Kim and Durrell Binford lost their daughter Ryleigh Renee in November 2017. What had been a normal and healthy second pregnancy for Kim, ended tragically at her 37-week appointment when the doctor told the couple their baby no longer had a heartbeat. After Ryleigh was delivered, Kim and Durrell were given only a few hours to hold their daughter.
Three months later, the Binfords’ close friends, Alex and Paul Stelzer, of Dublin, Ohio, lost their son, Noah Paul, under the same circumstances, but their experience following Noah’s delivery was a little different.
“Because our hospital gave us the option of using a CuddleCot, our family was able to spend time with Noah, and our son Oliver got to meet his little brother,” said Paul.
A CuddleCot is a cooling machine that connects to a bassinet and runs silently, allowing families to spend more time with a stillborn baby. These machines are used extensively in the United Kingdom with over 95 percent of hospitals utilizing a CuddleCot. However, they are not as common in the U.S.
“A CuddleCot doesn’t make the loss any easier, but it gives families something that they need more than anything: time,” said Paul. “The time to hold their baby, take pictures, introduce him/her to their siblings and extended family, kiss them and love them. It allowed us to form a special bond with Noah, the only memories that we will have, that have ultimately helped us in the grieving process.”
Alex reached out to her high school friend Kim about remembering their babies in a special way through the donation of CuddleCots in Noah and Ryleigh’s names. Although the Stelzers were offered a CuddleCot at Dublin Methodist Hospital, the Binfords did not have that option when they lost Ryleigh.
In October 2018, the Stelzers and Binfords started a GoFundMe, with the goal of raising enough money to donate two CuddleCots. Within 24 hours, generous family members, friends and even strangers had donated enough for one CuddleCot. Within 48 hours, they reached their goal of two, and after a week, they had raised enough money for three. By the time their campaign ended after three weeks, the page had been shared over 1,000 times on Facebook and they had raised more than $10,000, enough for four CuddleCots that will be placed in Ohio hospitals.
“You just want to have your baby’s name remembered,” said Durrell Binford. “And we want every family to have the option to spend more time with their baby.”
A CuddleCot in memory of Ryleigh Renee Binford was presented to the Fisher-Titus Birthing Center at a special dedication ceremony on Feb. 21. The CuddleCot was obtained through a non-profit organization that the Stelzers have partnered with, Ashlie’s Embrace. A CuddleCot in memory of Noah Paul Stelzer was placed at OhioHealth Shelby Hospital on the same day.
Ashlie’s Embrace was founded by Erin and Anthony Maroon of North Canton after losing their daughter, Ashlie Cathren, in October 2015. The couple was only given one hour to spend with their daughter. They later learned about CuddleCots and wanted to make sure that parents throughout the country were able to have extra time with their babies. With the Feb. 21 donations, Ashlie’s Embrace has now placed 30 CuddleCots in four states over the past two years.
“We could not do what we do without people like Paul, Alex, Kim, Durrell and all the wonderful nurses supporting families through the loss,” said Erin.
“It’s strange to donate something you hope you never have to use, but families do experience loss, and the CuddleCot helps,” said Paul.
Prior to receiving this gift, Megan Smith, OB manager at the Fisher-Titus Birthing Center, had started researching CuddleCots. She was working on a plan with others at the hospital to obtain a CuddleCot when they heard from Ashlie’s Embrace about the donation in memory of Ryleigh.
“Your babies are never forgotten. They stay with us,” said Smith. “I’m grateful and honored to accept the CuddleCot in Ryleigh’s memory.”
Beyond honoring their babies and helping other families, the efforts of the Stelzer and Binford families have people talking about a topic that normally is not discussed. Paul explained that others who have experienced stillbirth are now stepping forward with their stories and leaning on each other for support.
“We are very grateful to be able to offer the CuddleCot to families experiencing a loss,” said Smith. “The CuddleCot allows mom, dad and baby to stay together and helps preserve the baby’s features so other family can meet the baby.”
The CuddleCot will be available in the Fisher-Titus Birthing Center for families who have experienced the loss of a child. There is a plaque on the carrying case and the cooling unit honoring Ryleigh Renee Binford.