Losing a baby to stillbirth isn’t supposed to happen.
Sadly, though, stillbirths happen in about 1 out of 100 pregnancies, or in about 24,000 pregnancies each year in the United States, according to the March of Dimes. They are caused by a variety of factors, including infections, birth defects and pregnancy complications. Many are unexplained. Every stillbirth comes with a remarkable grief for families.
Hannah and Vincent Peltonen, of Leslie, and Jessica and Michael O’Dell, of Sullivan, know all too well the grief that can accompany stillbirth. They were not prepared to find out that late in their pregnancies doctors could no longer find a fetal heartbeat.
Because of their shared experiences and in honor of their babies, both families and the Mercy Foundation, have made it possible to add a CuddleCot, a cooling bassinet, to the Labor and Delivery floor at Mercy Hospital Washington. In honor of baby Flora Peltonen and Colby O’Dell, both families raised money to purchase the CuddleCot.
Jessica Steffens and Beth Irwin, both registered nurses at Mercy, give their time to coordinate Mercy HeartPrints, a support group for parents who are dealing with the loss of a baby. They have received special training to offer the right kind of support during and after the birth of stillborn children.
Peltonen and O’Dell are members of HeartPrints and have been on the receiving end of the support it offers to grieving parents.
Steffens said many moms are in “complete denial” when they are told their child no longer lives. She finds it’s something they are not prepared for. Steffens and Irwin are called to come alongside these families when the worst is expected.
“They want to find out that what their doctor has told them is false,” she said. “It’s an extremely vulnerable time for them. I’m here to help them through the process.”
Peltonen felt something was wrong when she was 33 weeks pregnant. She didn’t feel much movement and her instincts led her to call her doctor, who confirmed with an ultrasound that her baby had died in utero. She elected to induce the delivery that night.
“My pregnancy was textbook perfect,” said Peltonen. “My delivery was also textbook, which made a terrible situation a little better. Jessica commented on her features, how beautiful she was. Jessica was with me the entire time.”
Steffens said the CuddleCot will allow parents to spend precious time with their infants, and provide a better process for grieving parents at Mercy. The cooling feature is what gives them the time. The temperature preserves the baby’s body so the family can hold, love and spend time with the baby.
O’Dell tells a similar story. She had previously lost a baby when she miscarried early in her first pregnancy. Her second pregnancy seemed to be normal and after first trimester jitters, she and her husband prepared to welcome baby Colby. Just one week short of her due date, everything changed.
“It was Christmas Eve and I didn’t feel him moving,” said O’Dell. “I thought we might have to deliver him that day. I never thought he wasn’t alive.”
The ultrasound confirmed the baby had died.
“I decided to wait and pray for a miracle,” she said. “I came in to be induced a few days later. After six hours they took him and that was the last time we saw him.”
Both women credit the Mercy HeartPrints support group with helping them get through the trauma. Steffens said she felt a real calling to be a part of the important service. She is well acquainted with loss, since she has lost twins, another child and one of another set of twins.
Chandra Alsop, RN, the nurse manager of the labor and delivery department at Mercy Hospital Washington said luckily they don’t experience infant death that often, but the introduction of the CuddleCot will be a huge help when it does occur.
Steffens said it is normal for mothers to feel like they are being pressured to give up their babies rather quickly by family members. Most people are not comfortable with a prolonged time of saying goodbye.
The CuddleCot, developed by the European company Flexmort, said its product “gives grieving parents the gift of time.” The baby can remain cool in a basket next to its mother, but is not too cool for the comfort of the family members when they hold the baby. More than 700 hospitals in the U.S. and Canada provide the CuddleCot to their patients.
“Our babies did this. It’s a legacy of theirs that leaves something physical behind,” said Peltonen. “But it’s a tool. I hope it never gets used.”
O’Dell agreed, saying she hopes it’s “money well-wasted.”
Mercy HeartPrints meets the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at Faith Baptist Church in Washington, and the first Thursday at 6 p.m. in Classroom A at the Washington Library. It welcomes anyone who has experienced the loss of an infant or a child up to 1 year old.
The Peltonen family now includes Caprielle, age 2, and Steele, 3 months. The O’Dells include Sadie, 5, and Cooper, 2.