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Special care given to families experiencing stillbirth or infant loss

A couple standing in front of a wall covered in notes Nashville, Tennessee couple Martin and Jane Wiegand add the name of their daughter, Frances Marie to a Blanchfield Army Community Hospital memorial for families who have lost a baby through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, intrauterine fetal demise, stillbirth or infant death. The Wiegand’s gifted BACH a Cuddle Cot earlier this year in memory of their daughter and returned to BACH Oct. 15 for a ceremony in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. (Photo by Maria Yager, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital.)

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For many, pregnancy is a special time culminating in the birth of a healthy baby to hold, cuddle and bond with for years to come. Those first days of life are usually spent at the hospital with mom and baby recovering from the rigors of labor and delivery.

Sadly, for some mothers this is not the case. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports miscarriage occurs in about 10 to 20% of pregnancies and stillbirth occurs in about one in 100 births each year.

Miscarriage occurs before the 20th week of pregnancy and stillbirth is the death or loss of a baby after the 20th week of pregnancy before or during delivery. At 20 weeks of pregnancy, a mother may feel her baby moving in the womb. She may already know if it’s a boy or a girl and given the baby a name.

Pregnancy and infant loss is a devastating experience to endure, as was the case for Jane and Martin Wiegand, who lost their baby girl, Frances Marie, during the 32nd week of pregnancy.

“It was our first pregnancy. We had no issues during our pregnancy. We had a normal 20-week check-up. The baby’s development looked great. No signs of stress in utero, no abnormal growth or physical deformities,” said Jane, who was treated by a Nashville-based obstetrician.

Wiegand saw her provider at regular intervals and said she felt like her pregnancy was going well. Then when she and her husband went to her 32-week appointment, they received news that would forever change life as they knew it.

“At my 32-week appointment, I found out there was no heartbeat. They confirmed, no heartbeat, which was absolutely a shock. Even if something is wrong, you don’t expect THAT. It was a complete blow to us,” she said.

After tests confirmed no signs of life coming from her baby, the Wiegand’s doctor gave the couple the option to induce labor and deliver that evening or the following morning. Natural deterioration begins once a baby dies in the womb. Over time that may interfere with determining what caused the death and in some cases put the mother’s health at risk. The Wiegands chose to go home for the night and come back the next morning.

“I didn’t have a hospital bag packed. It wasn’t what we were expecting. Our families don’t live in Nashville, so we wanted for them to travel in and try to prepare as much as possible,” she said.

When they arrived at the hospital the next morning to induce labor, the medical staff already understood why they were there and went to great lengths to spare them any additional pain. Child birth is usually a happy and exciting time, but that wouldn’t be the case for the Wiegands and their baby girl. The hospital prepared a special room where medical staff who would be caring for Mrs. Wiegand knew this delivery would not have the outcome of the family’s desire. Instead they received a different, yet compassionate birth experience. The Wiegands were introduced to resources and support in the community with others who understood the heartbreaking experience they had suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves in. The chaplain visited them and shared words of comfort.

A bassinette in a hospital room, with a box that has words "Cuddle Cot" on it
A Cuddle Cot is a portable in-room cooling unit that lets families who have experienced a stillbirth keep their baby at the bedside during their hospital stay giving families extra time to say goodbye. The system consists of a cooling pad placed under the blankets in a newborn bassinet connected to a small cooling unit to help prevent natural deterioration and preserve the body. (Photo by Maria Yager, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital.)

“We delivered her at 5:34 p.m. and we weren’t sure what to expect, on her condition,” said Wiegand, who delivered her daughter Frances Marie, or Francie as they call her, in a Nashville hospital January 23, 2020. “Physically she looked perfectly fine. Beautiful. So we were able to see her and hold her. Thanks to the resources at the hospital, they have this Cuddle Cot, which I had never heard of before. It preserved her condition and that allowed her to stay in our room for the duration of the hospital stay.”

The cot is specially designed to give parents extra time with their baby. Time to bond, time to hold their baby and create lasting memories to give some comfort during their grief.

“But in instances where hospitals don’t have Cuddle Cots families are sending babies to the morgue, which is pretty traumatic. You don’t like sending your child to the morgue and also you are losing time. You can hold on to them as long as you can, but once they deteriorate you have to say goodbye,” explained Wiegand.

“Not everyone wants to extend that time, but we found it immensely valuable and it helped ease our trauma. Those 36 hours we had are some of the most precious of our lives. And allowed us to make so many memories, that if we only had 30 minutes to an hour we couldn’t have done,” said Wiegand.

Although the Cuddle Cot affords families an opportunity to care for their emotional health, they are not common in hospitals because they are not considered a medical necessity, said Wiegand. The cot that gave the Wiegands those extra hours with their daughter had been donated by another family who experienced a still birth and after their own experience the Wiegands decided to pay it forward.

“For my birthday we established a [fundraiser] to raise the money for a Cuddle Cot. Fortunately, we were able to purchase four,” she said, “We wanted them to go where people didn’t have access to one.”

Since Wiegand was born in a military hospital and raised in a military family, she and her husband contacted the labor and delivery unit at Fort Campbell’s Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, to inquire about donating a cot to the hospital for military families experiencing pregnancy and infant loss. In August and donated a cot in memory of their daughter, Francie.

“Jane and Martin have gifted Blanchfield Army Community Hospital with a resource that will allow families who are dealing with loss to have more time with their children and for that we are forever grateful,” said Army Capt. Keisha Yancey, a labor and delivery nurse at Blanchfield. Because there is official guidance in regards to federal entities accepting gifts, Yancey did the research and sought the approval for the hospital to accept the donation.

It is a gift you never want to need, Jane Wiegand stated, but if it can bring comfort to one military family than that is what we want to do.

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