After a long struggle with infertility, it felt like a miracle when Emily and Barton Sloan learned they would be adding a baby to their family. But their joy turned to devastation when they discovered their son had a congenital disorder and wouldn’t survive long after his birth.
They coped by preparing to welcome their baby into the world and celebrate his life, however short. Brandon Spencer Sloan was born on Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2016.
“It was a beautiful experience,” said Emily. The couple had more than 25 hours with their son before he passed away -- time to cuddle, sing songs, take photos, and introduce him to his big sister and grandparents. “It just meant the world to be able to be there with him. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life, but also one of the most meaningful.”
On Brandon’s first official Leap Year birthday this year, the family decided they wanted to do something in his memory to ensure that couples in a similar situation also have the gift of time, and that’s why they’re donating a Cuddle Cot to Intermountain Medical Center. The device is a portable cooling unit that can be concealed in a blanket or bassinet to preserve a baby’s body after death.
It gives a family “time to say their hellos before their goodbyes,” said Shauna Kinnersley, bereavement coordinator in the Labor and Delivery unit at the Murray hospital. Thirty years ago, when she first started supporting women through the loss of a child, Shauna said stillborn or miscarried babies were simply taken away, never to be seen again. Gradually, caregivers began to realize the importance of time with a baby.
“These families need to have memories. They need to acknowledge their love, even if they have a very tiny baby. The size of a baby and its gestational age doesn’t determine” the size of their grief, she said.
Bereavement coordinators throughout the Intermountain Healthcare system help women process their loss. These nurses might prepare molds of a baby’s hand or foot; explain options for what comes next, such as burial; process the detailed paperwork required by the state; and follow up with phone calls to check in on the family after going home.
“Bereavement is a big part of Labor and Delivery. These families need to grieve and accept their loss so they can work with their grief as part of their life. I’ll call, just to acknowledge that they’re not alone and their feelings are normal. They might be laughing one minute, feeling guilty the next, then very, very sad. They feel they're going crazy. I let them know that they’re normal and it’s a part of healing,” said Shauna.
For many, another part of healing is finding ways to remember the little one they lost. In Emily’s case, it resulted in the cooling unit. A few friends and family members chipped in funds to help them purchase the device from a company in the United Kingdom. After months of delays due to COVID-19 and a stop in U.S. Customs, the device is here and will soon be one of two available to families at IMC. Similar units are available at several other Intermountain Healthcare hospitals as well.
“When I found out about Cuddle Cots, I thought this is the perfect thing to do so that other families can have time with their sweet babies. My heart goes out to these families,” said Emily, whose own family has now grown to include four beautiful children -- Brandon, two sisters, and a little brother.