For Mike and Tara Flood, of Seaford, the Christmas season is an emotional time, as the couple remember the baby girl they lost 10 years ago.
A decade after infant Sophia was stillborn, the family — which now includes 8-year-old Charlotte and 4-year-old Judith — will host their ninth annual toy drive, a joint effort with the Marine Corps program Toys for Tots.
“In general, I would say the toy drive is something we’re happy about and proud,” Mike said, “because it’s called the Sophia Michelle Toy Drive, and it’s her legacy.”
Every year the family collects more toys, Mike said. Last year, according to Tara, they gathered roughly 400 new, unwrapped toys, which filled 10 Toys for Tots boxes. The organization takes photos at the events and transports the toys to the Marine Corps office in Garden City.
For the first few years, the couple received a lot of donations for girls the age Sophia would have been had she lived, Tara said. These days, though, they include toys for a broader age group.
Children who attend the drive can work on crafts, and many families stay and socialize. Local shops donate flowers for decoration and bagels, while the Floods cover any other expenses. “It definitely is a festive, fun event,” Tara said.
“The reason why we do it is because it’s our opportunity to give back to an organization,” she added. “Not that Christmas is about the toys, but every child should have toys on Christmas.”
“We typically tell people we have two children,” Mike said, “but in our hearts we do have a third child.”
On Dec. 3, 2008, Tara, 28 weeks pregnant at the time, told her husband that she couldn’t feel their baby moving. The next morning, the couple went their separate ways to work, and Tara called Mike to say that she still couldn’t feel any movement. They went to the hospital, and an ultrasound revealed that there was no heartbeat. “Then there’s the prospect of delivering a still baby,” Mike said, “which is sad and psychologically difficult.”
That Dec. 5, Tara gave birth to a stillborn baby girl, and the couple named her Sophia Michelle. The delivery was similar to a healthy one, according to Mike, with one devastating difference. “Sadly, we knew all along that we wouldn’t be having a little girl,” he said.
Tara, who was in labor for almost 24 hours, said the experience felt almost unreal. “It’s just an experience that is completely, utterly like your world is shattered,” she said. “You don’t know how you’re ever going to be able to pick up the pieces and move forward from there.”
Pregnant women often think about what could go wrong during their pregnancies, she said, adding, “I never in a million years thought we weren’t going to have her.”
The doctors offered the Floods the option of performing an autopsy on Sophia to find out what had happened. The couple declined, Tara said, because they wanted a funeral, and an autopsy would have delayed it.
“You think about all the ridiculous things people say to you,” Tara said. “People say things like, ‘Sometimes this happens’ or ‘This only happens to the strong ones’ or ‘God only does this to those that can handle it,’ which, when they’re saying it, you kind of want to scream in their face.”
The 2008 holiday season was a difficult for the couple, Mike said. The following year, with Tara pregnant with their daughter Charlotte, the couple held a memorial service for Sophia and made a small donation to Toys for Tots in her honor. They also collected toys for the John Theissen Children’s Foundation.
The family hosted their first Toys for Tots toy drive at their home in Seaford in 2010, Mike said. Four years later, they started renting a space on Washington Avenue, because the event had grown too large for their house. In 2015 it took place at the Seaford Knights of Columbus hall, where it has been held ever since.
“It rarely happens that our emotions about our loss are perfectly in sync,” Mike said. “So I’ll be, like, one day super excited for the toy drive … but Tara will be saddened by it, because we remember our loss. And then it will be the night after the toy drive, and we’ll go home, and I’ll be all bummed out … and Tara will be like, ‘Aw, that went so well.’”
Mike said he thinks the toy drive is a happy way to remember Sophia. “A day doesn’t go by where [we] don’t think of what Sophia was to us and what we had hoped she would be,” he said. “As much as it’s the day we lost her, I think of it as her birthday. This is a little bit of a celebration of her — that she was real to us.”
This year’s toy drive will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Seaford Knights of Columbus, at 2183 Jackson Ave.