Gift of time: Community rallies to support couple’s heartfelt mission

June 25, 2024 BY

Joel and Katelyn Hughes have raised enough money to donate two cuddle cots to hospitals to support grieving families following the loss of their son last month. Photo: ELLIE CLARINGBOLD

A FUNDRAISER started by a bereaved Leopold couple has raised enough money to provide two hospitals with cuddle cots to support parents experiencing pregnancy loss.

A cuddle cot is a cooling system designed to slow down the physical changes of a stillborn baby, giving grieving families time to bond with their child, take photos and say goodbye.

It’s a technology Katelyn and Joel Hughes had not heard of prior to the loss of their first baby, expected in August after five years of trying and nine rounds of IVF.

After a routine scan at 26 weeks revealed their son’s heart had stopped beating, Fletcher Joel Hughes was stillborn via c-section at Geelong’s St John of God hospital on May 2.

Mrs Hughes, 27, said a cuddle cot, donated to the hospital by another family, had allowed the couple to spend three days with Fletcher, creating special memories.

“To be able to spend a few days and nights with him in hospital and talk to him and sing to him, it was just totally invaluable,” she said.

“It made such an awful situation that little bit more bearable. I don’t think you can say it made it better because that kind of situation can never be better, but without that we wouldn’t have had that opportunity and I dare say, we wouldn’t be coping as well as we are mentally.”

Mrs Hughes said the couple had been “blown away” by the community’s response to the fundraiser, which raised the $13,000 required to donate two cuddle cots to hospitals without them in just one week.

“It just makes us very emotional how much support we’ve had and how far and wide Fletcher’s name has gone,” she said.

“Just to know that his memory is going to live on by helping other people has been really healing for us.”

According to pregnancy and infant loss support organisation Bears of Hope, six babies are stillborn each day in Australia, while a further three dying before their first birthday.

Mrs Hughes said it was unfathomable how difficult pregnancy loss must be for grieving parents that don’t have access to cuddle cots.

“I myself know obviously how hard it is to give them up after even three days,” Mrs Hughes said.

“Obviously we hope that [the cuddle cots] don’t need to be used ever, or often, but if they do, we just hope it gives another family a chance to make memories like we got to.”

The couple is now working with Bears of Hope to determine which two hospitals would most benefit from the cuddle cots and will keep the fundraiser open for any other community members still interested in contributing.

“Bears of Hope has so many great programs. They do crisis counselling, they do ongoing counselling, resources and information kits and all of those sorts of things that are invaluable to people in our situation,” Mrs Hughes said.

“Anything that’s raised on top of that $13,000 will go to the rest of their programs, unless we were, through some stroke of a miracle, to raise $19,500, which would be a third cot.”

To donate to the fundraiser, head to makeadifference.gofundraise.com.au/page/Katelyn-24734573