It’s hard to imagine waiting expectantly for nine months for your baby’s arrival and then leaving it, unwanted, at the hospital after it’s born; but sadly, that is the reality for many terminally ill babies.
Many of these babies’ families find it difficult to deal with the conditions their children are born with. They can’t bear to witness the end of their child’s life, so they try to detach themselves from the baby as much as possible.
While we understand the families’ pain, it is also heartbreaking to know that these babies are spending their precious few days on earth abandoned and hooked up to ventilators in the corner of a hospital nursery. Many of them are never held – they only know the cold touch of the machines working to keep them going until God calls them home.
When Cori Salchert learned that these terminally ill babies were being abandoned, her heart broke. She immediately knew that it was her life’s purpose to show love to as many of these babies as possible.
Cori worked for years as a registered nurse. Her favorite patients to work with were those in hospice care, as well as maternity patients and their newborns.
When she began to work more in the maternity ward, she thought her days in hospice were over. Little did she know that God had a much bigger plan in store for her.
“I realized that there were many more than I ever realized who come to the maternity floor to have a baby and instead leave with aching and empty arms because their child died in the womb or shortly after birth,” Cori said.
“I found myself drawn to helping these families,” she continued. “Where many obstetrics nurses prefer not to work with dying babies, I saw a need to make the hospital experiences of these women less traumatic — not by fixing what was broken — but by handling them with care instead of rushing out of the room because their grief made me uncomfortable.”
Cori began the Hope After Loss Organization in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The organization is designed to offer hope to families whose babies have died.
A little while later, though, Cori faced her own health crisis. She was battling several autoimmune diseases and needed a number of surgeries to try to repair the damage that had been done to her digestive organs.
Cori was bedridden and no longer able to work. She wondered why she was going through this pain and asked God how he was going to use it for good.
Soon, her answer came. In August 2012, Cori and her husband, Mark, got a call asking if they would be willing to take in a two-week-old baby girl who had been abandoned, nameless, with no one to care for her.
The baby was born without the left or right hemispheres of her brain. Doctors said there was no hope she would survive.
Knowing it would be difficult, the Salcherts agreed to take the little girl in, even though they already had eight children of their own. They named her Emmalynn and became her family.
“She could have died in the hospital, wrapped in a blanket and set to the side because she was being sustained with a feeding pump. But we brought this beautiful baby home to live, and live she did,” Cori said.
“Emmalynn lived more in 50 days than a number of folks do in a lifetime. She had not had a family, and now she was suddenly the youngest sibling of nine. We held her constantly and took her everywhere with us.”
On the night they realized Emmalynn was beginning to fade, the whole family held her and kissed her. Mark tucked her to his chest and sang to her. Then Cori held her close, nestled in her furry, warm bathrobe, until Emmalynn peacefully passed away.
“I leaned her back to look at her, and saw that this beautiful creature was gone,” Cori recalled. “She’d left this world hearing my heartbeat. She didn’t suffer, she wasn’t in pain, and she most certainly wasn’t alone. It was painful initially. Gradually we were able to see the opportunity to hold her through this life and as she entered the next solely as a gift.”
After Emmalynn’s passing, the Salchert family knew it would be their life’s mission to care for as many hospice babies as they could. They call their home a “house of hope” and have made it a safe and loving place for these precious children to spend their short lives.
In October 2014, they took in four-month-old Charlie. Charlie has a life-limiting diagnosis that is not necessarily considered terminal, but doctors told the Salcherts most babies with his type of brain damage don’t live past two years of age.
The family works together to take care of Charlie and shower him with love and affection. They even got approval for a bed that is large enough for them to snuggle him while he is attached to the tubes and machines that keep him alive.
It seems their love and care has worked a miracle. In June, little Charlie celebrated his third birthday!
Even though Cori knows Charlie will probably not live into adulthood, she is determined to help him live as much as possible while he still can. The family treats each day as a gift and give Charlie as many special experiences as they can.
The Salcherts have taken in several other children as well, and they provide support for other families who are doing the same.
Cori admits it can be painful work, but it is more than worth it to show these precious children the love and care they deserve.
“What a gift it is to be a part of these babies’ lives, to have the ability to ease their suffering, to cherish and love them even though they aren’t able to give anything tangible back or even smile in return for our efforts,” she said.
“We invest deeply, and we ache terribly when these kids die, but our hearts are like stained-glass windows. Those windows are made of broken glass which has been forged back together, and those windows are even stronger and more beautiful for having been broken.”
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