- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) - At a routine ultrasound last Sept. 14, Michelle Michniewicz found out her daughter’s heart had stopped beating.

At 3 a.m. the next day, Michniewicz gave birth. By 8 a.m., she was home.

“All of these things are running through your head,” said Michniewicz, 29, of Hobart. “You’re trying to wrap your head around that your child just passed away.”

She wishes she’d had more time with baby Juno: to hold her, to take pictures, to not be rushed into making funeral arrangements.

Now she hopes to make sure other grieving families don’t have a similar experience.

Not long after her Juno’s death, Michniewicz reached out to Amelia Kowalisyn, who runs a Valparaiso nonprofit, Emma’s Footprints, that supports families dealing with premature birth and infant loss. In 2014, Kowalisyn’s 23-day-old daughter, Emma, died from complications of a stroke she suffered in utero.

Michniewicz’s story touched a nerve in Kowalisyn, who feels she at least got to spend time with her late daughter. Emma’s Footprints recently donated a device to Porter Regional Hospital that preserves the bodies of stillborn babies for up to 72 hours.

“It’s the gift of time for these families,” Kowalisyn said in a tearful presentation to the Valparaiso hospital’s labor and delivery unit last month. “You only get that one chance, that little bit of time, before you say goodbye.”

The Cuddle Cot, which is manufactured in the United Kingdom, cools the bodies of stillborn babies to stall the decomposition process. A cooling pad, connected to the unit by an insulated hose, is attached to the bassinet, basket or crib.

Elaine Johnson-Merkel, director of the Women and Children’s Pavilion at Porter Regional, noted that with the hospital’s current laboratory policy it’s hard to keep the babies with the families for more than a few hours. The hospital averages about two stillborn births per year.

“The last thing you want to do is introduce a child to a parent in the morgue,” she remarked. She’s had to do that more than once.

Emma’s Footprints recently received a grant from the Legacy Foundation of Lake County to provide Cuddle Cots to each of the county’s seven hospitals with birthing units. In 2007, the most recent year in which statistics are available, there were 38 fetal deaths in Lake County and 10 in Porter County, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Michniewicz and Kowalisyn also hope to break the taboo surrounding infant loss. They say parents shouldn’t feel weird about wanting to hold, have skin-to-skin time with, or bathe their late child.

For her part, Michniewicz is being certified as a bereavement doula, and plans to offer support services for free to grieving parents at any Northwest Indiana labor and delivery unit. Beyond that, she says raising awareness about this issue will help the general public better interact with mothers and fathers who have lost babies; after the death of her daughter, Michniewicz heard comments such as “You can just have another child” or “Everything happens for a reason.”

And by working with local hospitals, the women hope to make what will likely be the worst experience of some moms and dads’ lives a tad easier.

“Very often, it’s a parent who brings changes like these about,” noted Porter Regional’s Johnson-Merkel.

Or in this case, more than one parent.


Source: The (Munster) Times, https://bit.ly/1VTNfpp


Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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