The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.
~ Harriet Beecher Stowe
You have received the most devastating news – you are in preterm labor, your baby has a genetic condition, your baby is stillborn or is not expected to survive after birth, your health is in danger and you have to disrupt the pregnancy. The harsh reality is you need to deliver your baby. The child (or children) you love, wanted, nurtured. You will have to discuss birthing options with your doctor, and they will vary based on how far along you are in your pregnancy.
Most women are advised by their doctor to birth through medically assisted procedures such as inductions, scheduled caesarean births (planned or emergency), or other methods.1
Traditionally, delivering a baby is the only real reason you are visiting a hospital under happy circumstances. This is the myth anyway. The reality is every second a woman miscarries a baby and approximately every 20 minutes a baby is born to stillbirth.2 1 in 9 babies is born premature3. 3-4% of all babies born will have a genetic disorder or birth defect4
You may be placed on a certain side of the labor and delivery ward (depending on how many weeks along you are). The hospital may place a rose outside your door (to signify pending loss and allow staff, shift changes to be aware to proceed gently). The staff might appear rushed, unemotional or cold. Please know this is not the intention of the medical community and they are human and have other patients to attend to.
Honor your baby’s life and your connection to them forever. Although you may not bring your baby home you will walk with your experience for the rest of your life. It is important to grieve and acknowledge your baby’s life.
The medical community may refer to your loss as a “miscarriage” (even after 20 weeks) or if medical assistance was required an “abortion” (even if the procedure was medically necessary for the mother). These “blanket” terms cover a wide variety of meanings and the words can be very upsetting. Remember this is not at all in alignment with what you feel. We look at our children as just that “our children”. Our child is not a medical term in a book – it is your child and it is important to focus on them.
- Induction– Inducing labor through synthetic hormones or other methods.
- D & C –The surgical removal of part of the lining and tissue of the uterus during the first trimester.
- D & E – The surgical removal of part of the lining and tissue of the uterus during the second trimester.
- Natural Labor- Allowing your body to go into labor naturally
- Caesarean- A scheduled or unscheduled surgical birth
Although the last thing you want to do is plan your difficult birth there are certain logistics you have the option to control. The hospital may not recognize your need to bond with your baby. This is a very short window and it is important to remember you do not have this option later. This is a very important part of your healing process and honoring your child’s brief time with you.
Talk about it. Do you want a bereavement doula present? Online support? Post-loss support? There are resources available to you and I encourage you find at least one peer who knows exactly what you are going through. It is important because most likely the dynamics in many of your relationships may change. Especially with your partner.
- Ask for time with your baby. This is so important. As unfathomable as the situation might be you do not have the option down the road. This is your opportunity for bonding. Cherish it.
- Have a loved one inquire about support services locally and from the hospital.
- Schedule an appointment with the social worker (if you did not meet with one already).
- Ask: Does the hospital have bereavement support groups? Can they refer one?
- Ask: Does the hospital host Memorial events to honor the children who passed away at the hospital? (This is important to ask as they may add you to their mailing list. It could be distressing down the road).
- Invite loved ones as support.
- Invite loved ones as support.
- If you are religious you can work with the hospital chaplain and baptize your child. Invite loved ones to share this ceremony.
- Take pictures. NILMDTS has volunteer photographers find one in your area.
- Bring an outfit for your baby. If your child is preterm the hospital may have preterm outfits available through.organizations like Minutes of Gold.
- Bring a baby blanket.
- Write a letter to your baby.
- If music is soothing to you create a playlist or bring it.
- The hospital can direct you to additional services.
- You are a mother – since conception you became a mother and your bond will never be broken.
- Be kind to yourself. Statistics are not comforting yet they show you that you are not alone.
- Grieving is part of the healing process.
- Communicate with your husband, boyfriend or partner. Perinatal loss is a traumatic event.
- After delivery your body will start the postpartum process. Your milk will come in, your uterus will shrink, you will shed lochia, and your body will start menstruating again.
- Be aware of Postpartum Depression (PPD), possible Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after pregnancy loss (PTSD), anxiety and other mood disorders. Ask for help.
The medical community may use the word viable. If you are in labor before 24 weeks, depending on hospital policy, the doctors may not medically intervene or assist your child(ren). As a parent this is a very difficult concept to understand. The medical community has very strong data supporting their policies and the 24 week mark is a typical industry standard protocol.5
Your baby matters and is viable to you and he, she or they always will be.
“A few close friends and family were at the hospital waiting for me to deliver. While we all hoped for a miracle, the miracle proved I delivered two beautiful baby girls. The sad truth was my girls did not survive. Having loved ones around to help me say hello and goodbye to my girls was so incredibly comforting. They helped bathe and dress my daughters, Tierney and Eden. We were able to dress the girls in outfits (donated to the hospital by Minutes of Gold) and wrap them in tiny blankets. They were witnesses to my husband baptizing our daughters under the guidance of a hospital chaplain and extenuating circumstances. My sister took photographs of my girls, some amazing pictures and made sure to grab the hospital keepsakes. Once home my sister helped me create two beautiful shadowboxes for my girls. I have all their keepsakes, a photograph, hat, blanket and a beautiful engraved bracelet for each girl. The shadowboxes hang in our bedroom and are a reminder of their brief lives. My girls impacted us forever. I will always be Tierney and Eden’s momma.”
-Jake McKenna Ibarra, Bereavement Director Doula Spot
You feel so helpless and want to take the pain away. Grieving parents wish no one ever had to walk in their shoes. The truth is you cannot take the pain away. Words are a blur to the grieving mom but the person you love still exists. She is still the same dynamic, funny, beautiful, caring person you knew and loved; just altered. She will forever be changed by her loss but you are still as valuable to her as ever. No words will take the pain away, ever, but allow her to talk about the loss in her own time. Maybe she will never talk about it. Grief is a very personal emotion and everyone processes differently and that is okay. Ask mom if she wants you, needs you to take the baby items out of the home before doing so. Or offer an alternative of helping her store them, rearrange the room, or even refurbish items.
- Remember they are still the person you love.
- Grieving moms do not want a spotlight on them so acknowledge them as usual.
- Organize dinner drop offs.
- Daycare (if needed).
- A date or girls or friends night out (good idea to wait 4-6 weeks post birth as her body is still in postpartum recovery).
- Make a donation to a charity in memory of their baby.
- Send mom on a healing retreat, try Return to Zero or make a RTZ retreat scholarship donation.
- If you are unsure try: March of Dimes read their March for Babies campaign focusing on premature birth awareness and research.
- Make a donation to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, remembrance photography for baby loss families.
- For global maternal awareness try: Every Mother Counts focusing on pregnancy and childbirth safety worldwide.
- For a more personalized donation try: Minutes of Gold, an organization (of volunteers) that makes garments for babies born too soon and will send an in memory note to the hospital of birth along with your donation. Contact Carol @ email@example.com.
- Purchase memorial artwork by: CarlyMarie
- Buy a unique keepsake. Try ETSY’s stillborn or their baby loss section.
- Treat the family as you always would.
- Continue to send invitations to important events in your life. If it is too much to handle it is likely parents will let you know but don’t start changing the dynamics of your relationship.
“Grief does not change you…it reveals you” – John Green
Heidi Faith, “Hospital Stillbirth”, http://www.stillbirthday.com/2011/07/28/hospital-stillbirth/, (July 28, 2011) ↩
“Placental, pregnancy conditions account for most stillbirths”. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH News (December 13, 2011). Retrieved 2013-08-30. ↩
“Pregnancy Viability, What Does It Mean?”http://www.babymed.com/prematurity/pregnancy-viability-what-does-it-mean ↩