If you have lost a baby, you know how devastating and painful this loss can be. But surviving the emotional impact of pregnancy loss is possible. And many women go on to have successful pregnancies.
We hope that you find comfort in some of the information below. For additional support, visit Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support. Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss is an international support organization with local groups led by parent volunteers. Share Upstate helps those whose lives have been touched by the tragic death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth or in the first few months of life.
Preparing For Loss
Decisions You May Face
Because each situation is different, these questions may or may not relate to your situation. If your baby is alive but expected to die, there are other decisions you need to consider.
After giving birth, you may choose to hold your baby until he or she dies. If you are not sure that you want to do so, we can have a nurse or a family member of your preference hold and rock your baby in our bereavement nursery. We understand how difficult it may be to hold your baby, and our staff is here to help you in any way possible.
If your baby has died in the womb, you have likely come to the hospital to have labor induced. This can be a long process, and you have some time to discuss your decisions with your family and your nurse. The first two questions indicated here should have been discussed with you by your provider before you arrived at the hospital.
If you need more information about your induction and pain relief options, please ask.
1. What induction process have you and your provider discussed?
2. What pain relief options do you want for your labor?
We encourage all parents to see and hold their baby. This short time in the hospital is irreplaceable. It is your only time alone with your baby. Holding and bonding with your baby will help create cherished memories that are therapeutic in the grieving process. In talking with grieving parents in our support group, we find many regret
not having taken advantage of this moment.
- Do you want to have a memorial service?
- Do you want to have your baby buried or cremated? If so, which mortuary would you like to care for your baby? We have a list of mortuaries if you need it. (Some mortuaries will work with you if you need financial assistance.) The hospital offers cremation for babies born still. However, the hospital has no way of returning your baby’s ashes to you.
- Do you want lab tests such as an autopsy or genetic studies performed? If so, discuss this with your provider, so he or she can make plans for these tests.
These are difficult decisions, and you may want to discuss your options with your family before making final decisions. During your stay, we will ask some of these questions. We hope that providing you with this information will assist you in making these decisions without pressure.
If you have any questions, please ask any member of your healthcare team. Our goal is that you will have no regrets about the decisions you made. Indeed, we hope that your time with us will create cherished memories that will bring you strength and comfort.
Keep in mind the recommendation to have some time with your baby while you consider the following questions:
- Do you want to immediately hold and see your baby?
- Would you prefer to wait and have the nurse bathe and dress your baby before you see him or her?
- Do you want to bathe and dress your baby with assistance from your nurse or family?
- Do you want a family member to purchase a special outfit and blanket for your baby? If not, we have beautiful gowns and blankets that are made and donated by local church groups.
- Do you want to take special pictures of your baby? You will be asked if you would like pictures to be taken of your baby and mementos gathered (such as footprints, bracelets, clothes appearing in the pictures) for a memory box.
- Do you want the baby to stay with you in your room? You may keep the baby with you as long as you want. If you would prefer, the baby can be kept in our bereavement nursery at any point.
- Do you want your pastor or a hospital chaplain to bless and/or baptize your baby?
- Do you want your family to see and hold your baby?
Take Care of Your Body
Get plenty of rest. It will take six weeks for your body to return to its normal pre-pregnancy state. The stress of birth and the process of healing will demand rest for your body. You need at least eight hours of sleep at night and perhaps even a nap during the day.
Limit activity. Avoid heavy lifting and don’t overdo physical activity. Your body is healing, and too much activity may cause increased bleeding. Exercise is good if it’s not too strenuous and is done in moderation. Walking is an excellent way to release stress and be active. You may eventually return to your normal exercise routine after your follow-up visit with your doctor.
Bathe daily. Showers are recommended over tub bathing because of infection risk. If you have stitches, be sure to use your peri bottle each time you urinate and then pat dry. After each bowel movement (BM), rinse with the peri bottle from front to back and clean well. You don’t want to pull or rub stitches; they will dissolve in two to three weeks. Hard BMs may be uncomfortable because of your stitches. Fruits and vegetables should help keep BMs soft, but you may need a stool softener. If you have hemorrhoids, you may get relief with Tucks pads and Epifoam. The hospital will send your sitz bath home with you to help relieve discomfort from your stitches.
