By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Two women who have walked a broken road when it comes to childbirth are helping to give the gift of time and Christ’s healing presence to families who have lost a child at birth. 

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The CuddleCot system cools deceased baby’s bodies, allowing families to stay with babies who are delivered either prematurely or full term before being moved to the morgue. Families and businesses that donate a CuddleCot through the Ardent Foundation of Baton Rouge can place a plaque on the equipment that includes the name of the deceased loved one they are honoring and a Scripture verse.  Photo provided by Candace Muller 

 

Candace Muller and Mandy Ducote founded the Ardent Foundation in 2017, as the fifth anniversary of the death of Ducote’s son, Cason, was approaching. To honor Cason, they searched for a way to reach out to families grieving the loss of a child. In her research, Muller discovered the CuddleCot.  

The CuddleCot system cools deceased baby’s bodies, allowing families to stay with babies who were delivered either prematurely or full term before being moved to the morgue. The technology was developed by Flexmort Mortuary Solutions in the United Kingdom, which also developed the technology to provide temporary morgue space for mass causalities.  

The CuddleCot cooling pad is placed in any Moses basket, crib, bed or other receptacle. It is connected by a specially insulated hose and is quietly cooled using the CuddleCot cooling unit. The CuddleCot system comes in its own carry case with two sizes of cooling pad for premature and full term babies. The CuddleCot cools to an ideal temperature for preserving the baby without being too cold for the parents.  

Mullers asked her mother, Marree Saltaformaggio, who was the director of women’s services at Oschner Health System in Baton Rouge, if she had heard of CuddleCot and a surprised Saltaformaggio said she had just discovered it herself that week and believed it was a “phenomenal piece of equipment.” Muller said attention was immediately placed on purchasing a unit.  

Within a few weeks, Ducote and Muller came up with a mission, symbol for the company and legal work for Ardent Foundation.  

“We had never intended to start a foundation, but low and behold one thing led to another and a foundation was born,” smiled Muller.  

The Ardent Foundation’s mission is dedicated to providing hope, support and education to families with babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and those suffering from infant loss. This includes providing CuddleCots to birthing facilities so parents and loved ones can spend more time with the baby making memories.  

Within the first few weeks, enough money was raised to buy the first CuddleCot, which was given to Oschner on Cason’s fifth heavenly birthday, Dec. 19. Since then CuddleCots have been provided for all the birthing facilities in the Baton Rouge area with plans on expanding to New Orleans and beyond.  

One strong advocate of the Ardent Foundation is Julie Bonaventure, a member of St. Gabriel Church in St. Gabriel. Bonaventure’s daughter-in-law and Muller are good friends, and when she heard about the CuddleCot, it hit home in her heart, because she suffered the loss of a child, Anna Leigh, 30 years ago.  

“I had a baby who unexpectedly died 13 hours after she was born,” said Bonaventure. “And it was over and done. Woman’s Hospital did as much as they could. They let me hold her, they took pictures of her, and baptized her … But it happened so fast we didn’t have time to think about it. If we had another day through CuddleCot we could have been with her longer, taken pictures, let the children and grandparents see her. For them it’s as if she is ‘not even real’ because they never saw her. All we have are these little grainy pictures. It would have been awesome to hold her. Even though she was deceased, she’s still our flesh and blood.” 

She noted more time is important when a baby dies. She said many times, the thought is “remove the family from the tragic situation” when it can actually prolong the grief because the family does not get a chance to properly say goodbye.  

Father Charlie Landry, pastor of St. Gabriel, whom Bonaventure introduced to the Ardent Foundation founders, expressed his agreement and support for the CuddleCot.  

Father Landry, who has encountered many families who have experienced the death of a baby during his years as a priest, said, “I always wish I could do something more.”  

Through the CuddleCot a family has more of an opportunity to “do something” to say goodbye, make memories and help ease the grieving process, according to Father Landry.  

Even familes whose child did not die at birth, but spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can appreciate CuddleCots and understand the grieving process that parents who lose a child must be going through. 

Muller, who had a difficult pregnancy, remembers the thoughts and emotions she experienced when her daughter, Melody, spent time in the NICU Seahorse Unit for babies requiring constant attention.  

When a baby is struggling for or loses its life, people can walk away from their faith, said Muller, who was fortunate to receive strength through her faith and the support of other people in her time of need.  

“Even before I went into the hospital I was on bed rest for two weeks,” said Muller tearfully. “I had a lot of time to sit by myself and ponder whether Melody was going to make it or not. People may think that I would have been paralyzed with fear, but it really was such a peaceful time. I had so many people praying for us – complete strangers and people that I had developed a relationship with that helped me through in seeing that people who had lost children had walked that road. So I felt an obligation to share their mission. Before you experience something like that you may not know what it means to rely on your faith. 

“I was very thankful that they stepped up and ministered to me. I didn’t know what my future held, what to expect or why I had been dealt the hand that I had.”  

Patting the leg of her daughter, who was nestling nearby in her grandmother’s lap, Muller said, “And this little angel – I felt I was Christian before, but she gave me a very different outlook on life.”  

Which she said is the reason why she and Ducote are on a mission to share the love of Christ to families in their deepest moment of grief.  

For more information about the CuddleCot, visit theardentfoundation.com.