The loss of a baby is an unthinkable event, and an often undiscussed topic. For many moms, conceiving and delivering a healthy baby seems like a given. However, while infant loss is rare, unexpected complications can arise that result in the loss of a baby.
In an effort to help moms and loved ones who are grieving the loss of a child, Donna Reyes, a social worker at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, shares some helpful information on coping with this traumatic loss.
1. Infant loss is a unique type of grief.
While everyone grieves a loss in their own way, Reyes says that infant loss is a specifically layered type of grief.
“The grief experienced after the loss of a child is unique because a parent is not only mourning for the actual child they lost, but also for all the hopes, dreams and unfulfilled expectations they had for the child and for their family,” says Reyes. “They don’t get to have memories of this baby to recall and share, so the focus becomes very much on the loss of the imagined future.”
2. There are painful logistics to consider.
One of the lesser discussed topics after the loss of a child is the often painful list of decisions that need to be made after death. Grieving parents are quickly faced with decisions about funeral planning, burial purchases, and even how to share the news with friends and family — all while deep in the stages of early grief.
“In the event of an infant death, parents have an array of things to deal with. The first being that the delivering mother still has to recover and meet all medical requirements at the hospital in order to go home — the same hospital where her baby has died,” explains Reyes. “Depending on the gestation of the baby, parents may also have to make funeral arrangements, choose a mortuary, sign consent forms and inform the hospital of such arrangements.”
Reyes says that communicating with loved ones during this time is also especially difficult, as others may not know how to react to the news or how best to support the grieving parents. She advises that being direct and letting friends and family know the best way to help (e.g., attend a support group together, sit silently with one another, let the rest of the team at work know) can be useful for those who care for the parents.
3. Support is important.
There are many ways parents can cope with grief, but Reyes believes that connection and giving oneself grace are important parts of the healing process.
“Parents often find solace in participating in bereavement counseling and support groups, such as Empty Cradle, where they can connect with other parents who share the same experience,” says Reyes. “Practicing yoga, aromatherapy or journaling can also be therapeutic.”
Reyes acknowledges that while grief is often a lifelong journey, being patient and knowing that with time, the pain of grief will lessen, is important to remember.
4. Don’t ignore self-care.
Self-care practices are especially important for grieving parents during this physically and emotionally taxing time. Eating healthy, staying active, limiting alcohol and checking in on mental well-being are all recommended ways that grieving parents can care for themselves.
“Be patient with yourself and remember that while you are grieving, it’s important to take care of yourself physically and emotionally,” Reyes says. “Sleep is imperative during the early stages of grief, as losing a child takes a very real toll on your body.”
Reyes also recommends keeping an open line of communication between partners, as everyone’s grief is different, even in a partnership. Communicating to each other about specific needs during each period of grief will be especially helpful.
5. Remember a child.
There are many ways to remember and honor a baby. Using the baby’s name in conversation, documenting pregnancy memories, and even having footprints or handprints of the baby are all ways parents can hold their child’s memory near, says Reyes.
“In addition to physical memories, like handprints or saving a lock of hair, some families choose to celebrate their child’s legacy by giving to others via a donation to a charity in their child’s name,” explains Reyes. “At Sharp Mary Birch, there is an annual infant memorial service where every baby lost is honored, no matter their gestational age.”
She adds, “Every loss is different and unique to parents. Celebrating your child in your own special way is an important step in the grieving process.”