New York Times: A Device That Gives Parents of Stillborn Babies Time to Say Goodbye

The CuddleCot helps preserve the body of a deceased newborn for days, allowing parents to hold them and take pictures.

By Jane E. Brady

When a baby dies before it is born or shortly thereafter, parents are often alone in a hospital with a limited source of comfort and little, if any, opportunity to say goodbye to the baby — or babies.

Enter the CuddleCot, a kind of refrigerated baby bed that helps preserve the body of a deceased newborn for days. The device gives parents a chance to bond with their babies — to love and hold them, take pictures, even take them home and take them for walks, creating memories to last a lifetime.

Chris and Emily Fricker of Pingree Grove, Ill., whose twin babies, Sylas and Sybil, were born too early to survive more than 90 minutes, were helped so much by a CuddleCot that last month they donated one to Centegra Northwestern Hospital in McHenry, Ill., to benefit other parents with similar losses.

Mary Kay Horney, a labor and delivery nurse at the hospital, said her family’s experience reinforced the value of this donation. “My mother’s first child died at birth,” she told me. “She never got to see the baby, and her intense grief turned into depression and alcoholism.”

2016 study in Michigan of 377 bereaved women whose babies were stillborn or died soon after birth found that they were four times more likely to be depressed and seven times more likely to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress than were 232 mothers with live babies. High levels of psychological distress persisted for at least nine months among the women whose babies had died.

In the Michigan study, directed by Dr. Katherine J. Gold and colleagues at the University of Michigan, 18 women whose babies had died reported that they didn’t get to see them, 36 did not get to hold their infants, and 34 reported that they were told they could not hold them.

In an interview, Mr. Fricker said that thanks to the CuddleCot, “Brittany, our labor and delivery nurse, told us we could spend as much time as we wanted with our babies,” who were born just shy of 23 weeks gestation weighing 1 pound, 1 ounce each. “We held them, told them how much we loved them and had them baptized. We got to choose when to say goodbye to them, about 12 hours later.”

In deciding on a CuddleCot donation, Mr. Fricker said, “We tried to think of a way to memorialize our babies. What better way than to provide other parents the gift of time to spend with babies they lost.”

The Frickers have already raised money to make a second and possibly a third donation of a CuddleCot, this time to “a hospital in an underserved community where it can make an impact on a big group of people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to something like this,” Mr. Fricker said. “A loss is a loss regardless of who experiences it.”

CuddleCot donations provide “a way for families to do something good out of the tragedy that happened to them,” said Dr. Tracy Arghavani, obstetrician-gynecologist at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital.

Mrs. Fricker said some 400 to 500 hospitals in this country have CuddleCots available, “most donated by families like ours.” And last August, St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany received a Cuddle Cot donated by Kristin McVeigh-Parente, president, and David Parente, vice president, of the McVeigh Funeral Home in Albany after they were told of the need by the March of Dimes.

The CuddleCot was invented in Britain, where 10 babies are stillborn every day. According to the manufacturer, Flexmort, 92 percent of hospitals in Britain have at least one CuddleCot. The 8-pound device is basically a small crib or bassinet with a refrigerated unit under a mattress. The cold slows the deterioration of body tissues to preserve deceased babies and keep them looking as good as possible.

Without such a unit, soon after the delivery babies that die are placed in the hospital’s morgue, giving grieving parents limited access. Parents are often told they wouldn’t want to see their babies, creating the impression that the babies look monstrous or awful. But those kept in a CuddleCot look as if they’re sleeping.

In addition to creating memories of their babies, albeit limited ones, the CuddleCot can give grieving parents more time to come to terms with their loss and gain closure.

“When women find out that they’re pregnant, they immediately begin making plans for the baby,” Dr. Arghavani said. “When they lose that baby, it’s like someone stole their dreams. The loss of an unborn child can be just as heart-wrenching as the loss of a born child.”

When a baby dies before birth, the woman has to go through labor and delivery just as in a viable pregnancy. In such cases, Dr. Arghavani said, “women are often afraid — they’re not quite sure they want to hold the baby. The CuddleCot enables the baby to stay in the room and gives them the opportunity to take the time they need to make a decision.”

Stillbirth: Your Stories

In years past, Ms. Horney said, most women weren’t even given the option of seeing their dead baby, often resulting in “a different kind of grief” that can take an untold toll, even on future pregnancies.

“But in my 30 years as a labor and delivery nurse,” Ms. Horney said, “I had only one mother who didn’t want to see her deceased baby. Most want to see the baby and hold it skin-to-skin.” The CuddleCot provides parents with an extended opportunity to cherish the time and bond with the baby they lost, she said.

The CuddleCot “is a pretty new piece of equipment in the United States,” Mrs. Fricker said. “I can’t imagine not having one, it helped us so much. I wish it was available in all hospitals, and not just dependent on donations.” She believes most hospitals could easily afford to purchase one, for which the Frickers paid $2,764.

The Frickers said the donation has helped them in the healing process. Mrs. Fricker was found to have what is called an incompetent cervix, which occurs when the portal to the uterus dilates prematurely under the pressure of pregnancy. This weakness has since been repaired surgically and she can now try again to become pregnant.

With the continued support of our online community, it’s our mission to raise awareness of the support available to families, and ensure as many grieving families as possible have access to a CuddleCot or CuddleBlanket when they need one. Learn more about the Cuddlecot and CuddleBlanket at:


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