WHEN Amanda Bowles was 31 she had a stillborn boy, Jesse.
Lost in her world of grief it was a bear given to her by a stranger, who'd also lost a child, that she carried when she left the hospital.
That stranger was Toni Tattis, of Quakers Hill, and together they would go on to found Bears of Hope — a support, education and awareness charity for bereaved parents, governed by an executive committee of parents who have personally experienced the loss of their baby.
Part of what they do is gift grieving parents with a bear from another grieving parent.
"The bear is tagged in their child's name, giving that family a chance to give their child's brief life purpose," Mrs Bowles, of Glenwood, said.
"The receiving family, very early in the piece, gets to understand they're not alone and there's a community to embrace them and help them along in their grief."
In 2011, there were 2992 perinatal deaths in Australia.
Perinatal deaths comprise stillbirths (at birth with minimum 20 weeks gestation) of which there were 2220 in 2011, and neonatal deaths (within four weeks of birth) of which there were 772 such deaths.
Mrs Bowles said Toni got the idea for the bears from a woman interstate.
Ms Tattis conceived naturally but lost all seven babies, five from miscarriages, and had been donating bears to her local hospitals for about 4½ months before Ms Bowles received hers.
"We decided to register the idea as a charity [in May 2006] and define our objectives," Mrs Bowles said.
After many a chocolate and raffle fund-raiser, the service is now national and every NSW hospital receives their Bears of Hope pack, containing a bear and resources "about saying hello and goodbye to their baby", Mrs Bowles said.
A year ago they also bought a warehouse in Castle Hill out of which they plan to run the service once they get council approval.
"Back when we were starting I never thought it would be this big but now all I can see is how much there is to do," Mrs Bowles said.
"We need more support groups and more accessible support [for bereaved parents]."