Eat a well-balanced diet. Food may be your last priority now, but good nutrition is needed to provide energy for your body to heal.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Continue taking prenatal vitamins
- Eat proteins that are needed for healing (milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, fish and red meat)
Limit junk foods—fluctuating blood sugar levels will exacerbate hormonal mood swings
- Drink plenty of fluids—eight large glasses/day (water, juice, milk)
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Post a list of healthy foods on your refrigerator to remind you that you are healing.
- Watch for vaginal bleeding. Bright red, heavy bleeding may last for three days, followed by a lighter pinkish to brown discharge that can last up to 10 days, which is then followed by a yellowish white discharge lasting up to 21 days.
- Bleeding may last up to four to six weeks and may be followed by your normal menstrual cycle. You may notice an increase in bleeding when you get home because of increased activity. This bleeding is from the area on your uterus where the placenta was attached. This area is healing, so pelvic rest is recommended. Pelvic rest means nothing (tampons, douches) is placed in the vagina.
Understand pain. Cramping is normal as your uterus is returning to its normal size. “After cramps” are usually worse if this was not your first pregnancy. Your doctor should give you a prescription for pain relief. However, most mothers find that over-the-counter cramping medicine is effective after two to three days.
Take special care of a cesarean section. If you have had a C-section, you are recovering from surgery. Your doctor should prescribe pain medicine that you may need to use for a longer time. When you shower, don’t rub over stitches. Just allow the water to run over them and pat them dry. Keep your incision as dry as possible. If you have Steri-Strips, they should fall off by themselves within one week
Be aware of breast care needs. Your body may start producing milk two or three days after birth. Breasts may become engorged and be extremely uncomfortable for several days. Hand expressing of milk supply just enough to relieve pressure will be helpful to decrease this pain. You may apply a cold compresses or cold cabbage leaves to your breasts for comfort. Wear a supportive bra as needed.
Resume sexual activity carefully. Most doctors recommend you have a follow-up checkup before you resume sexual activity. When you do resume having sex, personal lubricant may be needed for comfort. During this time you are fertile, so use contraception. Discuss future pregnancies with your doctor. The usual recommendation is to have several normal menstrual cycles before conceiving.
Do Kegel exercises. Start performing 10 Kegel exercises a day after delivery to help tighten your pelvic floor muscles. You can do this exercise by tightening muscles as if holding back urine for three seconds and then relax.
Be aware of hormonal changes. As your body heals, there is a normal shift in hormone levels. This shift may cause emotional swings, making it harder to deal with grief. Give yourself time for levels to balance out. If you need extra help, talk with your doctor about possible medications.
Take Care of Your Emotional Self
Develop a support system. Communicate with your partner and rely on each other. Surround yourself with people you are comfortable talking with about your baby and your feelings.
Learn about grief. Excellent resources (books, websites) are available to educate you about grief and ways you can help yourself on your grief journey.
Keep a journal. Journaling gives you an outlet for emotions. It can help you look at your emotions more objectively, so you can discover ways to work through grief.
Remember your child. Your child has died, but you are still a mother. It is OK to remember your precious baby by giving your baby a name and memorializing him or her. Journaling and scrapbooking are ways to create lasting memories of your baby. Some parents like to plant a tree or flower in memory. Be creative and find the way that’s right for you.
Take Care of Your Spiritual Self
You cannot avoid the wound that is in your heart. It is the most painful wound of the three, and it must heal just as your body and mind must. Incorporate your religious beliefs in your grief work. Many find that they are unable to heal without their faith. It will give you strength and comfort on your grief journey.
Seek the support that you need. There are many groups that focus on grief recovery. Being with other parents who are walking their own grief journey helps you to know that you are not alone. It also may give you ideas to help you on your own journey.
How can I expect to feel?
