A proper goodbye
Oklahoma non-profit helps parents suffering infant loss
Jaxon Kade Foundation co-founder Brittany Martin stands with a Caring Cradle
Brittany Martin was 39 weeks pregnant with her third child when she and her husband Josh arrived at Lakeside Women’s Hospital in Oklahoma City on June 19, 2014, for an induction of labor. It’s a process that typically begins with the application of electronic fetal monitors that trace the baby’s heartbeat and monitor uterine contractions. The Martins were excited, anticipating the arrival of their new baby.
As Brittany’s nurse began to apply the monitors, she noticed her having a difficult time locating her son’s heartbeat. The look on the nurse’s face caused a flash of panic in Brittany, but the nurse reassured her: “He must be hiding.”
Several nurses and three dopplers later, they still couldn’t find her son’s heartbeat. Remembering that morning, Brittany writes: “I felt like I was in a horrible nightmare. I could see my husband standing in the back of the room, completely horrified, and saw the feeling of helplessness on his face as I was swarmed with doctors and nurses. I just kept willing myself to wake up from the dream. It didn't feel real. Time moved so slow. Each breath hurt. I tried to be still and silent so I could hear the sound of Jaxon's heart. I willed myself to hear his heart. But, after an hour of ultrasounds, doctors, and monitors, they confirmed what we had already realized was true. Jaxon’s heart was no longer beating.”
What was supposed to be one of the best days of the Martins’ lives had just turned into the worst.
Brittany proceeded with labor, knowing that ultimately, the baby boy she would give birth to, Jaxon Kade, would be dead. “All the pain is the same,” Brittany writes about the experience. “The contractions still hurt; and it still takes hours. You still must deal with your milk coming in and take the needed time for your body to heal. The only difference is that the pain in your heart far exceeds all of the physical pain.”
Jaxon was born a little after 4 p.m. that day. Instead of preparing to bring their new baby home, the Martins had to prepare for his funeral. They had to decide whether or not they wanted photos of him, a lock of his hair, what to do with his body, which funeral home to use—when all they wanted was to hold and love their baby.
Death is an ugly process with little regard for a mother’s broken heart. Brittany and Josh quickly began to see its effects on Jaxon.
For my day job—night job, if you want to be technical about it—I’m a registered nurse in the labor and delivery unit of a local hospital. Most people, when they hear that, gush a little: “Oh you work in the happy place.” Usually, it is a happy place. But when it’s not, it’s the most devastating place on Earth. I’ve cared for families during the loss of their infants, cried with them, taken photographs of their babies, and preserved their tiny hands and feet in ink and plaster. We try to give the parents as much time as possible to spend with their babies, knowing that once they leave the hospital, that will likely be the last time they’ll see their child. Sometimes, though, as decay takes hold, hastened by the warmth of their delivery rooms, it’s harder to preserve those perfect infants, and we ask, as gently as possible, if we might take them somewhere cooler.
The brutal truth is, that cooler place is a refrigerator. The cold slows the process of decay, and when we take them back to their families, with cool skin and clean clothes, they look a little more like the babies the families want to remember.
Brittany says her biggest regret in dealing with the aftermath of Jaxon’s birth and death was not spending more time with him. She only held him for about 90 minutes, and his older siblings never got the chance to see him. “I became scared to touch Jaxon,” Brittany writes. “I wanted to remember him the way he was. Beautiful. Soft. My baby. It broke my heart. They took him away to the morgue much sooner than I would have liked, because I couldn't handle seeing the decaying process begin.”
A few months after Jaxon’s birth, Brittany began scouring the web, searching for support groups that would help ease her grief, and also looking for a way to turn her sadness into something that might help another family experiencing the same loss. In one of her searches, she came across something called a CuddleCot, a refrigerated Moses basket that can help preserve a baby’s body in its parents’ delivery room up to five days. It gives them time to grieve their loss, without separation, and to take their time with photographs and mementos. It was exactly what the Martins wished they’d had when Jaxon was born.
Manufactured in the United Kingdom, there were only four CuddleCots in the U.S. at the time, none of them in Oklahoma. The Martins decided to have a fundraiser with the goal of raising enough money to donate a CuddleCot to Lakeside Women’s Hospital, where Jaxon was born.
Avid off-roaders, the couple decided to have a 4x4 show, with monster trucks, Jeep clubs, vendors, food trucks, and activities. They held their event on Oct. 15, 2016, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Instead of raising enough money for one CuddleCot, they raised enough for three, all of them going to Oklahoma City-area hospitals.
The next year, in 2017, the Martins founded the Jaxon Kade Foundation, with the mission of providing a CuddleCot—or more recently a Caring Cradle, a Florida-manufactured refrigerated bassinet on wheels, which looks similar to the cribs newborn babies are kept in while they’re in the hospital—to every hospital in Oklahoma. Brittany said the Caring Cradles are more expensive than the CuddleCots, but they’re also more inconspicuous. Since they look like hospital cribs, they add an element of normalcy to the grieving parents’ experience.
All of the proceeds raised at the annual 4x4 show, and through personal donations to the foundation, are used to purchase CuddleCots and Caring Cradles for local hospitals, donated in remembrance of a baby who has died. Each device costs the foundation between $2,765 and $4,800.
So far, the foundation has provided the bassinets to Lakeside Women's Hospital, St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City, Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City, OU Children's Hospital, Integris Health Edmond Hospital, Integris Canadian Valley Hospital in Yukon, Integris Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Integris Bass Baptist Hospital in Enid, and Stillwater Medical Center. On March 13, the foundation will present bassinets to Hillcrest Medical Center, Hillcrest Hospital South, and St. John Medical Center in Tulsa. The hospitals are not charged for the bassinets, and the only stipulations placed on them are that they provide them at no cost to their patients, and that they use them.
“If they don’t use it within six months of receiving it, we ask them to return it so we can use it somewhere else,” Brittany said.
Representatives from St. John’s Labor and Delivery and NICU units said they serve approximately 40–50 families experiencing perinatal-neonatal loss each year. “A cooling device provides the ‘gift of time’—a time for memory-making with a child whose life is too short, which can support early bereavement for families experiencing perinatal-neonatal loss,” representatives wrote in a joint statement. “Having both [a CuddleCot and Caring Cradle] available will allow St. John L&D and NICU to provide additional support in the early bereavement processes of more than one family simultaneously.” The nurses said they anticipate using the Caring Cradle and CuddleCot approximately three to six times a month.
“If we’d had something like this, we would have used it,” Brittany said. “We can’t take away the pain other families are feeling, but maybe we can do something to make it a little better.
“There aren’t any words you can give to another mom who’s lost a baby,” she said. “There aren’t any words that are good enough. Sometimes it’s just knowing they’re not alone, that there are other people who care, even though we can’t do anything to make their pain go away.”