of grief. Know that we can also help and encourage ourselves,” Sencherey said. She added that this mindset helped with her pregnancy.
Her second piece of advice to women in her shoes was to find their “Sweet Pavilion,” the thing or passion that makes them happy.
Today, Sencherey’s son is three-years-old. She said he enjoys shows like “Paw Patrol” and “PJ Masks,” and he “absolutely loves” trucks. Sometimes, he sits on one of the stools at the kitchen island and helps his mom bake.