When Lindsey DeMoss and Rebecca Dittert first met earlier this year, they were surprised at the similarities between their stories.
Both Lexington women had been expecting their first babies within weeks of each other last summer.
Both babies were boys, and both pregnancies were completely normal.
And then, at some point during the last weeks of their pregnancies, both women went to the doctor, and both heard the same awful news.
There was no heartbeat.
“You hear about it, but you never think it would happen to you,” DeMoss said.
Both women were told a cord accident was the only known cause.
Both families sent Christmas cards last year asking family and friends to do random acts of kindness in memory of their little ones.
Both women attended a support group at Central Baptist Hospital, where their boys were delivered.
And soon after they learned about Cuddle Cots, both women contacted Central Baptist within hours of each other to say that they were interested in donating one.
That’s how they met.
“It’s really strange how our two little paths have sort of lined up with each other,” Dittert said.
A Cuddle Cot is a cooling device that can be placed in a bassinet to preserve the body, giving families more time with their babies before they say goodbye.
Moved by their own losses, the women and their husbands began an effort to raise more than $2,700 needed.
They posted about the project in some Facebook groups, including one for Lexington mothers. The DeMosses had already formed Webb’s Love, a foundation in memory of their son Webb, through which people could donate.
As their babies’ first birthdays approached, the couples raised enough to donate two Cuddle Cots. The first was delivered to Central Baptist in June, and plans are in the works to donate a second one to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.
“It’s been humbling, overwhelming, just the people that have supported us,” DeMoss said.
Both Dittert and DeMoss said the time they spent with their children right after their children were born is precious to them.
“They would bring him back and forth from the morgue,” DeMoss said.
They had photographs taken, their pastor came and baptized Webb, and they made handprints and footprints. A lock of Webb’s soft brown hair is kept in a tiny box in his nursery.
“That time really helped us bond with him,” said her husband, Matthew DeMoss.
Debbie Mueller, perinatal bereavement and palliative care coordinator at Central Baptist, said the Cuddle Cot the families donated was recently used for the first time.
“I had great feedback from the nurse that took care of the family,” Mueller said. “What we want to do is provide options for families.”
Central Baptist has always offered families the opportunity to spend time with their babies, but the Cuddle Cot allows the baby to remain in the room with the mother without having to be taken away for cooling.
“You can only hold back the effects of time for so long,” said Dittert. “I wish we had had more time.”
Because of the availability of ultrasounds, Mueller said families who deliver stillborn babies or those who die soon after birth often know when they come to the hospital what they are facing.
The perinatal bereavement team, which includes a chaplain, social worker, nurses and others, works to help the family through the grieving process.
Mueller said volunteers provide memory boxes to hold handprints and footprints, bracelets, clothing and other mementos.
Parents of stillborn babies are working to donate Cuddle Cots in other parts of the state as well.
Amberly Pace started the Kentucky Cuddle Cot Campaign last October, after losing her daughter Emma in September 2014, she said.
The effort has donated a Cuddle Cot to Manchester Memorial Hospital, where her baby was born, and has worked with another foundation to place one at Middlesboro ARH Hospital, she said.
Pace spent five and a half hours with Emma after she was born, but she wishes it could have been longer.
Though the hospital staff did not rush her, “I thought that I was pushing my limits,” Pace said.
She felt angry when she first learned that Cuddle Cots existed but that most hospitals don’t have them, she said.
“I could’ve slept next to her. I could’ve watched the sunrise with her the next morning. I could’ve tried all her headbands on her,” Pace said. “Why is this not a protocol?”
Because there were lots of visitors and time was precious, “I didn’t spend one minute alone with her,” she said.
Now, she wishes she had done that.
“I wanted everybody to leave. I wanted the door shut. I wanted it locked,” and then, Pace said she wanted to “scream until my lungs wouldn’t work anymore.”
Instead, she said, “I got home and lost my mind.”
Since then, she has started the state Cuddle Cot Campaign, held a walk for parents who have lost babies and become a volunteer photographer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization that provides photography to families who have lost babies.
“You’re saying hello and goodbye in such a short time,” Pace said. “There’s just one time you get to do this.”
Dittert and DeMoss said helping other parents going through infant loss has also been healing for them.
“Stillbirth affects 1 in 160 pregnancies, yet no one talks about it,” Dittert said. “We hope that we are able to provide some small gift of time to these parents, but also let them know that they are not alone in their grief.”
The couples said the sorrow of losing a baby will always be with them, but life does move forward. Lindsey DeMoss is expecting her second child in December.
“There’s hope,” she said.