The death of a baby is overwhelming. The reality is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of your baby. Your grief will be as individual as you are. Many thoughts and emotions you experience, however, are common to fathers in grief. The range of emotions may affect you at different times and be repeated. Emotions may include shock and confusion, loss of control, anger, frustration or failure, and sadness.
How is my grief different from my partner’s?
Grief work is a very individual and personal process. Women often are more open with expressions of emotion. Fathers may feel uncomfortable or ill at ease in the presence of another person’s expression of sadness or tears. Fathers often have difficulty expressing their grief and emotions.
It is important to allow yourself time to grieve and give yourself permission not to be strong. Grief work can be exhausting for both you and your partner. Men are likely to channel their grief into another concern or activity. You may just as likely feel like withdrawing from normal routines. You may try avoiding your grief in hopes that the emotional pain will simply go away. Or you may, like some fathers, substitute feelings of sadness and hurt with anger. Perhaps, like other fathers, you will focus your energy on working long hours to delay going home and coping with memories. It is important to realize that efforts to avoid or delay grief only prolong it. Healthy grieving requires that you embrace the hurt and communicate your feelings of pain and disappointment.
Questions are a normal part of the grieving process. Both you and your partner will have questions. It is important to understand that some of your questions will never have an answer.
It is important to discover ways of expressing your sorrow alone and equally important that you communicate to your partner not only how you grieve but also what you need to survive this loss. If your need is to grieve and cry in private, your partner needs to understand that. Lack of communication may give the perception to others that you are immune to the loss, irritable or depressed.
Understand that everyone grieves in his or her own time and in his or her own way. Your grief work may mean cleaning the garage while your partner works on scrapbooking. You may find comfort in long walks alone while your partner needs the comfort of being held by you and sharing feelings. Fathers tend to be problem solvers, and the loss of a baby is something that can’t be “fixed.” It is a journey that can be only experienced and requires time and patience.
How do I cope with others and going back to work?
Most often friends, family and co-workers are at a loss for words to comfort. Words offered with good intention may make you angry instead. Many people do not understand what you are going through; it typically takes another bereaved parent to have a grasp of the emotions you are feeling. Be honest and specific in communication of what you need with others.
Where can I find support?
Support groups provide for connecting with other parents dealing with the loss of a baby. A support group provides fellowship and networking with other parents. Sharing your story with other fathers can provide comfort and a sense that you are not alone in your grief work. A support group provides a safe environment in which to share stories and express feelings and emotion. It is more comfortable to connect with people who have shared in a similar pain and surround you with the support and compassion that comes only through understanding.
Remember that grief is a journey with peaks and valleys. It involves many emotions and surviving many anniversary dates. For information on support groups, visit Share Upstate Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support.
Every child is different, and you may need to be creative to find therapeutic ways for him or her to have an outlet. Older children may benefit from journaling while younger children may express emotions by drawing pictures.
- Encourage your child’s involvement in memorial services. He or she can write a note or draw a picture to put in the casket or memory box.
- Offer your child a choice to see the baby. If he or she refuses, do not force the issue. Give your child permission to touch the baby.
- Encourage children to express their feelings.
- Always reassure children that their feelings are OK.
- Don’t hide your grief. Talk to your child about your feelings. Your child can learn from your example.
- Maintain a normal routine. Routine makes a child feel safe and secure.
- Reassure your child that the baby is a loved member of your family and will never be forgotten. This approach will reassure your child that he or she is a precious and needed member of the family.
- Always use truthful language. Avoid using words such as “lost,” “passed away” or “sleeping.” Children may feel anxiety that they may be lost and fear falling asleep. Using the words “dying,” “died” or “death” helps keep explanations clear for children.
- Listen and answer questions honestly and concisely. The fact that your child asks questions is a sign that he or she is ready to hear and face reality.
- Share your family’s religious beliefs with your children. Your faith brings you comfort, and it will bring comfort to them.
- Reassure your child that he or she isn’t going to die and is not responsible for the sibling’s death.
- It is normal for children to have behavioral difficulties. Acting out, regression and physical signs and symptoms may be outward manifestations of inner emotional confusion. These are a cry for help and support.
