Despite the new COVID world, spring and early summer of 2020 were exciting times for Emily Clare and Jon Cafasso.
The Westport couple were expecting their first child.
Emily Clare had an uneventful pregnancy. They worked at home, in sweatpants. She’s in wealth management; he’s in finance for a global supply chain firm.
She was fit. At Staples High School (Class of 2000), Emily Fenn had been an All-American swimmer and Olympic trial qualifier. She went on to the University of Michigan, where she was a 2-time Division I All-American, and held 2 school records.
The baby’s heartbeat was good. There was plenty of movement.
But on July 1, Benjamin was stillborn.
Emily Clare and Jon tell their tale in gut-wrenching detail: The moment when she no longer felt a heartbeat. The drive to the hospital. Praying that the ultrasound will show life. Induced labor. Holding. then saying goodbye to their precious son. The knowledge that their lives had changed forever.
Talking about the loss of a child is one of society’s last taboos. Few people know what to say. Medical professionals don’t prepare parents for that possibility — even though, as Emily Clare notes, “8 million things” can go wrong from conception to delivery.
A devastating event like this can strain a marriage. It did that to the Cafassos, and tested their faith and strength.
But they had the support of “phenomenal” family and friends. That — and therapy, and virtual support groups — got them through those darkest days.
They mourned. They tried to moved forward.
And then one day, Emily Clare got the hospital bill.
“It was the height of my grief journey,” she recalls. “I had been fully prepared to pay for the delivery. But I hadn’t thought of this bill coming. It felt like a slap in the face — another reminder of everything that was supposed to be, and now wasn’t.”
A couple who lose a child lose every future milestone: first words, first toddling steps, first day of school. The hospital bill was one more devastating reminder of all the things the Cafassos would never experience.
Suddenly, Emily Clare wondered: What if we could take that moment away from another family in the future? It would not be a huge thing. But it would be important.
Her mother thought it was a great idea. When she told Jon, he embraced it too.
In the months since, Benjamin’s Gift has become a reality. The Cafassos earned 501 (c) 3 status as a non-profit public benefit corporation.
They created a comprehensive website, highlighting their story and information about stillbirth.
And they fundraised, starting with very generous friends and colleagues.
Now, Benjamin’s Gift will pay the hospital bill for stillbirths. It will still arrive. But parents can send it off to without even opening it. They’ll be spared one more reminder of their painful loss.
Three area hospitals — Stamford, Bridgeport and Yale New Haven — are including a letter from Emily Clare and Jon in the packet of materials they give to parents after losing a child. Emily Clare and Jon are contacting doctors and therapists too, to let them know of the service.
In a post-COVID world, they hope to organize an annual fundraiser. In the meantime, they spread the word however they can.
“There are a lot of great organizations out there,” Emily Clare notes. “This one is super-personal to us. And we think anyone with kids or grandchildren can relate to it.”
Nothing will ease her and Jon’s pain. But — one small step at a time — they are sparing others of one more reminder of how large a loss one tiny life can be.
(Click here for more information on Benjamin’s Gift. Click here for Emily Clare and Jon’s story about the day that changed their lives. For more information, email email@example.com, or follow on Instagram: @benjaminsgift. Checks can be sent to PO Box 368, Westport, CT 06881.)