Expecting parents face a whole host of worries as they await their new child. Will the nursery be ready in time? Will I be ready? Do I have all the right diapers, bottles and clothes? What if I forget something? Do I know what to do if they get sick? What if something goes wrong with the pregnancy, labor or delivery?
Unfortunately, that last question is answered with a loss and grief that affects 1 in 4 families. Whitney Springer, a registered nurse at Athens-Limestone Hospital, said she has seen "too many to count" since joining the hospital's mother-baby unit in 2013.
It can happen for a variety of reasons or no apparent reason at all, and Springer said oftentimes, a routine doctor's visit or concern that something might be wrong leads to the discovery that a child's heart has stopped beating.
After the child is delivered, "sometimes they want to wait on family to come, give everyone a chance to say goodbye," Springer said. "Sometimes, we have to wait on family to come out of town and things like that."
She said the hospital is supportive of this, but that can mean walking back and forth from the morgue or other cooler, doing their best to give families as much time as possible to say goodbye while keeping the child's body cool enough to slow the natural effects of death.
Springer is a member of a Facebook group for labor and delivery nurses, and she said she was thinking there had to be a better way to help families get the time they need after losing a child when she found a post from another group member about the Caring Cradle.
"It was like it was a sign," Springer said.
The Caring Cradle is a device that aims to provide "a more dignified and comfortable way for parents and families to spend time with their baby" by keeping the infant's body cool in the hospital room. This allows out-of-town family time to arrive at the hospital, time for pictures and memories, and additional time for holding, cuddling and rocking a baby that was "born sleeping."
"Sometimes they're not ready (to see the baby) right away," Springer said. "This would allow, as long as the mom is in the hospital, to spend time with their baby whenever they want to. They could keep the baby in the room with them, or they can send the baby back."
The ALH Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that raises funds for items just like the Caring Cradle, and when Springer approached the Foundation to ask for help getting one for ALH, Caroline Canestrari agreed it was "a great need" for the hospital.
"It would be a wonderful thing for our hospital to have, and it would make a tremendous difference for families to have in Limestone County," said Canestrari, who serves as the Foundation's coordinator of donor relations and community engagement. "It would be a great asset for our community."
Huntsville Hospital has one, she said, and it gives parents the memories and time they might not otherwise be able to get.
"It allows families who thought they would spend a lifetime with their baby to say goodbye and create some memories in a dignified way," Canestrari said. "They wouldn't be rushed; they can spend as much time as possible in the event of a stillbirth."
The ALH Foundation opened an online fundraiser Monday that has already raised nearly $500 of the around $5,500 needed to purchase the cradle. Donors can visit https://bit.ly/ALHCaringCradle and donate up to $1,000 as a one-time or recurring donation, then share the link with friends or family members.
Supporters can also visit https://bit.ly/ALHShirtSale to purchase a T-shirt for $15 in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The shirt, available in sizes small through 3XL, features a pink and blue rainbow, pink and blue baby footprints and a sun with the words "We love all babies, even those born sleeping."
Canestrari encouraged everyone to help achieve this "very attainable" goal.
"The smallest amount can make the biggest difference when everyone pitches in," she said.