St. Paul’s staff inspired to give a gift of their own
Jens Locher and his wife, Kerstin, have a beautiful baby daughter, Thea, born in 2014. Before Thea, however, the couple had lost two sons: Marlon, in 2011, two days after birth from complications during delivery; and in 2012, their son Tobias was stillborn at 35 weeks gestation.
In the wake of these tragedies, Jens and Kerstin both knew one thing: they needed to see their sons, and hold them. They were feeling the bond that had been formed, which all parents feel. They needed this time with their babies.
But in this situation, time is a precious commodity. In infants, post-mortem physical changes occur much faster than in adults. Measures can be taken to delay these changes, such as keeping an infant’s body cool with ice, which is what Jens and Kerstin did. But with the wetness and constant changing of blankets, this method was, according to Jens, “very difficult.”
It was from another parent who lost an infant that Jens learned of cuddle cots, bassinettes that keep a stillborn infant cool, giving grieving parents time to be with their baby—before they say goodbye.
“This made perfect sense to us,” said Jens. “The cuddle cot is something that would have helped us. And because we wanted to help other parents, Kerstin and I decided that raising money to buy a cuddle cot for St. Paul’s would be a fitting way to help.”
While cuddle cots have been available in Europe for decades, they only began to appear in Canada in 2014. Working with St. Paul’s Foundation, Jens and Kerstin brought together a group of family and friends and raised the $3,500 to purchase the cuddle cot, which is St. Paul’s first.
“There is stigma around stillbirth, and not as many resources to help as you might think,” said Jens. “And there is not just the shock and sadness that occurs in the moment, but stress and anxiety with future pregnancies. So the mental side of this experience is multi-faceted.”
According to parents, maternity nurses and bereavement counselors, many couples find that this time with their baby, especially after having gone through such anguish and trauma, provides great comfort and solace.
Respiratory Therapists inspired to give
While Jens and Kerstin were fundraising for the cuddle cot, a group of Respiratory Therapists at St. Paul’s was inspired to do something in celebration of Respiratory Therapists Week.
This passionate crew was inspired when they learned about a cuddle cot campaign at another hospital and they decided to do the same for St. Paul’s. It was only when they approached St. Paul’s Foundation, their fundraising underway, that they learned of the Locher’s effort, which had been successful. When asked how they might use the $3,000 they had raised, St. Paul’s Foundation consulted the team at the Maternity Ward for ideas and were provided with a wish list of items that would support the cuddle cot initiative in helping bereaved parents.
The list included a memory box, for keepsakes like the blanket their baby was wrapped in, scissors to collect a lock of hair, a kit to take foot- and hand-prints, a journal, books, and other support resources for parents
The Respiratory Therapists thought this was a wonderful idea and fulfilled the wish list for Maternity.
Personal connection inspires gift in tribute
At the same time these fundraising efforts were happening, Belinda-Ann Furlan, a Nurse Practitioner at the Atrial Fibrillation Clinic, stepped into a St. Paul’s elevator and saw something that struck a deep chord: the Respiratory Therapists’ poster calling for donations for their wish list campaign.
Belinda’s emotional reaction to the poster that day was borne of personal experience. Her older sister had been stillborn. Belinda feels that her mother, Ann, never got over it.
“Today my mother is 79 and she still carries this grief,” said Belinda. “She never got to hold my sister, who was full-term. She never got to see her. But this was 45 years ago. That’s how things were done – babies who died were usually whisked away.”
To honour her mother’s recent birthday, Belinda contacted St. Paul’s Foundation and arranged to make a donation in Ann’s name to support the Respiratory Therapists’ fundraising campaign.
Belinda’s mother was so moved by her daughter’s gesture, and by the thought of how many grieving parents the cuddle cot would help, that she said she wanted to help. Specifically, she wanted to help people from her own generation who had experienced the loss of a child.
“She is very motivated right now,” said Belinda. “She has been inspired to help and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Kerstin and Jens Locher created a website with resources to help grieving parents. They welcome your visit and comments: www.marlon-and-tobias.com