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How Hospitals Are Changing the Stillbirth Experience

According to the CDC, approximately 1 percent of all pregnancies end in stillbirth. Annually, about 24,000 babies are born still in the United States.

But few people are eager to talk about it.

Stillbirth is scary. It's devastating. It can be especially frightening for new or expecting parents. It's a moment when "hello" and "goodbye" are fundamentally intertwined, where birth and death intersect.

But just because few of us talk about it doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk about it.

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For the past few months, Leslie Strader and Susan Wallace haven't just spoken more candidly and publicly about stillbirth. They have also been working with their community to bring a new standard of stillbirth care to their local hospitals in Columbus, Ohio.

Strader is a mother whose son, Dean Curtis, was born still in June earlier this year. Wallace is a palliative care professional and social worker who, also earlier this year, started researching options to improve care for families grieving stillborn babies.

Together with other parents, advocates, community supporters and local hospital staff, they have helped to introduce CuddleCots into their local hospitals. These special cooling devices extend the time that families can spend with their stillborn babies.

CuddleCots are small units, about the size of a humidifier. Able to be disguised to look like a Moses basket, they are lined with a cooling pad that helps to slow the inevitable physiological changes that occur in babies who are born still—changes that often cut short the time that grieving families can spend with their babies.

And time is an invaluable gift to families who must say goodbye to their babies so shortly after saying hello. They want time to count fingers and toes. To marvel at their babies' beauty. To read books or sing songs to their baby. To take photographs. To introduce their baby to beloved family and friends.

A family might never have enough time to spend with a baby born still. But with CuddleCots, they can spend upwards of a full day with their baby instead of only a few short hours.

"[Imagine] if you had to compress all your hopes into a few hundred minutes, how would you allot them?" asks Wallace, who has herself not lost a child to stillbirth. "How would it feel to watch the arbitrary ticking of the wall clock? Would you worry every time a nurse walked by your door, afraid she might tell you that the time was up? How might that background worry change the very experience of bonding with your child? What if the time came but you weren't ready, not quite yet, to let him go?"

Photograph by Facebook

In many ways, CuddleCots helps to ease the excruciating pain of these "what ifs."

Home to both Strader and Wallace, Franklin County, Ohio, recently became the first county in the nation to offer a CuddleCots as a standard of care to all birthing families in area hospitals. Thanks to Strader and Wallace's advocacy and the support they've received from others—including a generous grant from the Columbus Foundation, several GoFundMe campaigns and many partnerships with area hospital representatives—every hospital in Franklin County and neighboring Licking County area is now equipped with a CuddleCot.

"I truly believe if more people could just create a space for these parents' experiences, to host their grief out loud, that we could ease an immense amount of suffering by providing more connection during this grief experience," adds Wallace.

Strader and Wallace would like to see CuddleCots available in all U.S. hospitals that have labor and delivery units.

"We will also be pushing other communities in Ohio to get this new standard in place, and we hope to get some leadership from hospitals," says Wallace.

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Making CuddleCots available in all U.S. labor and delivery units would mean that nearly 24,000 families would get more time to hold, kiss, sing to, read to, speak to and snuggle their stillborn babies.

It's an admirable goal: one that would give hospitals the chance to provide a more sensitive, holistic, and emotionally responsive model of care to some of the families who need it most.

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Photograph by: Facebook

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