Enduring pregnancy and infant loss is by far the worst experience I have had in my entire life.
And there were things surrounding this intimate experience that were more than unsupportive – they were downright traumatizing.
A doctor calling my baby “debris”.
An organization marketed for supporting families enduring pregnancy and infant loss not just, even understandably, overlooking, but outright denying my cry for validation.
Friends and family telling me that I need to “get over it” and “move on”.
So when I see a new idea presented into the bereaved community, something like the cooling system installed into an infant sized, Moses basket – I see it through the heart of a mother. Once a baby is not alive, physical changes to his or her physical form happen rapidly. Support within this transition is important. But I also see the “cuddle cot” through the eyes of the professional. As someone who has stepped into the spaces where birth & bereavement meet. And it is a very difficult thing to do, but I must share what I see.
The cuddle cot is a brilliant idea. It intrinsically gives strides to awareness of at least a couple of the elements that families so suddenly and vulnerably are thrust into during such a devastating time. But there are some very real drawbacks that demand we take notice.
My concerns with this cooling system begin with the message it sends right into our bereaved community. “If you had had this, you would be better off in your grief.” Such is the message with any “new” or more clearly presented opportunity and so it means we need to handle such a message with great care. Thousands of bereaved families are seeing this new promoted item through the lens of hindsight and comparing an image they have in their minds to the shame, abandonment, humiliation and rejection they have endured, from the earliest moments of their journey well into the months and even years after the death of their beloved baby. And in the promotion of this new item, there is no safety net in place to catch these conversations and remind the rest of us that we are still loved and that even though such a thing wasn’t offered to us, what we have is endurance and what we have is valuable.
New items can generate fresh blame. Fresh accusations that don’t heal us but actually serve to fester unaddressed wounds into anger.
I say this carefully and I say this first, because what is logically to follow is “but I don’t want another family to be without what we were without.” And this alone is reason to spread the news of the cuddle cot like wildfire.
And here in lies the caution.
The invalidation, rejection and humiliation greet us long outside of the birthing room.
Seeing something that even remotely speaks positively in the direction of our darkness is flat astonishing. It is easy to be tempted to want to reach for it, simply because it is so scarce.
In a barren wilderness, we parch.
I have stepped into the spaces where birth & bereavement meet, and so I borrow from the darkness to shine a little light to give some dimension you may not have yourself uncovered.
A “cooling cot” helps to cool the physical form of a baby not alive, so that the family can have more time to be together. If the family is exhausted, they can tuck their baby in – “rooming in” – while they otherwise might have been led to feel their only two choices were to: a.) continue to hold their baby or, b.) send their baby to the hospital morgue.
A system like this speaks to the visual impact of the reality of the baby and to instill a sense of dignity that is often otherwise lost.
These things make it a very good thing, and I will tell you that it is a worthwhile investment for hospitals to consider.
But, there are compelling reasons why even an interested hospital may not follow through with the purchase. These things are important for us to look at, because a hospital not utilizing a cuddle cot should not simply be considered heartless and cruel.
The expense of such a system is enormous. The system needs a place when not in use. These seem trivial when seen through our pain but are worth at least our glance.
The system does not teach hospital staff how to support the family who wants to hold their baby. The system does not prevent some of the physical changes to the baby that demand personal attention. The system does not teach hospital staff how to guide the family in giving a baby a bath. The system does not address the real issue of more than one infant death in the same timeframe. The system does not prepare the staff for the family who would not appreciate the cot without feeling compelled to expect to get their money’s worth for an item they are not trained to understand the foundational purposes of – that is, that families need comprehensive validation. The system serves as a representative item of support but the system itself is not intrinsically support.
If I petition to a hospital on behalf of bereaved families, may it be to open the hearts of the hospital staff. May it be that every family experiencing pregnancy and infant loss have comprehensive support. May it be for families enduring pregnancy and infant loss in any trimester – not specifically the second or third.
May it be that I’m holding a cuddle cot myself, willing to train the staff in how to present it to families. May it be that I bring it with me as I serve the family.
Items that are created with bereaved families in mind are important, and may we all be mindful to ways in which we might create and share – sewing baby blankets, hats, donating ink pads or press castings are important. Cooling systems are important. The mothers, families and organizations who generate these creations and ensure they are accessible to families when they need them are invaluable. I’m thankful that the media surrounding the cuddle cot system is secondarily generating awareness to our darkest experiences. But I am not one who will be marching up to hospitals demanding they own one. Because I’m literally in that hospital, showing a family, right now, ways they can cool the physical form of their baby that cost less than $5 and work efficiently, I’m guiding their shaking hands as they bring their baby into bath water, I’m slowly, reverently, offering to the family the sewn hat and blanket that you have sewn for them, and I’m speaking in the hallway to the shocked nurse who has never actually seen a baby not alive before as she wipes the vomit from her chin – not at all from disgust, but from complete and total overwhelm.
May hospitals strongly consider purchasing a cuddle cot. But, may they know that, with or without one, they can utilize birth & bereavement doulas for every family, for every trimester, for every birth. And may we know that having an item - any item – will never replace the comprehensive support of a well trained team whose foundation is rooted deeply in reverent love for the family.
May a nurse not just place any item in front a family in darkness and run out so as not to behold their baby. May a nurse not run from the profound life in such a moment for fear of the darkness. May a newly bereaved family not feel obligated to thank the veterans of this, the bereaved community, that their hospital complied with a seemingly satisfactory check list of tasks and items rather than encountering the family.
May we be thankful for the positive advances in support and awareness, yes, but may we also have discernment and may we listen to one another as we address the foundational purposes that such items may or may not address.
