The loss of a loved one is always difficult to deal with, but the loss of an infant brings up pain that nothing can compare to. For those who know, it is a pain that never leaves you. But there are those who are taking steps to ease the trauma that is caused when new parents lose a child in a stillborn birth or shortly after being born.
Emma’s Footprints, a nonprofit based in Northwest Indiana, donated an extraordinary item to Porter Regional Hospital that they will be able to use in their Maternity and Neonatal Intensive Care Units. A CuddleCot™ will now be available to parents who experience stillborn births or have an infant pass away shortly after birth. Only made in the United Kingdom, a CuddleCot™ is a crib-cooling device that preserves an infant’s body for a longer period of time so that families can get additional time to bond with their baby and to say goodbye. The grief that inevitably comes with loss is able to be lessened thanks to the gift of time, something that is ached for when it is taken from you.
Since 2014 Amelia and Joe Kowalisyn have been working with families through their nonprofit, Emma’s Footprints. Their aim is to help families who have lost infants or experienced the stressful struggles that come with premature birth by providing care packages for NICU families, bereavement care packages, educational material, emotional support, and an open ear.
“You hear terrible stories about families not being able to get that precious time with their child,” Amelia said. “And with these Cuddle Cots you get that time. There is a push to get one of these in every hospital in America and I really hope that happens.”
Porter is the first hospital in the area to receive one, and in the next few months six more CuddleCots™ will be placed in surrounding hospitals thanks to a grant from the Legacy Foundation that Amelia was able to secure.
“I think they are going to make a difference,” Amelia said. “It’s the gift of time that they get to spend with their child, time they get to bathe their child, time they get to take pictures of their child, time for family to come in and meet the child… You only get that one chance and you only get that little bit of time before you say goodbye. Anything that we can do to help ease the trauma, even in the slightest, is so important.”
Amelia and Joe are proud parents of son, Alex. Alex came into this world with his twin sister, Emma, but they came about two months early, and with many premature births come complications. Both babies were cared for at Porter Regional Hospital after they were born, but Emma suffered from a rare stroke in utero that required her to be air-lifted to Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. Following that turn of events, Joe and Amelia spent most of their time driving from one hospital to another, half scared and half hopeful for the lives of their children. Sadly, Emma passed away, her body not strong enough to overcome the complications caused by the stroke. Amelia and Joe were there with her and they gave every ounce of love they could muster to their little daughter in the time they had left. She passed away on November 5, 2014 three weeks after she was born.
These situations are never planned, and though one may hear stories, you will never know how it really feels until you are there. And when you are there, you are never prepared. Amelia and Joe had help while they were at the hospital, receiving care packages and much needed support during their difficult time, and that sparked the need to pay it forward. At Emma’s funeral they asked that instead of flowers that everyone bring items that can be placed in NICU care packages that were to go to parents who went through the same experiences that they did. And that is how Emma’s Footprints came into existence.
“Keeping the babies in the room with the parents is essential and the CuddleCot™ will help tremendously,” Elaine Johnson-Merkel, Director of Women and Children's Pavilion at Porter Regional Hospital said. “Being able to offer this option will help those families who need more time… Grief is a process and to cut it short is not ever an easy thing to do, and now we won’t have to.”
Along with the CuddleCot™ Amelia and Joe brought educational booklets with them to provide bereaved parents with guides that will help them navigate through this tough time. Support groups, photography ideas, suggestions for planning a funeral, funeral home contact information, information on cemeteries, milk supply, and more important resources are available.
There is also information for the hospital staff on how they can best help the parents. Suggestions on photography ideas, milk supply, funeral home contact information, information on cemeteries, bereavement training, as well as grief that the staff might feel are in the folders to help hospital personnel prepare.
“I wrote both of these from a mother’s perspective,” Amelia said. “We want people to know that you don’t have to feel like you can’t do anything, like you can’t hold your child or take pictures or plan the funeral that you want… These are resources that I and many mothers that I have spoken to wish that we had.”
For more information on Emma’s Footprints visit https://www.facebook.com/EmmaKsfootprints.