Parents: Creating Memories Can Help Healing

At the Hospital

As we sit in the birthing room or care giver’s office after learning of our baby’s death, our primary focus is survival – just getting through the next few hours.

It does not occur to us that a month or two from now, we will be reliving these moments again and again – scouring our brains for one more tiny fact to try to spin a memory from.

If we are lucky, our doctor or primary care giver encourages us to overcome any secret fear we may have and hold the baby, giving us a few precious moments which must last a lifetime. Even in the case of babies with severe deformities, there is beauty enough to outweigh the horrors of our nightmares.

Giving the baby a name and having the baby baptized or blessed, if such rituals are important to us, are ways for us to acknowledge the reality of the life that has come and gone so quickly.

Official birth certificates are not prepared for babies who have not lived outside the womb. After leaving the hospital, keepsakes such as the following may be the only tangible evidence we have that a baby has touched our lives:

  • Photographs (You may want to bring your own camera, as hospital Polaroids tend to fade)
  • Ultrasound printouts
  • Lock of Hair
  • Arm Band
  • Isolette Card
  • Footprints and Handprints
  • Record of weight and length
  • Obstetrician’s maternal chart of pregnancy
  • Baptismal certificate
    Death certificate
  • Baby’s cap and/or blanket
  • New baby packet

Note: HAND and other organizations provide special memory packets to help you organize and store your keepsakes. If your doctor or hospital cannot provide one, contact HAND directly.

Funeral Arrangements

Local custom in your community regarding burial or cremation of stillborn or newborn infants may or may not recognize the needs of the bereaved parents.

Hospital and funeral home staff may think they are doing you a favor by discouraging you from planning an elaborate ceremony, especially if the family does not own a burial plot. In such a situation, it is best to trust your own instincts and insist on what feels right for you.

Depending on health regulations in your state, you may be allowed to transport the baby from the hospital to the funeral home yourself.

You will want to pick out the baby’s funeral clothes, and the funeral home may allow you to assist in washing and dressing the baby. You may want to have a private funeral service at the grave site, or you may want to hold a formal religious ceremony for a large gathering of family and friends at the cemetery, at a place of worship and/or in your home.

Because the latter may be difficult to organize while the mother is still in the hospital and because parents in the early stages of grief may not be able to recognize their need to memorialize their child, it is not uncommon for parents to hold memorial services months and even years after the actual death.

As at the hospital and funeral home, parents may or may not find that their needs are appreciated at the local church or synagogue, where a technical interpretation of religious “obligations” too often fails to match the feelings of the mourners.

You may want to supplement the official liturgy with poems or prayers of your own composition or with secular readings that have meaning for you and your family. (Some sources for suitable readings have been included in the Resources Menu.)

Getting the word of your loss out to friends and relatives who are anxiously expecting news of a different sort will be an extremely painful chore.

One way of minimizing the immediate pain and at the same time preventing awkward encounters later down the road is to send out birth/death announcements. Very tasteful and sensitive cards for this purpose are offered for sale by a number of the national support groups mentioned in the Resources Menu above.

Anniversary Dates

The years following the death of our children are studded with meaningful anniversaries: the date the pregnancy was first confirmed, the date we first heard the heartbeat, the anticipated “due date”, the date the baby was born and the date the baby died.

There are a number of healthy ways to acknowledge the pain and the bittersweet memories that crossing one of these milestones inevitably stirs up. We can:

  • Make a donation to a favorite charity in the baby’s name
  • Donate flowers to a hospital or to a church or temple
  • Hold a memorial service
  • Write a poem or record memories of the baby and send them to relatives and friends
  • Light a candle and let it burn all day long
  • Donate the books we found most helpful during our grief to a library or support group
Other Ways to Remember

In most cases, our need to remember is not a morbid obsession, but a natural part of the grief response. In spite of well- meaning advice to put unpleasant thoughts out of our minds, it is only by convincing ourselves that we will never forget that we recover the will to reclaim our futures and move on with our lives. Here are some ideas for creating more permanent memorials for our children:

  • Write poems and stories about the baby
  • Make drawings, paintings, or sculptures
  • Carve a wall plaque and engrave it with the baby’s name and date of birth, death, or both
  • Embroider the baby’s name on fabric and frame it or add it to a quilt
  • Plant a tree or shrub
  • Start a memory book or box for the baby and add to it each year
  • Wear a charm with special meaning on your bracelet or necklace
  • Have your baby’s birthstone set in a ring
  • Make a bouquet of small flowers and dry it in a small shadow box
  • Name a star after your baby. International Star Registry 1-800-282-3333 or www.starregistry.com