Although Jasmine is a barn cat, she frolics near the house. Her big belly does not deter her from playful rubs against my grandson’s leg. We stand outside Betty Johnson’s farmhouse, eager for additional delights.
“Come with us Nicky,” I say to my grandson. “We’ll pet calves in the barn.”
Nicky hesitates. “Will she have kittens?”
“Yes, she’s pregnant,” Betty answers. “Kittens are due any day.”
A week later, my daughter asks, “Nicky wants to know if Jasmine had kittens?”
“I’ll check with Betty when I go to the Johnson’s for eggs,” I reply.
Later that day, Betty explains, “Ah, yes, only one, and the kitten didn’t survive. Jasmine caught an infection. She probably didn’t clean up adequately after the birth. We gave Jasmine antibiotics. Jasmine got better but the infection transferred to the kitten as she nursed. When we found Jasmine our initial reaction was to remove the dead kitty to help Jasmine overcome her loss. Instead, we decided to make Jasmine more comfortable with a cardboard box and blanket. We left the kitten with her.”
“Jasmine stayed with the dead kitten for a day,” Betty continued. “She was lethargic and wouldn’t leave the box. The next day Jasmine played near the house. We checked the box. The little one was gone. Jasmine probably took the kitten to the woods. If we had taken the kitten, we would have interfered with what Jasmine needed to do. Although we may think we help when we remove a dead kitten, we don’t. Jasmine needed to follow her own process of letting go.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 24,000 annual stillborn births for human babies born in the United States in 2015. Stillbirths represent one percent of total US pregnancies. By comparison, stillbirths exceed infant deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by a factor of 10. (Facts about stillbirth. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/stillbirth/facts.html)
In 2016 Rebecca Makris of Livermore, California, established the U.S. Cuddle Cot Campaign Initiative to provide hospitals with a cooling device, placed in a mother’s room, to lower the body temperature of a stillborn. Cuddle Cots extend the time for parents to bond with their infant and to say goodbye. Rebecca’s first donation was to Sutter Roseville Medical Center in Sacramento, California, for the stillbirth of Phoebe Ferguson.
Prior to cooling machines like Cuddle Cot, hospitals removed stillborn infants from mothers within two hours of delivery. Stillbirth bodies deteriorate rapidly. Brief initial contact, and repeat visits to the morgue, if parents wanted more time with their infant, is traumatic for all concerned.
“ ‘I carried her for nine months – I wanted to see her,’ said mother Stacy Ferguson. ‘I wanted to memorize every part of her. Giving her back was the hardest thing.’ ‘Every time they brought her back, it was a reminder,’ said her father, Gavin Ferguson. ‘If she were in the room with us and it were more gradual, it wouldn’t be as bad.’ ” (Caiola, S. (2016, February). Cuddle Cot gives parents of stillborn babies more time to grieve. Sacramento, California, The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved from http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/health-and-medicine/healthy-choices/article61751807.html)
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.