Chris and Beth Clement had a fairytale life. High school sweethearts, they attended top colleges and built successful careers in law and real estate. They already had two beautiful children when Beth became pregnant with their third child in 2015.
Beth had a healthy pregnancy and was 38 weeks when she went into labor. At Lankenau Medical Center, when things didn’t progress, Beth’s OB-GYN decided that she should deliver via cesarean section. There’s nothing unusual about that, so neither Beth nor Chris were alarmed. “Labor and delivery are difficult,” says Beth. “But then you get to take your baby home, and all is well with the world.”
Theodore Jude Clement was born on Nov. 21, 2015. He died that same day. He weighed 6 pounds, 2 ounces and was 18 inches long. These details are important because they represent the entirety of his physical life on Earth. The Clements requested privacy about the cause of their son’s death, but clarified that neither Beth nor Teddy had any unusual medical circumstances. “We went into the OR with a baby with a heartbeat and came out without him,” Beth says. “It was that catastrophic.”
Catastrophic, but all too common. According to the March of Dimes, one in 160 pregnancies results in a stillbirth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines that as fetal deaths occuring after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Deaths before 20 weeks are classified as miscarriages.
Susan McAndrew helps families deal with both kinds of loss. The facilitator of Main Line Health’s perinatal bereavement committee, McAndrew oversees a team of 35 healthcare professionals. “We meet parents on the worst day of their lives,” she says.
McAndrew remembers when stillbirths and miscarriages were swept under the rug. Parents were told to go on with their lives as if nothing had happened. “New research shows that is not only unrealistic but potentially harmful,” she says. “Acknowledging the baby is needed. It’s a love parents will always have, and they need to grieve their loss.”
The Lankenau team initiated the grieving process, advising the Clements of various options. Beth and Chris made the most of every second they had with Teddy. Both sets of grandparents met Teddy, as did his siblings—Henry, who was almost 3 years old, and Grace, who was 18 months. Somehow, Beth and Chris found the strength to take a family photo. Chris, Henry and Grace gathered around Beth’s hospital bed as she held Teddy in her arms, his inert body swaddled like a newborn’s. “We have pictures of the five of us that are the only pictures we’ll ever have,” Beth says.
Beth wishes she’d given Teddy a bath, read him a book, and put him in real clothes, instead of hospital garb. “I wanted to do a few more ‘mom’ things,” she says.
Teddy was born on a Saturday night. By Monday, the Clements knew they had to say goodbye. “Seeing the effects of time on Teddy was one of the most difficult parts,” Chris says. “It was hard for us to part with him, but we had to.”
Now, other families facing the same tragedy will have more time to spend with their babies. Using that bedside photo of their family, the Clements organized a fundraiser to buy seven Cuddle Cots, cradle-like baskets with discreet cooling devices that slow babies’ decomposition. Thanks to the money the Clements raised, all of MLH’s hospitals have Cuddle Cots, each with a plaque bearing Teddy’s name.
The Cuddle Cot campaign is part of the Clements’ grieving process, as was planting a tree at their neighborhood playground and pointing out rainbows that Teddy sends to his siblings. That healing is the result of counseling Beth and Chris got from mental-health professionals who specialize in perinatal deaths. Because of that help and their remarkably strong marriage, Chris and Beth are able to talk openly about Teddy, bringing awareness to the taboo topic of stillbirths.
Those babies are not forgotten. They have an important place in their families. The Clements will always honor Nov. 21 as Teddy’s birthday. And the fact that his birthday is also the day of his passing makes the commemoration more special.
Last year, they asked people to light candles in their homes and send pictures to them. The Clements received hundreds of photos from as far as Hong Kong. Teddy’s first birthday, along with his spirit, was celebrated around the world.