Embrace your loss

Your baby died. You are now faced with the difficult, but important, need to mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings about the baby's death. It is essential to healing. You are beginning a journey that is often frightening, painful, overwhelming and sometimes lonely.


Allow Yourself to Mourn

Whatever the circumstances of your baby's death, share your grief with others. Whether pregnant for a brief time, many months, you delivered a stillborn or your baby lived longer, you have every right to grieve.

The death of your baby may have come suddenly, without any warning. You have been given little, if any, preparation for this experience. You will grieve in your own special way. Try not to adopt assumptions about how long your grief should last. Consider taking a "moment-to-moment" or "one-day-at-a-time" approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.


Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions

Experiencing the death of your baby affects your head, heart and spirit. You will experience a variety of emotions as part of your grief work. Confusion, disorganization, fear, guilt, relief, or explosive emotions are just a few of the emotions you may feel. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously.

As strange as some emotions seem, they are normal and healthy. Allow yourself to learn from these feelings. Don't be surprised if, out of nowhere, you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed. But they are a natural response to the death of your baby. Find someone who understands your feelings and allows you to talk about them.


Allow for Numbness

Feeling dazed or numb when your baby dies is often part of your early grief experience. This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you. You may feel as if the world has suddenly come to a halt. Your plans and dreams for the future have been assaulted. You may feel you are in a dream-like state.

As one mother expressed, "It's like running headfirst into a solid wall. I was stunned and didn't want to believe the words I was hearing. I wanted someone to wake me up and tell me this wasn't happening." Feelings of numbness and disbelief help create insulation from the reality of the death until you are more able to tolerate what you don't want to believe.


Slow Down Important Decisions

Some people may try to hurry you into decisions to protect you from beginning to feel sadness and loss. They often mean well, but they are also potentially complicating your healing. You should not make any major decisions until the initial pangs of shock and numbness begin to lessen.

If possible, attempt to make decisions with your spouse or a compassionate friend. Realize that you will probably have differences of opinion. That's all right - your grief is unique. If you do disagree, respect each other's right to do what feels right individually. For example, one of you may want to see and hold the baby, while the other does not feel a need to.

If you need time alone to begin to make some decisions, let people around you know this. While some people may be offended at your need for privacy, this is your baby and you have every right to do what is right for you.


Seeing and Holding Your Baby

Only you can decide what your needs are related to seeing and holding your baby. But, one reality is certain - you should be given the option. Many parents value this opportunity to say hello before they say good-bye. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see, hold and touch your baby.

Don't make a quick decision. Take time and think it over. If you have fears how your baby may look, ask the doctor or nurse to describe your baby's appearance. Should you decide to see and hold your baby, spend as much time as needed. This short time will go a long way toward helping you heal.


Give Your Baby a Name

Your baby deserves a name. If you already decided on a name, keep it. This name truly belongs to this unique child. A name for your baby allows you to talk about your loss in a personal way. You're openly acknowledging that you love a child and will always remember him or her. It is easier to embrace your memories when you can refer to your baby by name.


Gather Important Keepsakes

Memories are one of the best legacies after a baby dies. You may want to collect some important keepsakes that help you treasure your memories. While some hospitals automatically offer to provide you remembrances of your baby, not all do. So, be certain to request any items that you want to be able to keep. Examples of keepsakes you might want include: a picture of your baby (even if you don't want it now, it can be taken and viewed later), a birth certificate, a set of foot prints, plastic arm bracelet, the blanket your baby first came in contact with, or a lock of hair.

You may want to create a memory box to keep these special keepsakes in. Then, when you are missing your baby, you can open up your memory box and embrace these special memories. The reality that your baby has died does not diminish your need to have these objects. They are a tangible, lasting part of the special relationship you had with your child.


Make Use of Ritual

The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of your baby. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. The funeral is a way of giving testimony to the life and death of your child. Most importantly, the funeral is a way for you to express your grief with others.

Some may tell you, "It will be easier or better not to have a funeral." Deciding not to have a funeral is a frequent regret that many parents express. You and your baby have a right to have a funeral. The funeral is one thing you can do for your child at a time when you feel you can do so little.

Funerals do not have to be done right away. Take your time and decide what will best meet your needs. Whatever you do, don't have a funeral that excludes the mother. Wait until she is out of the hospital and can be included in the service that remembers your baby.


Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. And your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible. Caring for yourself doesn't mean feeling sorry for yourself; it means you are using survival skills.


Talk About Your Grief

Express grief openly. By sharing grief with others, healing occurs. Ignoring grief won't make it go away; talking about it often makes you feel better. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. You are not losing control or going "crazy." It is a normal part of your grief journey.

Find caring friends and relatives who listen without judging. Avoid persons who are critical or steal your grief from you. They may tell you, "You can have another baby," or "You never got to know your baby." While these comments may be well-intentioned, you do not have to accept them. You have every right to express your grief. No one has the right to take it away.


Develop a Support System

Reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much. But the most compassionate thing you can do at this difficult time is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need. Find those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings - whatever they might be.


Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because of the death of your baby, realize this feeling is normal. Find someone to talk with who won't be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

Someone may say, "With faith, you don't need to grieve." Don't believe it. Your personal faith does not insulate you from needing to talk out and explore your thoughts and feelings. To deny your grief is to invite problems that build up inside you. Express your faith, but express your grief as well.


Allow a Search for Meaning

You may find yourself asking, "Why did this baby die?" "Why this way?" "Why now?" This search for meaning is another normal part of healing. Some questions have answers. Some do not. Healing occurs in the opportunity to pose the questions, not necessarily answering them. Find a supportive friend who listens responsively as you search for meaning.


Move Toward Your Grief and Heal

The capacity to love requires the necessity to grieve when your baby dies. You can't heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying grief will only make it more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.

Reconciling grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. The death of your baby changes your life forever! It's not that you won't be happy again; it's simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the baby died.

Grief is powerful. So, too, is your ability to help yourself heal. In grief work, you move toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt