How CuddleCot is changing the care system for stillbirth families
The scene opens with a woman, curled up on a hospital bed. A doctor enters, rolling in a white bassinet. “This is called a CuddleCot,” he explains. “It’s a special bassinet that keeps stillborn babies cool so they can stay with their parents a little longer… even after they’re gone.”
Inside is the woman’s stillborn baby, Sophie.
“It’s so …” the mother whispers.
“Morbid?” the doctor responds. “These devices can give you something that nothing else can. Time. It’s not the time you wished you had. Nothing can give you that. But it can give you time to grieve.”
The moment unfolds on this week’s episode of NBC’s year-old drama, “New Amsterdam,” but it’s one that’s playing out more often in real life across the country and around the world. And it’s all thanks to the CuddleCot, an actual device that’s used in a growing number of hospitals and hospices that can provide grieving parents more time with their infant.
Developed by Flexmort, which is based in England, CuddleCots have been on the market for about seven years. “The response,” said Steve Huggins, Flexmort’s commercial director and co-inventor of the CuddleCot, “has been overwhelming.”
In the United Kingdom, every facility that delivers babies has at least one CuddleCot; many have three. And, in the past five years, hospitals in other parts of the world, including Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, have brought in CuddleCots.
The devices were introduced in the United States four years ago. Today, about 1,200 are used in hospitals and hospices here, Huggins said. When he first brought the device to the United States, Huggins said he faced plenty of skepticism about the product. Naysayers wondered why anybody would want it. Today, it’s a different story.
“It’s very much, ‘This is wonderful. This is lovely. I have this amazing story to tell you,’” he said.
How the CuddleCot works
Babies weren’t on Huggins and co-inventor Simon Rockwell’s minds when they launched Flexmort in 2010. The two had worked in law enforcement and emergency and disaster planning. As obesity rates rose, they knew agencies were struggling with handling dead bodies that didn’t fit inside morgue refrigeration. They developed a cooling unit that could be used instead.
As the cooling units took off, a grieving mother shared with them her story about how little time she was able to spend with her own baby and asked them if they could develop something for the smallest among us. The two took up the challenge.
“The CuddleCot was born from that,” Huggins said. “We worked extremely hard to make it as small and quiet as possible.”
The CuddleCot works by continually pumping and cooling water underneath a body, Huggins explained. The movement of the water and the cooling process physically drags away the heat of whatever is on the pad. The device fits inside a bassinet, but parents also have used it underneath the top sheet on a bed or in a stroller.
“It cools the baby down extremely quickly, helping to slow down any change,” Huggins said.
The CuddleCot has allowed parents to spend as much as three weeks with their child, though seven to 10 days is more typical.
“It enables parents to be natural with baby,” he said. “They take pictures, they bathe, they dress, everybody holds baby. They take footprints and fingerprints. The system itself, is so simple to use. It’s so small and compact. In the U.K., and it’s starting to happen in the U.S., families can take baby home into their own environment.”
Not all families will want extra time with their dead infant, Huggins acknowledges. But it gives families, who once spent just minutes with their baby, an option.
“It doesn’t suit everybody,” Huggins said. “It’s about everyone having that choice.”
Anger, then purpose
Erin Maroon would have loved to have more time with Ashlie, her daughter who was born stillborn at full term in October 2015. But, as she recuperated in the hospital from her C-section delivery, Maroon spent less than an hour with her. The room temperature of her hospital room only set the natural processes of death into motion. But the freezing temperature inside the hospital’s cold room quickly changed Ashlie’s tiny features too.
“She was angry and purple,” Maroon remembers. “She completely started to change.”
Maroon read about the CuddleCot on her way out of the hospital. Her first reaction was anger that her hospital didn’t have one. Two weeks later, she decided to start a nonprofit to raise money to buy CuddleCots and place them in hospitals around the country.
“It just snowballed from there,” Maroon said.
Today, Ashlie’s Embrace has raised more than $300,000 and placed 52 CuddleCots in 10 states. Another 16 placements are pending in additional states. Often, families who have benefited from a CuddleCot reach out to Maroon to help them raise money to place another one elsewhere.
“We’ve met with people who did have a CuddleCot who realize the value of it and they want to give back,” she said.
The recent episode of “New Amsterdam” isn’t the first time CuddleCots made it on the small screen. It’s already appeared “EastEnders,” “Emmerdale” and “Coronation Street,” all popular soaps in the United Kingdom. It’s scheduled to air on BBC’s “Holby City,” a British medical drama, next week.
The production company for “New Amsterdam” reached out to Flexmort about including it in the show. Huggins said they helped as they could.
“We are always pleased when the subject of stillborn is tackled in a TV show as it starts people talking about what unfortunately does happen,” he said. “We thought that the show dealt extremely well with the subject and showed how important it is that the mother has the choice to have time with the baby. Something like this really does let people know that this is totally acceptable and the options are readily available.”
The mentions raise awareness about the CuddleCot, but they also help battle a stigma about what’s right for parents of dead infants.
When the hospital told Maroon that she could keep keep Ashlie with her, she wondered, “Do people do that? Is that weird? Do I sleep with her?”
“We didn’t know what to do with her,” she said. “There’s no handbook for that.”
Now, there’s a growing awareness of the options — and a device that makes those options possible.
“When we first started talking to people about it, it was very much along the lines of, ‘No, I don’t think we need it. Why would the family want to spend time with baby?’” Huggins said. “Things, thankfully, have changed. We have changed the way people deal with deceased babies over here.”
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