While most are busy with the holiday season, Crown Point resident Ashley Spyrka is in the midst of giving back in the name of her son.
“I started looking at other support groups and I found out that not all hospitals have Cuddle Cots. We needed to change that — we want to live out our son’s memory. I want him to be able to look down at us and say, ‘That’s my mom and dad and I’m so proud of them,' " Spyrka said.
Spyrka delivered her son, Liam, stillborn at 39 weeks in August.
Spyrka and her husband were touched by the support of hospital staff, family and friends but more importantly thankful that the hospital had a Cuddle Cot.
A Cuddle Cot is a cooling system that has been designed to fit in a small cot. It stalls the decomposition process of an infant by cooling the body. It extends time parents have with their child.
Despite her grief, Spyrka started a GoFundMe page and was able to raise more than $12,000 by the end of October.
“Each Cuddle Cot costs $3,000, so we originally just had a goal of raising money for one. We were blown away and overwhelmed at the support we received so we just kept going. It was the first time I cried happy tears,” Spyrka said.
Spyrka was able to purchase four Cuddle Cots. Distribution is set for January.
"How are you supposed to fit a lifetime of memories into four days at the hospital? We can't express how much it meant to us to have time with Liam. I truly believe it has helped with our grieving process,” Spyrka said.
Spyrka said online support groups also helped her grieving process. It was a way to read other people’s stories and feel supported without physically being present.
“When I was in the hospital I felt extremely alone. I was in labor and I was looking at blogs about support groups for infant loss. I came across Emma’s Footprints and I thought, 'Wait, I’m not the only one.' Seeing that other people have gone through this really made me feel that it was going to be OK,” Spyrka said.
Emma's Footprints is an organization founded by Amelia Kowalisyn, of Valparaiso. According to its Facebook page, the organization provides support to both NICU and bereaved families who have experienced infant loss.
Emma’s Footprints also provides care packages for NICU families, bereavement care packages and supports families after the loss of an infant and brings awareness to both premature birth and infant loss.
“It’s heartbreaking and crushing. It’s a hard experience to go through. There are days when taking one breath at a time is all you can do,” Kowalisyn said. “Every grief journey is so different. When you find people that get it, it becomes a tribe.”
Three years ago, Kowalisyn had twins Alex and Emma prematurely. While Alex survived, Emma died when she was 23 days old due to complications from a severe stroke she had in utero.
Kowalisyn agrees that online support groups can be beneficial.
“Alex was so premature I couldn't go to a support group and I wasn't ready to go. I found a private online support group and I made some strong friendships. They walked this journey with me for the past three years,” Kowalisyn said. “There were about 40 of us that lost children around the same time and we are all really close — met each other, met each other kids, etc. We just rally and support each other.”
For more information, visit www.forgetmeknotblog.com/liams-story.