Elizabeth O'Donnell: Founder & CEO of Aaliyah in Action

Elizabeth O'Donnell: Founder & CEO of Aaliyah in Action

This Sunday we are sharing Elizabeth O'Donnel, or as most know her, Liz. Liz is originally from New Jersey but has been living in Washington, D.C. since attending college at The George Washington University. After receiving her masters in elementary education, Liz was a dedicated math and science public school teacher for 7 years and now focuses on Aaliyah in Action and stillbirth prevention advocacy full time.

The death of her first child, Aaliyah, sparked many changes in Liz's life and has led her down a new path in life. Liz realizes her job as a mother is to establish a legacy for her daughter while also supporting families down this same path in life. Her dedication to the development and growth of Aaliyah in Action is evident in the organization's accomplishments in just two years.

After a very public battle with the school system over her right to paid family leave, Liz was able to push for the D.C. Council to pass an emergency bereavement bill, allowing up to 2 weeks paid leave for parents who have experienced a stillbirth.

After the loss of Aaliyah, and Liz's subsequent treatment from her employer, she received hundreds of messages from other mothers and families who have traveled down a similar path of loss. In the days following the return home from the hospital, Liz, known as the "spa girl" among friends and family, received numerous self care type items. She tried to use one thing each day; it felt like an "accomplishment" during a time of such intense grief and self doubt. After reading and responding to as many messages as she could, Liz knew she needed to make a legacy for her daughter, Aaliyah, by helping others going through the same grief. 

Rather than going the support group route, since there are so many other organizations doing an incredible job in that space, Liz decided to take the role self-care has played in her healing journey and extend it to others. 

When Liz & Aaliyah's father left the hospital, they left with a memory box neither of them could open. While it was a lovely gesture, it was also a terrible reminder they were leaving the hospital with only a box that held their daughters handprints, footprints, baby blanket and hat. The thought for self-care packages to be distributed to families while they were still in the hospital came naturally as Liz began to build Aaliyah in Action.

Not all families have support from loved ones and very seldom do hospitals have the ability to adequately serve families who experience perinatal, neonatal or infant death. This traumatic experience will follow a family for the rest of their lives - it can profoundly affect the mental health of families, especially the birthing person, and proper bereavement support is needed immediately. Aaliyah in Action provides what this space has been lacking - a tangible bereavement support designed specifically for the birthing person. Through hospital partnerships Aaliyah in Action is able to immediately reach families after loss- they don’t need to go “looking” for support, they are already there for them. Providing small self-care items, a self-care choice board, local/national websites/ support groups and support books allows the birthing person to decide how they’d like to start their grief journey and helps them to get started. There is no financial barrier to receiving their services and their books come from authors of all different backgrounds- the resources are inclusive and Aaliyah in Action as an organization works hard to make sure they have ways to support all types of families.

These self care packages are not meant to make any family "feel better" - nothing besides holding your baby in your arms will make you feel better. Rather, the Aaliyah in Action self care packages are meant to serve as a gentle hug from someone who knows the pain.

Including small/local, women and black owned businesses in the curation of these packages was a key element. Helping these local businesses would be a way for Aaliyah in Action to give back to the community that Aaliyah would have grown up in.

While some days can be incredibly bittersweet, Liz is looking forward to the national growth of Aaliyah in Action. When announcing the passing of Aaliyah on her Instagram, Liz said, "I firmly believe our Aaliyah Denise was too perfect and would've been too powerful for this world." She thinks about this statement she made every day when she sits down to her laptop to tackle the day's Aaliyah in Action to do list - for with the amount of growth Aaliyah in Action has seen since its launch, it's already proving to be true.

Aaliyah in Action is always looking to partner with those who support and believe in their mission AND always want to partner with new hospitals through the country!

To support & get involved, contact hello@aaliyahinaction.org or visit www.aaliyahinaction.org.


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