Martha & Richard’s Cleo story: Repairing bonds disrupted by a mother’s own health emergency

A frightening health event unexpectedly left Martha and her young son apart for an extended time. Martha luckily had a full physical recovery, but the bond with her son took time to repair. Cleo’s specialists helped the family heal together.

Martha cherishes her relationship with her three-year-old son, Leo, and was understandably distressed when a traumatic health event disrupted their bond. Martha suffered from a frightening ruptured brain aneurysm that resulted in a lengthy hospital stay and time away from her son. Upon her return home, not only did she face a road to physical recovery, she also experienced a painful and unexpected loss of connection with Leo. Martha credits the support and guidance of her Cleo care team with helping her family recover.

Following 17 days in the hospital, including a week and a half in intensive care, Martha was incredibly relieved and grateful to have a full recovery with no loss of brain function. She knew she was quite lucky, but that didn’t make Leo’s unexpected and emotionally wrenching rejection any less painful. This newfound challenge was compounded by major changes in his behavior, including poor eating, potty training accidents, sleep struggles, and a refusal to speak Spanish, which had been his primary language when speaking with his mother.

“Leo didn’t want to be with me. He knew that I was his mum, but he didn’t want to be with me. It was very, very difficult. If I wanted to hug him, he was like, ‘no no no.’ I felt like I am the only mum in this world that has to ask, ‘Can I hug you?’ It was very, very tough. It [caused a] depression.”

While Martha was in the hospital, her husband Richard was suddenly tasked with caring for Leo on his own. His shifts in behavior left Richard impacted as well, and both he and Martha struggled to understand what was happening and how to navigate these unexpected challenges together while supporting each other as their family regained its sense of balance.

Martha and Richard had access to Cleo benefits through his employer, a popular sales and marketing solutions provider. They had been a Cleo family since Leo’s birth, who Martha describes as an “easy baby,” and had previously posed only occasional questions to their Cleo Guide, Melisa. Not sure where to turn in the face of this new challenge, Martha remembered Melisa and quickly reached out.

“How am I going to recover my son? I need some type of help.”

Melisa provided immediate reassurance. As Martha describes, the response from Cleo conveyed a feeling of “We are here for you. We can help you.”

Melisa connected Martha with a variety of Cleo experts including Mental Health and Child Life Specialists along with a Parent Coach, and helped coordinate support around the various challenges Martha was experiencing with Leo and within herself. Her Cleo care team frequently reiterated the importance of prioritizing her own mental health amid the urgent desire to mend her connection with Leo.

Cleo Mental Health Specialist Jessica helped Martha understand her son’s rejection and related behaviors, providing reassurance that it was entirely normal given his experience of recent events. And she provided resources for Martha to attend to her own mental health. As Martha describes, “She helped me with Leo, but she also helped me with me.”

Cleo Child Life Specialist Shana and Cleo Parent Coach Kellie were also instrumental in Martha’s care, providing practical tips and advice that could be put into practice right away. Martha, who was joined by her husband Richard for most of their support sessions, went on to say, “We loved the phone calls with Shana and Kellie. You feel that you are talking to another mum. They understand your situation… After the calls we were like ‘ahhhhhh.’ We felt relief.”

Cleo also helped Martha connect with a local child psychologist. While it may not be the case for everyone, following an initial consult, Martha chose not to pursue that path further. She found that the support received from Cleo was most beneficial and transformative, and credits it with repairing and regaining her connection to Leo.

“The Cleo team gave me the tools to face this very difficult moment, but they [also] gave me the hope.”

Not unexpectedly, Martha and her husband were also challenged by a variety of behavioral regressions with their son. They faced setbacks with potty training, sleep, and feeding. At every step of the way, Cleo specialists provided them with practical, actionable guidance to get everyone back on track.

“When you feel so bad, it’s so good when you have someone that can tell you, ‘You are going to make it. You will see,’ and you feel that confidence.”

Martha, Mother and Cleo member
Connect with a member of our team to learn how employers taking proactive steps to support working families can better attract and retain top talent.

Thank you to Martha and her family for letting us be a part of their parenting journey. Quotes have been edited for clarity.