There's a lot more to parenthood than what can be gleaned from reading books or chatting with other moms. That idea you have about what lies ahead? It doesn't come close to what you'll actually experience when you become responsible for a tiny human's life. But just as there's no one-size-fits-all guide to raising children, it's pretty much impossible to anticipate the opposite — what it's like to endure the loss of a child. Though no parent should have to face such heartbreak, it does happen: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every 1,000 babies born in the United States in 2014, almost six died before their first birthday. After suffering the loss of her own 11-month-old daughter, Everly, in 2015, Florida mom Crystal Hopkins started a foundation called Everly's Angels, which endeavors to give families more time together by providing hospitals with cuddle cots for grieving parents to use after a child's death.
The Hopkins family was in Atlanta when Everly passed away, according to WTSP 10 News in Tampa Bay. They weren't ready to say goodbye yet and had to place her body on a bag of ice (to slow the natural deterioration process) in order to bring her home. Even when babies die in a hospital, they're often quickly taken to the morgue, Hopkins told WTSP, limiting the amount of time a family in mourning is able to spend with their loved one.
In collaboration with SOBBS (Stories of Babies Born Still), the goal of Everly's Angels is to place what's known as a CuddleCot in every hospital in the United States. The CuddleCot is an in-room cooling unit the size of a small humidifier that can be used to slow the natural process that follows death. The cooling pad can be discretely placed underneath a baby’s bed or blanket, allowing them to stay with the family for as long as five days without being taken away. According to the Everly's Angels website:
This gift of time allows precious, irreplaceable hours for parents, siblings and extended family to spend with the baby. This time can be used for bonding, priceless photos, plaster molds to be taken ... It affords parents the chance to study every inch of their baby — eyes, toes, feet, hairlines, features — everything they will never see again.
The first CuddleCot was donated this week to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Our family-centered care is focused on helping those families who face the sadness of a still birth or infant loss, and this gift is another important way that we can support these grieving families,” Dr. Prabhu Parimi, director of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Maternal, Fetal & Neonatal Institute, said in a press release. “Every family deserves the dignity of this choice and we believe it is important that families know it exists here."
In addition to its CuddleCot initiative, other projects at Everly's Angels include:
- Gifting parents with "comfort baskets" full of essential personal-care items (e.g. razors, toothpaste, and deodorant) that allow them to comfortably remain in the hospital with their child;
- Helping grieving parents capture memories with their baby through the "Everly After" Box Program; and
- Sending families "Journey Through Grief" booklets at challenging milestones throughout the first year after loss: three weeks, three months, six months, and one year.
"Offering choices to parents is about maximizing moments and minimizing regrets," international speaker and author Sherokee Ilse told Everly's Angels. As she writes on her website, "Having had three losses (Marama, Brennan William, and Bryna), I do understand heartache ... I have mourned hard and worked harder to help soften the journey of living through and beyond these treasured losses, always honoring the parents' love."
To learn more about Everly's Angels or to get involved with its efforts, visit www.everlysangels.org.