- Give lots of attention. Nothing can replace physical touch. Hug, hold and rock your child—and listen.
- Educate your child’s other caregivers on what is going on in your child’s life. Share with them that extra understanding and support may be needed.
How can you help?
The best thing you can do is to be there and to let them know they are not alone. Listening for cues from them will help you discover ways that will aid them on their grief journey.
Here are some specific suggestions we have found to be helpful. We hope they will help you get started.
- Respect your children’s privacy and give them the space they need
- Offer to stay in the hospital
- Allow parents time alone with their baby
- Ask if you can take pictures with your camera: Tangible memories of their baby will bring them much comfort later
- Offer to buy a special outfit for the baby or pick one from home
- Bring a family keepsake to include in the pictures
- Buy the mom an outfit that is not maternity to wear home from the hospital
- Clean up at home for them but don’t touch the nursery—it is therapeutic for them to put away things in the nursery when they are ready
- If there are other children, offer to babysit
- Run errands and provide food as needed
- Remember the grieving parents on special days (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, the baby’s birthday or original due date)
- Send special notes to them and let them know you have not forgotten
- Save some of the condolence flowers to dry and put in a glass ornament for Christmas
- Talk about your grandchild occasionally and use his or her name in conversation (these references encourage your children to feel you are a safe outlet for sharing their emotions)
- Don’t force them to talk if they’re not ready
- Avoid telling them what they should do
- Trust them to make decisions that are right for them
- Give them a journal and encourage them to write down their feelings
- Encourage them to attend a bereaved parent support group
- Take the mom to a mother-daughter lunch
Take care of yourself:
– Allow yourself to grieve
– Find a confidante
– Journal your feelings
– Get plenty of rest, healthy food and exercise
– Educate yourself on grief
Things not to say:
“You are young—you can always have more.”
“What did you do wrong?”
“The child wouldn’t have been healthy.”
“It was not meant to be.”
“At least you have other children.”
“Maybe next time you can take better care of yourself.”
“Life goes on.”
“You aren’t going to the same doctor next time.”
“Try to get pregnant as fast as you can.”
“You’ve got to be strong.”
“Don’t cry. Everything is going to be all right.”
“Can’t we talk about something else?”
“Just be glad you didn’t get to know the baby; then you’d be really sad.”
“It is only a miscarriage.”
“I know just how you feel.”
“It won’t happen again.”
Things to say:
“I don’t know what to say, but I’ll be glad to listen.”
“You must feel devastated.”
“I’m here if you want to talk.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Help me to know how I can best be there for you.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“I’m so sorry this has happened.”
“I love you!”
Losing a child is one of the most devastating events that can happen to a parent—and watching your child experience the loss of your grandchild is one of the most devastating events that can happen to you. Your natural inclination is to want to comfort your child and his or her partner, but you cannot make their pain go away.
It is essential to allow parents who have lost a child to grieve so that they can recover. There is no wrong or right way to grieve, and your child and his or her partner must grieve in a way that is helpful for them. Allow them to explore grief—even despair—and to do the hardest thing of all: Say good-bye to their precious baby.
Miscarriage is clinically defined as the loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks. For you, miscarriage is much more. It’s the loss of control, of trust in your body, of a great expectation and a sweet dream. It’s the loss of your baby.
- Name your baby—you can write your baby’s name and date in a favorite book or family Bible.
- Plant a tree in memory of your baby—and create a special place that family members can visit and remember your baby.
- Make a garden stone in memory of your baby.
- Make or wear a special piece of jewelry in memory of your baby.
- Write down your feelings in a journal.
- Write a letter to your baby.
- Take care of yourself with good nutrition and exercise—grief is a physical, mental and spiritual process, and it can take a toll on your mind and body.
- Educate yourself on your loss; communicate with your providers.
- Learn about the grief process to help you find better ways to cope with your loss.
- Allow yourself to grieve and give yourself plenty of time. There is no time limit: Grief can be a long process and it is life changing. You will never forget the baby that you have lost.