Erin Maroon’s pregnancy was “perfect.”

So when her daughter was late in arriving, the only concern was when they would meet little Ashlie, not whether something could go wrong.

Facebook/Ashlie’s Embrace

As Erin wrote for Love What Matters, friends and family spent years asking Erin and husband Tony when they would have children. After nine years of marriage, the couple wanted children, but were willing to leave the “when” to fate. Then, in February 2015, Erin learned she was expecting and broke the news to her excited (if slightly confused) husband. She wrote:

I was about to explode … it was not the perfectly calm moment I’d seen in movies. He opened the card, totally confused. Then he pulled a onesie out of a Halloween bag, even more confused. I watched it click as his face lit up with hope, fear and possibilities. 

The baby was due in October. After learning they would have a daughter, Erin and Tony settled on the name Ashlie Cathren, a tribute to their mothers (Cathie and Karen).

Erin was spared the usual discomforts of morning sickness, aches, and other problems during pregnancy. Erin wrote:

I was loving every single moment of being pregnant and had truly never been happier.

When Erin’s due date passed and Ashlie still hadn’t made her appearance, there was no panic — just disappointment that they hadn’t met their baby yet. Erin went to the doctor for a no-stress test and ultrasound, where they checked her amniotic fluid level and scheduled an induction six days later, just in case.

The doctor told Erin that everything looked fine and that Ashlie was healthy enough to wait for the induction. But that peace of mind didn’t last. Erin wrote:

About 10 hours later, I was relaxing on the couch and felt a giant kick. An hour after that, I realized she wasn’t being very active. I lay still, trying to ignore my rising panic and willing her to move. We rushed to the hospital, where our daughter’s motionless back was highlighted on an ultrasound. There was no heartbeat.

“Your daughter is gone,” the doctor said matter-of-factly. “Sometimes these things just happen.”

Those devastating words turned their world inside out. While her husband “crumpled to the floor in tears,” Erin tried to process what the doctor had just told her.

Informing their family was painful. Erin’s father thought they were calling to celebrate the birth and had to be told that they lost the baby. Erin grappled with the knowledge that she had to bury her daughter, but was still trying to understand how things had changed so quickly:

None of our friends had lost children like this. She was fine. They just said she was OK. What happened? Why won’t they try to save her?

Worse still were the waves of guilt. Erin wrote:

I felt so ashamed as a nurse wheeled me to a delivery room. I kept thinking it was my fault. Over and over I sobbed into Tony’s neck, “I’m so sorry.” I carried her. I should have kept her safe. What did I do wrong? Did I sleep on my back? Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that lunchmeat. Why didn’t I make my doctor induce that morning?

Erin was induced and after two failed epidurals, gave birth to Ashlie via C-section. The quiet in the room during the birth told its own tale. Erin wrote that “there was no sound—no baby crying, no happy words—just overwhelming sadness and silence. Deafening silence.”

The silence was broken by Tony, who was by Erin’s side during the procedure and watched his daughter’s birth. Erin wrote:

This was supposed to be a moment of joy. We’d waited so long for this and been through so much together. He leaned over the drape and whispered that she was here.

‘Hey, Toots. She’s out. And she’s beautiful,’ he said as he choked back tears, his voice proud and warm amid the cold of the operating room.

Tony saw the doctors untangle Ashlie from an umbilical cord that had coiled tightly around her neck and leg — a, “freak accident,” according to her doctor.

An overwhelmed Erin held her daughter as she was wheeled back to her room. A photographer captured some photos of Erin with her baby, but the new mom only spent half an hour cuddling her daughter before exhaustion overtook her and she handed Ashlie to family to hold.

The next day, Erin asked her husband if she could see her daughter again:

He brought her in from the hospital’s cold room, her long, plump body (8 lb. 13 oz. and 22 ¾ inches) swaddled and laying in a basket. She was ice cold. Less than 15 hours after she was born, the extreme temperature had already begun to twist her delicate features. Her pouty Cupid’s bow, her perfect nose and her tiny ears and fingers were angry and purple. Tony asked me not to unwrap her blankets, knowing I wouldn’t want to remember her that way. I never saw her feet or her body under all the blankets. I did not change or bathe her, nor did I feel her soft baby skin against mine.

Though Erin says the nurses and hospital staff were kind and accommodating, there was no one who was able to guide them through this pain or help them understand what they could do. And so, Erin had less than an hour in total with her daughter before her final goodbye:

[W]e didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. Should we hold her? Lay her down? Ask for a bassinet? Could we sleep with her? How long could she stay? I didn’t know what else to do, so after about 20 minutes, I kissed every feature I could see and handed her back to Tony. He took her from the room, and I never saw her again. For two more days, I stayed in the hospital without her, thinking that was just how it was supposed to be.

It wasn’t until they were leaving the hospital that Erin read an article about stillbirth and learned about the CuddleCot — a device that slows the effects of death and gives families about 96 hours to spend with the baby before they have to be parted.

Facebook/Ashlie’s Embrace

Learning about the CuddleCot made Erin “angry we didn’t have that option, and the more I thought about how little time we had with [Ashlie], the more upset I became.”

Though there have been efforts to distribute CuddleCots, they’re not yet common. But less than two months after Ashlie’s birth, Erin made it her mission to get CuddleCots into every hospital in the US. She wanted to ensure that when another family went through the same painful experience, they would be able to spend more than a few fleeting moments with their child.

Erin and Tony started Ashlie’s Embrace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting grieving parents after stillbirth and loss. Ashlie’s Embrace not only tries to raise awareness of CuddleCots, but works to make the CuddleCots available to the people who need them.

Sharing their story is one of the most powerful tools Erin and Tony have in letting others know about CuddleCots and how they can help grieving families. Erin told Dearly that they’re looking for event sponsors (both corporate and private), but have also been overwhelmed by people wanting to know how they can help:

“We’ve received a number of questions on how people can get involved or donate a CuddleCot to their local hospital. You can individually donate at www.ashliesembrace.org/donate or reach out to us at info@ashliesembrace.org if you’re interested in sponsoring and placing a CuddleCot at a local hospital.”

Since they started Ashlie’s Embrace, Erin and Tony have placed 15 CuddleCots in Ohio and one in Tennessee. They also have placements pending in Florida, Colorado, Connecticut, and elsewhere in Ohio. Erin wrote that this way of honoring Ashlie has helped their family move forward in a positive way:

We could have died with her, or we could keep all of us alive by honoring her memory … and making things different for other parents who will walk this road. It’s all we knew how to do. I know Ashlie’s making a difference. I hear it in the stories of the parents who’ve used one of the CuddleCots we’ve placed. I hope she knows how loved she is.

And they have another reminder of their daughter. In May 2017, Erin says Ashlie “sent us a rainbow baby.” Ashlie’s little brother AJ is 1-year-old and has helped their family find happiness again. Erin wrote:

“AJ didn’t replace his big sister, but he helped heal our broken hearts. I know now that parents of loss don’t always get a second chance. We are beyond grateful he’s here with us and will set the world on fire in his own right.”

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