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Augusta County couple honors stillborn daughter by raising money to donate Caring Cradles to area hospitals

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 5:06 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - An Augusta County couple continues to grieve after they lost their stillborn daughter, Alivia.

Laura Shifflett and her fiancé Dakota Martin were able to spend 22.5 hours with their daughter, thanks to a cooling device called a Caring Cradle. It has a cooling mattress pad, which allows families to spend more time with their stillborn baby.

Now, the couple is working to bring that opportunity of added precious time to more local families.

Shifflett and Martin found out they would be parents to their third child in September of 2020.

“It wasn’t like pure excitement from the beginning because of everything that’s happened to us. The past couple of years were really scary,” Shifflett said.

She had a miscarriage, then a cancer diagnosis. But after a clear biopsy in July, the couple was clear to try for another baby. They only had a four-month window, though.

“I couldn’t be on my medication while we were trying, so within two months we found out that we were pregnant,” Shifflett explained.

They couldn’t wait to welcome their baby girl to the world.

“We had our ultrasound for her anatomy to check everything, her organs, her heart, make sure she had both hands and feet, and her head looked great, and she was perfect,” Shifflett said.

“Perfect, yeah. Everything came back great,” Martin added.

But after 23 weeks, Shifflett noticed something was off.

“She text me at 2 o’clock and was like, ‘I haven’t felt Alivia move all day,’” Martin said.

So they called labor and delivery and were told to come in.

“I know how to read ultrasounds for the most part. I’ve had two kids, and um, I saw that her heart wasn’t beating, and I told her and said, ‘her heart’s not beating is it?’ and she told me no,” Shifflett said.

“That’s a picture that I’ll never be able to forget,” Martin said. “It looked like she was just laying there sleeping... The initial feeling of it, to me, I felt like everything had been stripped away from us.”

The couple went home that night to process everything and prepare for the delivery, packing outfits and blankets.

“We wanted those memories, I mean even though they were sad, those were all we were going to have,” Shifflett said.

And after five hours of labor, Shifflett and Martin were able to spend 22.5 hours with their stillborn daughter, Alivia, thanks to the Caring Cradle, which kept the baby cool.

“We maybe would have got to spend 30 minutes or maybe an hour with our daughter and that’s just... that’s not enough,” Shifflett said. “That’s not enough at all to process everything that you’re going through for something you’re so excited for.”

“With the Caring Cradle, instead of a lifetime of memories, it’s memories for a lifetime because you can’t get that back,” Martin said.

UVA Medical Center only has one Caring Cradle, which was donated to them about a year ago.

“Before we had this, babies would have to be cooled or placed in a refrigerator or go to the morgue and it’s this back and forth of the mom having to request her baby,” Nurse Manager Felisha Tyree explained.

“It’s been so valuable to offer this resource to families who are experiencing loss at the beginning of life, and just recognizing that there is time and closeness and honoring that with the Caring Cradle has been such a gift,” Joy Miller, a pediatric nurse practitioner with the palliative care team at UVA Children’s Hospital, said.

And since receiving it, the Cradle has been used 37 times.

“We love to embrace these families and try to create some type of a memory. We’re never going to take the pain away, but to attach to that a process of I was cared for, I was loved, I was given the opportunity to grieve and bereave the way that I need to do it,” Robin Longo, manager of UVA’s Mother/Baby Antepartum, said.

UVA’s team has a robust and thoughtful bereavement process. In addition to the Caring Cradle, nurses will take photos and honor those meaningful moments families get with their children. They also will make foot and handprints or molds.

“The process ends at delivery, but the bonding doesn’t end, and the emotional component to this delivery doesn’t end for these families,” Longo said.

With one out of every one hundred pregnancies in the U.S. resulting in stillbirth, Shifflett and Martin started Alivia’s Caring Cradle, a fundraiser to purchase these cradles to donate to area hospitals.

“If there can be any good that comes out of this, this is what would be best, not only for us but for everybody else as well,” Martin said.

“It’s something that happens a lot more than people actually think, and families deserve to have that time with their babies like we got with our daughter,” Shifflett said.

It costs around $5,500 for one Caring Cradle. In just one month, the couple raised enough money to purchase one that they’re donating to UVA. Their goal is to continue donated these cradles to help more families.

If you would like to donate to help them reach their goal, you can do so through one of the following:

GoFundMe

PayPal: AliviasCaringCradle

Donations should be sent via Friends&Family to avoid the fee, so 100% of all funds go toward the fundraiser.

CashApp: $AliviasCC

Facebook: Alivia’s Caring Wings

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