Published on October 02, 2020

Family Donates CuddleCot to Women’s Hospital to Give Parents of Stillborn Babies Time to Say Goodbye

Cuddlecot donation

Frances Clayton and Jessi Hempel (center), along with their son Jude and extended family, presented a CuddleCot to the NMMC Women’s Hospital on Thursday. In addition to being Jude and Aster’s birthday month, October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

TUPELO, Miss.—Frances Clayton and Jessi Hempel of Brooklyn, New York, will celebrate the second birthday of their son, Jude, on Sunday.

Jude’s birthday is also a bittersweet reminder of his twin, Aster, who was stillborn. On Thursday, the family donated a CuddleCot through the Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi in Aster’s memory. The CuddleCot will soon be used at the North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital to benefit families with similar losses.

“When I was about 20 weeks pregnant, we found out that Aster was smaller (than he should be),” said Clayton. “We lost him at 28 weeks.” She carried the twins until within about a month of their due date, and they were delivered at Mount Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side in Manhattan.

Aster was placed in the CuddleCot in Labor and Delivery and stayed with the family after moving to the post-partum unit. “They didn’t have to rush him off to the morgue, which is often the practice,” Clayton said. “It was an incredible comfort to us. It gave us the time to do the difficult task of trying to say hello and goodbye.”

The CuddleCot is a small crib with a refrigerated unit under its mattress that slows the baby’s deterioration. Babies kept in a CuddleCot look as if they are sleeping, and parents get to decide when to say goodbye. It allows families to create memories with their baby and time to grieve.  

“It meant that we were able to have time together as a family of four, and then with our extended family who came to the hospital,” Clayton said. “It felt like we got to acknowledge our loss.”

“I was looking for answers when we met with a social worker at the hospital after finding out about Aster. She told us, ‘you don’t get better, you get through it…. and you change because of it,’” Hempel told Women’s Hospital staff members gathered for the CuddleCot presentation. “We hope that this will be a resource for you.”

                “This is the hardest thing we do,” explained Jennifer Rangel, Women’s Hospital social worker. “But it’s also one of the most rewarding things we do, to walk this journey with families.”

               Clayton is a Tupelo native, having moved to New York 10 years ago. “No matter where I go, this will always be my first home,” she said. “We were looking for a way to memorialize Aster that would have an impact. What we can provide with this gift is the option of time.” Hempel, who hosts a career podcast titled “Hello Monday” on LinkedIn, was able to secure a second CuddleCot for Women’s Hospital through a matching grant from LinkedIn.

               The family recently renovated a house in Mill Village to use as a second home. They look forward to welcoming a daughter in March.

               For more information about the Health Care Foundation, visit www.nmhsfoundation.org.

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