INDIANAPOLIS — Mementos are all Aly Bentley has to remind her of her first daughter, Evelyn. Evelyn was stillborn at 23 weeks in 2019.
"It's a very hard feeling when you're discharged from the hospital and you feel very empty-handed walking away without your child," Aly said.
The next year, Aly's second daughter, Kennedy, was born 14 weeks early. Aly and her husband were able to spend seven weeks with their beautiful baby girl before she passed.
"Any time you spend with your children is precious time you'll never get back," Aly said.
That's why Aly and her sister Carissa Harden decided to help other families experiencing miscarriage and stillbirth.
"She's my only sister. And to watch her go through all that heartache is just incredibly difficult," Harden said.
The sisters teamed up with Franciscan Health's perinatal bereavement coordinator, Allison White. The goal was to raise money for a Caring Cradle for Franciscan, where Bentley also works. The cradle is a cooling bed that allows parents to spend time with their stillborn children. It's the first of its kind in the city, and only the second in the state.
"This has a refrigerated component down here that cools the bottom where the gel pad is. Then baby can lay in the crib if family isn't holding baby at the time. It keeps baby's body temperature down which can slow the natural process," White said.
"Having that time in the room to hold your child, bathe your child, dress your child, those are instrumental things that you'll never get back," Aly said.
Before the cradle, White says that stillborn babies were taken away from their parents quickly. But now, families can spend time doing all the things they had planned to do with their little ones. Families often spend 2-3 days in the bereavement suite, according to White. The suite and the cradle are White's way of helping to change the conversation around stillbirth and miscarriage.
"I had a loss in 2010. It was an early loss, but the way it was handled, it just felt like a normal procedure or diagnosis. I didn't feel like it was a monumental event," White said.
But it was. It took White ten years to come to terms with the experience, and helping other families going through the same thing is a way to heal. The cooling cradle has been at Franciscan for about a year, and 22 families have used it.
The cradle costs about $5,800 now, and the women raised all the funds, plus more, in about a week. As Kennedy was fighting to survive, Aly kept her Franciscan colleagues updated on Kennedy's condition on a Facebook page. When the women decided to raise money for the cradle, Harden sent an email to the staff at Franciscan Health, asking them to help purchase the cradle in Kennedy's honor. After watching Kennedy's fight for seven weeks, Franciscan employees donated in droves, covering the cost of the cradle, and a few hundred towards a second.
"They are the ones that stepped in and made it possible. They are the ones that donated, they are the ones that showed how much they cared," Harden said.
The women are now raising money for a second cradle for Franciscan's other location. You can donate on the Franciscan Health Foundation's website.
"To be able to give more families grieving time that maybe we didn't get is our way of taking a negative experience and turning it into comfort for other families," said Aly.
On Friday, the Caring Cradle will be dedicated to Kennedy and Evelyn - the two little girls who inspired so many people to make a difference.
The Caring Cradle isn't Franciscan's only perinatal bereavement program. The Caring Companions program can connect families with resources for dealing with loss. Franciscan will also host the Walk to Remember on October 8th to honor and remember babies lost to stillbirth, miscarriage, and newborn death.
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