SHERIDAN — Over nine months or so, the new parents watch the baby grow from the size of a grape to a walnut, to an avocado to an orange.
Names are discussed and nursery themes are chosen. Pictures are taken and the expecting mother’s belly is measured. The couple attends prenatal visits that reassure them that everything looks fine.
Until one afternoon, it doesn’t.
In the blink of an eye, everything fades to black when a doctor delivers the news that something looks unusual and the couple may not be able to take home their new baby.
This is Austin and Shelby Cowen’s story. They lost their beloved son, Will, at approximately 21 weeks as an early stillborn.
He was diagnosed with Trisomy 13 at Sheridan Memorial Hospital when their doctor noticed something peculiar in an ultrasound a week before the couple was supposed to deliver a very early addition to their family.
“We knew the anomalies that it wasn’t good but at that point we had hope that it could all be fixed, he’s going to be born and we can do surgeries or anything we need to do, we’ll do it,” Shelby Cowen said.
Trisomy 13 has a low survival rate due to low birthweight, small heads and major structural problems within the brain that typically result in a condition called holoprosencephaly, where the front of the brain is not divided properly, according to Stanford Children’s Health Center.
“We got the screening back and it was worse case scenario but we thought it was all God’s plan,” Cowen said. “He helped us turn that pain into a purpose.”
After losing their son in November, the couple stumbled upon an article on Facebook about a nonprofit based in Colorado called Walk With Me that helps families who have lost unborn or stillborn children, or have lost a child in their first months of life by providing a CuddleCot.
When a baby dies before he or she is born or shortly after, parents are often alone in hospitals with limited sources of comfort and little, if any, opportunity to say goodbye to their baby.
The CuddleCot is a cooling baby bed that preserves the body of the deceased child for days.
This gives parents an opportunity to bond with their child — time to take pictures, hold and love them and create memories that have to last a lifetime.
“It was hard because you don’t know how much time is enough time,” Austin Cowen said. “We had from 3:30 to 8:30 because he had started to deteriorate and it makes it just that much harder.”
After sharing their fundraiser on Facebook, they received copious amount of support from family friends raising $2,000 to donate a CuddleCot to Sheridan Memorial Hospital.
The CuddleCot is ready for use at SMH, but it fortunately has not yet been needed, hospital staff said.
The Cowens are also working to raise enough money for a second CuddleCot to be donated to another hospital in Wyoming.
“We try to take care of our mommies and daddies in the most intimate ways we can,” said Tandie Garland, Sheridan Hospital’s Women’s Health and pediatric nurse.
“We offer castings and photographs to capture these moments that only last so long. But I think the extra time is the greatest gift any family can have.”