May every mother, giving birth in any trimester, have the right to choose to have comprehensive support.
May we offer our willing hands and hearts to serve, rather than thrust our expectations onto others.
May the institutions who receive inquiries about any tools or resources as options to bereaved families be spoken to with respect and appreciation.
May the institutions who receive the gift of donated items or volunteer support realize the magnitude of the gift and respond with honor, warmth and thanksgiving.
Practical Support in Establishing a Cuddle Cot System in Your Community
These things above are difficult to look at, but, just as we ask – and need – others to look into our darkness with us, we too, need to look at difficult things. Bereavement doesn’t exclude us from the hard discussions.
With these things placed here now, I want to talk about some very real practical ways in which a person or community of people might implement the cuddle cot system. Petitioning or working toward one can be a very good thing (there’s even a couple SBD doulas simultaneously working on fundraising for one in their own communities), and I want to share with you some ideas that might help make your mission a successful one.
- Learn everything you can about it. This, is a general statement about any thing whatsoever. Learn about the product warranty, specifications, any limitations, and specific examples of the benefits. This is the first step. It is what made this article above so difficult, because we hear of a good idea and in passion we can run with it. You need to prepare yourself to pitch your idea – to your hospital, yes, but also to your family who will be impacted by your passion, and, maybe even to yourself during any frustrating stretches of the journey, so that you are reminded and inspired to not give up.
- Speak with your hospital maternity, labor & delivery staff. Some bereaved families are campaigning fundraisers to sponsor a cuddle cot, and we’ll look at that. But before you open your campaign, speak with your hospital. Learn, from the perspective of the staff, what a cuddle cot will offer to them – the staff. Talk with them about some of the things addressed here in this article. Where will it be placed? How will it be maintained? From their perspective, what are the most challenging aspects of supporting a family enduring pregnancy and infant loss? Do they believe a different local hospital might have a greater need for it? Is it possible to be shared among hospitals? Who will have permission to present it to families and how will they be trained in doing so?
- Speak with your hospital chaplain or bereavement coordinator. Learn from them how having a cuddle cot might benefit them, and how it might be utilized within the hospital even if the maternity unit or NICU unit doesn’t have an initially welcoming response to your inquiry.
- Speak with funeral homes. Maybe even especially the funeral homes already affiliated or partnered with the hospital. If you reach blocks in communication among your area hospitals, this may be the first real opening in dialogue. How much more comprehensive their services are to the hospital if they offer that they have a cuddle cot for families.
- Speak with your coroner. It can be important, but difficult, to get creative in frustration. If you have a heart to offer this or any other support to families, go slow. Contemplate. Open your mind to uncharted avenues.
- Speak with the product designer. You may have done this in step one, but do it again. Talk about any new financial savings opportunities that may have been opened. Any change in insurance, shipment, or customer support service policy.
- Forgive. The cuddle cot system is a really big deal. I have seen the idea of it mirror back to the importance of things like ink pads, press castings, birth certificates, keepsake boxes, books, professional photos, resource lists. Things that, when we are hurting, we expect people to follow through on. When they do not, for any reason, it is hard. See the beginning of this article and you’ll hear my heart in this. Prepare your heart. It is the core message of this entire article.
- Begin to Formulate a Purchase Plan. Do you foresee starting a fundraising campaign? Once others begin to contribute financially, they may want their own story to be interwoven into the story of your mission. Determine how willing you are to share authorship of the work, the cost and the gift of the item. Can they give in honor of their own babies not alive? How will you honor them, and their story, in this way?
- Speak with your local birth & bereavement support resources. Now that you have an idea of how much of the story you’re willing to share with others in allowing them to claim authorship of this mission, let them know about it. Support groups, churches, and other resources might pool interest and support.
- Agreement with Institution. What all are you giving to the hospital with the item? What all do you hope or expect to receive in return? Can a local SBD doula volunteer to partner with you to offer free demonstration training to the hospital staff? Do you want the hospital to contact you, in addition to the product designer, if there is a technical issue with the product? Do you want to offer a card with a message for each family utilizing the product – something such as
“They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think it takes a village too, to wrap around a family when that child has died.
I too am a mother to a baby not alive, and I share this baby basket with you simply as an option that I did not have.
This time can seem so scary, but as a mother who has been in this day myself, I want to offer to you a way, that if you want to keep your baby near you, you can.
You can take this time. It can be good, to take this time. Your support team will show you how. In loving memory…….”
Finally, if there is to be any question if I intend to see more hospital staff utilize our birth & bereavement training, I do.
In fact, if you are a hospital staff member currently employed as a midwife, nurse or doctor, I want you to hear my heart when I tell you that the cuddle cot and any other thing that represents validation is a very good thing. It is worth your attention to consider it. But, the pressure put on you to perform or to provide such a service may simply be beyond what you are able. In fact, I want to make sure that this message is being received in the way it is intended. I don’t want you to have to choose between valuable equipment and the valuable training to offer support well. If you’re interested in growing the support and awareness for the families in your care, I want to honor that. I will offer a 5-for-1 enrollment for any hospital group all currently employed who want to utilize our comprehensive training. Just mention this article in your registration and the names & emails of those registering in your group, and I absolutely will honor your heart to give love to families. That equates to $50 per person, a $200 savings each: a whopping $1,000 credit toward your investment in your cuddle cot, or any other important item needed for the families in your care. Because I want to send a strong and clear message that it does in fact take a village to hold a hurting family. My heart is simply and solely to ensure every family is supported well – and together, we can.