When a newborn infant dies, there’s one thing grieving parents don’t have much of: time.
But Connected Forever, a non-profit organization that helps grieving parents, recently made a donation to the Beatrice Community Hospital which may give area parents more time after a loss.
In a joint project with Gage County United Way, Connected Forever donated a Cuddle Cot to BCH on Tuesday.
The Cuddle Cot uses a cooling system that allows parents to spend more time with a stillborn child. The cot fits underneath a baby basket and gives parents and family members more time to say goodbye to their child.
“I think that that's the biggest thing, more time,” said Dr. Angela Grone. “Patients get such a limited time here in the hospital to grieve because of the physical changes that happen, this gives them more time.”
Being able to donate a Cuddle Cot to the hospital means a lot to Tracy and Jesse Pella, who began Connected Forever. Their son, Cohen, died in 2011 after he and his twin brother, Cooper, were born very prematurely at 23 weeks. Cooper spent months in the neonatal intensive care unit but was eventually able to go home.
Determined that no parents should have to go through similar experiences alone, the Pellas started Connected Forever as a way to support parents who have lost a child in infancy or who have a premature child in the NICU.
Their friends, Ryan and Katie Trauernicht of Beatrice, lost their son, Calvin, in 2013 on the day he was born. That was a driving force behind the decision to start Connected forever, Tracy said.
They started the organization in 2014 and have expanded their services to include assistance in paying for funerals, burials and headstones, peer support with trained mentors who talk with parents either online or in person, as well as a support group for mothers.
Tuesday’s Cuddle Cot donation was the fourth they’ve been able to donate, Tracy said, with others having gone to St. Elizabeth Hospital, Kearney Regional Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine, with another one on the way to Scotts Bluff.
“When you lose an infant, the infant can quickly deteriorate,” Tracy said. “What the cuddle cot does is actually cools the body, so it provides more time with the family to have with their baby.”
When Cohen died, they tried to spend as much time as possible with him, she said, taking photos and trying to make sure they always remembered him.
Comparing the first pictures they took of him with photos from a couple of days later, she said, there were some obvious physical changes.
Having someone to get through it with would have helped, too, Tracy said.
The nursing staff at the hospitals do their best to comfort grieving parents, said labor and delivery nurse Jill Allen, but having someone who knows what you’re going through can be invaluable.
“We can talk about it, but if we haven't gone through it, it's very hard to grieve with them appropriately,” Allen said. “You can sympathize and empathize, but to actually go through what they're going through, you really need a support system.”
When a baby dies, nurses will usually follow up after the parents leave the hospital, said nurse Leslie Sharp. Some people don’t want further support, while others do. Some parents like being able to call in the middle of the night just to talk to someone.
That’s another big part of what Connected Forever offers, Tracy said. There are more grief support systems available in cities like Lincoln and Omaha, she said, but having someone in your area to talk to is vital.
“We're from a rural area and we know that loss doesn't happen just in the large cities,” she said. “We want families to know that they're supported.”
Connected Forever is growing quickly in Nebraska, though their main area of service is in the southeast portion of the state. They’re hoping to find more volunteers and expand their network as far as possible, but for the moment, they just want people to know they’re here.
Parents can apply for financial assistance for burial and NICU support at connected4ever.org. Anyone looking to volunteer or donate to the organization can do learn more on the website.
“We want to give people emotional support locally, but if it grows to something bigger, we want to help as many people as we can,” Tracy said. “Right now, we're trying to raise awareness of our group so that people know we're out there.”