MY BABY DIED. HOW WILL I COPE?
Material courtesy of March of Dimes (adapted for Kosovo)
The death of a baby is one of the most painful things that can happen to a family. It's so unfair. Babies aren't supposed to die. They are the beginning of life, not the end.
Your baby may have died in your womb, either early or later in your pregnancy. Or your baby may have died at birth or just after birth. You may be overwhelmed by your feelings. Know that you are not alone in your grief. We are so sorry for your loss. We hope we can help you come to deal with the death of your baby by reading these articles.
The information here can help you and your family understand your grief and feelings and learn how to ask for help. It gives suggestions for dealing with family and friends while you're grieving and how to help your other children understand your family's loss.
We also provide a guide for fathers who have experienced loss and for friends and family of someone who has experienced a loss.
And finally, when you are ready, there are suggestions on how you and your family can remember your baby. We hope this helps you heal… and when you're ready, think about the future.
It’s important to take care of yourself
- Eat healthy food. Eat fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and pastas, and low-fat chicken and meats. Stay away from junk food, fast food and too many sweets.
- Do something active every day. Go for a walk. Get outside for a while.
- Try to stick to your regular schedule. Get up and go to bed at your usual times.
- Stay away from alcohol (beer, wine, wine coolers and liquor) and caffeine (in coffee, tea, soda and chocolate). These can make you feel bad and make it hard for you to sleep. Instead, drink water or juice.
- Don't smoke. Smoking is bad for you and your partner. Secondhand smoke (smoke from someone else's cigarettes) is harmful, too.
- Remember that a woman's body needs time to get back to normal after pregnancy. If a woman was far along in her pregnancy, she may have some bleeding, and her breasts may have milk. If these things are happening to you or your wife, talk to your doctor.
How can you share your feelings?
- Talk about your baby and your feelings about your loss with your partner, family and friends.
- Talk to your doctor to see if they can recommend a counselor. Sometimes it's helpful to talk to someone other than your family and friends.
- Talk to your religious or spiritual leader. Your spiritual beliefs may be a comfort to you during this time.
- Contact your local Beba-ks Center to make a one-on-one, confidential appointment with a doctor or midwife.
- Visit our online community to share your story and read about the experience of others; it might help to learn from others who have also experienced a loss.
- Think about having a memorial service to remember your baby.
- Read books and poems or listen to music that you like and find comforting.
- Write your thoughts and feelings in a journal. You can even write letters or poems to your baby. Tell your baby how you feel and how much you miss her.
- Make an album or memory box for keepsakes of your baby, like photos, a hospital bracelet or a blanket. Take time before making any changes
- You may already have baby things, like clothes, blankets and furniture. Leave them where they are until you feel ready to put them away.
- Try not to make big changes in your life (like moving to a new place or taking a new job) right after your baby dies. Wait a few months before you make changes like these. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your baby.
Where can you get help as you grieve?
- Ask your friends and family for help. Tell them exactly what they can do for you. Ask them to help with childcare, go grocery shopping, make meals or just spend time with you.
- Ask your doctor or contact your local Beba-ks Center for help if you think you’re depressed. Everyone feels sad and blue sometimes. These feelings may be stronger after the death of a baby. If your feelings of sadness are really strong, last for a long time and prevent you from leading your normal life, you may need treatment for depression. Here are some signs of depression:
- Having little interest in your usual activities or hobbies
- Feeling tired all the time
- Gaining or losing weight
- Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Thinking about suicide or death
Dealing with others as you grieve
It's really hard to think about dealing with family and friends when you're grieving.
You may wish people would go away and leave you alone. But your baby's death affects your family and friends, too. They love you and want to help, but they may be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. They may feel helpless because they're not sure how to comfort and support you.
Here are some tips to help you handle others while you're grieving:
- Tell them that their calls and visits are important to you.
- Let them know if it's OK for them to ask questions about what happened.
- Tell them you want their support, even if they don't know the perfect thing to say. Hearing honest words like, "I just don’t know what to say to make it better," or "I want to help you but I don't know how," can be comforting. Sometimes people may say things that are not helpful to you like, "It was for the best." Or "You can always have another baby." Try to remember that they are doing their best to support you, even if what they say is hurtful.
- Tell them exactly what you need. Do you just want someone to listen? Do you want them to spend time with you at home? Do you need someone to bring you a meal or do your laundry? Try and tell them specific things they can do to show their support. For example, they could take your children for an afternoon or do your grocery shopping.
- Ask them to use your baby's name and to remember your baby. Let them know that, even if you get pregnant again and have other children, you won't forget the baby who died.
- Thank them for their patience and support.
Grief takes time. Some people may expect you to limit your grief or get over it in a certain amount of time. Take as much time as you need to cope with your loss. Even though you may feel better with time, you won't forget your baby.
As time goes by, support from your family and friends may lessen. This doesn't mean they've forgotten about your baby or that they don't care. You may need to tell them that you are still grieving. They will support you as long as they know you need it.
How can you help children understand death and grief?
Children of all ages grieve. They may be afraid, act out or need special attention. Some children may think that they're going to die, too, or that they are to blame. They can cope better with grief when they know what's happening. Here are some ways you can help them understand the baby's death:
- Talk with them about death using simple, honest words. You can say things like, "The baby didn't grow," or "The baby was born very tiny." Don't use words that may confuse or scare them, such as "The baby is sleeping," or "Mommy lost the baby."
- Read them stories that talk about death and loss if you can find them.
- Encourage them to ask questions. Give as much information as your child needs.
- Be aware of changes in your children's behavior. They may be hurt, confused and angry, just like you. Younger children may be clingy or cranky. They may act in ways or do things that they haven't done since they were younger. Older children may be worried about school, friends or sports. Or they may show no reaction at all to the baby's death. They also may ask questions that you think are rude or uncaring. These are normal reactions. Be as patient and loving as you can.
- Tell them they are not going to die.
- Tell them that no one is to blame for the baby's death.
- Ask them to find their own ways to remember the baby. Older children may want to go to the memorial service or funeral. Younger children can draw a picture or make a keepsake for the baby.
- Tell your children's teachers and other caregivers what has happened so they can support your children, too.
A guide for fathers who have suffered a loss
Material courtesy of First Candle
This is likely one of the most difficult times in your life, but you may feel you have to be strong for your partner and your family. Our society tends to put men in a supporting role when it comes to the death of a baby, but you are grieving too. How you cope with your grief will be important as you try to heal and move forward. No two people grieve alike. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Take time to find out what works for you. Following are suggestions from other bereaved fathers that you may find helpful:
- Experience your grief. Find a quiet place where you can be alone with your thoughts and your pain. This will help you sort out the “what ifs” and “whys” echoing in your head.
- Cry. Crying is a normal and necessary response to grief, even for men. Crying can make you feel better by relieving tension from within your body. If you are not comfortable crying in from of others, find a place where you can be alone and release your emotions.
- Accept that this is not something you can “make better”. Everyone’s grief and healing will take time and will ebb and flow in unpredictable ways. Be patient with yourself and those around you.
- Talk about your feelings. Reach out to family members or trusted friends and let them know you just need someone to listen. This includes your wife.
- Express your anger in positive ways. For men, anger is probably the most common emotional reaction to the death of a baby. Exercise or other physical activities are good choices.
- Try not to over-involve yourself in sports, hobbies, work or social activities. This will only bury your feelings. Give yourself space to work on your grief. There will be plenty of time for these activities when you are in a better place and on the road to healing.
- Avoid the use of alcohol, drugs or sex outside your relationship to help numb the pain. The high is temporary; reality will step back in very quickly.
For more advice and information you can download First Candle’s “Surviving Stillbirth for Fathers” brochure here.
A guide for friends and family members of someone that has suffered a loss
Material courtesy of First Candle
If someone you care about has experienced the death of a baby, there are things that you can do to help them through the grieving process and cope with the death of their baby. The avoidance by friends and family, unsure of what to say or do, only adds to the pain and isolation felt by bereaved parents. The following suggestions are offered to assist you:
- Do get in touch. Let your genuine concern and caring show.
- Do be available to listen, to help with the other children, or whatever else seems needed at the time. Offer help with practical matters like house cleaning and meals.
- Do say you are sorry about what happened to their baby and about their pain.
- Do allow them to express as much grief as they are feeling at the moment and are willing to share. Accept silence; if the family doesn’t feel like talking, don’t force conversation. Follow their lead.
- Do encourage them to be patient with themselves, not to expect too much of themselves and not to impose any “shoulds” on themselves.
- Do allow them to talk about their baby.
- Do give special attention to the siblings of the baby that died.
- Do reassure them that they did everything that they could, the medical care they received was the best, or whatever else you know to be true and positive about the care given their pregnancy or baby.
- Do encourage them to seek outside help, either from a health professional or another bereaved parent.
- Do remember the family on the baby’s birthday, anniversary of death, Mother’s and Father’s days, and other occasions.
- Do be patient with them. Coping with the death of their baby may take a long time. Stay in touch.
- Don’t let your own sense of helplessness keep you from reaching out to the bereaved family.
- Don’t avoid the family because you are uncomfortable.
- Don’t say you know how they feel (unless you’ve lost a child yourself, you probably don’t know how they feel).
- Don’t probe for details about the baby’s death. If the family offers information, listen with understanding.
- Don’t tell them what they should feel or do.
- Don’t impose your religious or spiritual views on them.
- Don’t change the subject when they mention their dead child.
- Don’t point out that at least they have another child; or could have more children in the future.
- Don’t blame anyone for the death. Don’t make comments which suggest that the care at home, at the childcare provider’s, in the emergency room, hospital or wherever was inadequate.
- Don’t try to find something positive about the baby’s death. Avoid clichés and easy answers.
- Don’t avoid mentioning the baby’s name out of fear of reminding them of their pain.
- Don’t say “you ought to be feeling better by now” or anything else which implies a judgment about their feelings, or sets time expectations or limits
- their healing process.
Remembering your baby
When you are ready, it's important for you and your family to remember your baby in ways that are special. Even if you may not have had the chance to see, touch or hold him or even give him a name, there are things you can do to help you remember your baby.
Collect things that remind you of your baby. These might be ultrasound pictures, footprints, a hospital bracelet, photos, clothes, blankets or toys. Put them in a special box or scrapbook. Do or make something special to remember your baby. You may want to:
- Light a candle on special days and holidays.
- Say a prayer.
- Write a poem.
- Paint a picture.
- Plant a tree or a small garden.
- Have a piece of jewelry made, perhaps with the baby's birthstone.
- Donate to a charity or give something to a needy child who is about the same age as your baby would be.
- Get involved in a special project dedicated to your baby, such as raising money to build a swing set in a park in your baby’s name, or volunteer for a local charity.
- Have a service to honor your baby. This can be a memorial service or funeral. It can be at your home or at your place of worship. It can be with just a few people or with all friends and family. It may include burying your baby or spreading his ashes in a special place. A service can give you a chance to say goodbye to your baby. And it gives you a time to share your sorrow with family and friends.
- Have a special time to remember. Pick a date that’s meaningful to you--your baby's birthday or the day he died. Do something on your own, or bring family and friends together to remember your baby.