9 Compassionate Tips for Surviving the Death of Your Baby
How to think about grieving, coping, adjusting, and healing during this ordeal.
Posted Oct 24, 2016
Note: This post is in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
Whenever and however it occurs, a baby’s death is a traumatic bereavement. Even if a pregnancy is unplanned or unexpected or is very short, a special bond materializes as the parents think about their baby and the reality of becoming a mother or a father to this child. Even if they’d only just found out they were pregnant, the parents are primed to invest, nurture, and protect. With a positive pregnancy test, parents start imagining all kinds of special experiences they will share with their child. In such heartfelt and intimate ways, they forge a deep bond with their baby, even long before the birth.
If you’ve experienced the death of a baby, you can see how your profound bond gives rise to a profound grief. And even though you never got the chance to know your baby in the ways we normally think of knowing someone, your hopes and dreams for this child are held dear. You have not only experienced the death of a child, you have lost the chance to see this baby grow, become a vital part of the family, and realize his or her potential. Death thwarts your best intentions and breaks your heart.
Indeed, after your baby dies, you may have moments when you doubt that you can survive this ordeal. Your longing, anger, sadness, and despair can run so deep that you may wonder if you will ever emerge from the abyss.
Here are some helpful ideas for grieving, coping, and adjusting to the death of your baby. As always, take in what fits for you; set aside the others to consider down the road.
- Accept your need to mourn and express your grief. Set aside time for grief to flow through you, whether you find relief in releasing emotions, moving your body, solving problems, or accomplishing meaningful tasks.
- Have realistic expectations about grief, viewing it as a complex process that has no deadlines, but many waves and unpredictable ups and downs, which eventually bring a gradual sense of healing that creeps up over many months and several years.
- Accept your preoccupation with your baby as a natural expression of you parental bond and a natural part of your grief. Indeed, reviewing your memories and telling your story can help your grief flow.
- Understand that the brevity of your baby’s life can make grieving especially complicated and painful. By identifying your many layers of loss and the challenges you face, you can embrace the profound impact your baby’s death has on you.
- Do those things that let you feel close to your baby. For you this might be visiting the cemetery; thinking or writing about your pregnancy and your baby; spending time with your keepsakes such as baby clothes and photographs; memorializing your baby such as installing a plaque, planting a tree or a garden, building a shrine or box to hold mementos, creating a scrapbook, making a piece of art, or donating your time or resources in your baby’s name.
- Pursue what helps you heal. Here’s a varied list of possibilities:
- Respect your own unique needs. Determine what you need to do to get through this. You deserve to get what you need.
- Ask for guidance and reassurance from bereaved parents who’ve been there.
- Attend a support group, so you can meet and talk with other parents who truly understand what you’re going through.
- See a counselor or therapist who can acknowledge your feelings and offer you coping skills.
- Engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation, meditative breathing, yoga, and tai chi, which can soothe your grief-stricken body and brain.
- Practice self-compassion and self-care. This includes being kind, patient, and gentle with yourself, and making sure you get adequate sleep, eat nutritious foods, and move your body every day. Doing so will boost your resilience and help you tolerate the ravages of grief.
- Accept the support of others, however clumsy it may be. Tell people what you need. If they are true friends, they’ll be glad to know.
- Write letters to whomever you wish to vent—the rude neighbor, the kindly stranger, your doctor, the hospital, God, Mother Nature, fate. Don’t send them; the writing is for you. Particularly if you have regrets, write a letter to your baby, and then if you wish, imagine or write your baby’s reply.
- Read books on coping with grief, personal accounts of loss, or medical or spiritual issues. Be open to advice that seems helpful.
- Engage in creative or athletic endeavors. These encourage the expression of emotions or release of tension, as well as make you feel like you can accomplish something constructive.
- Lean on the parts of your spiritual beliefs or religious faith that comfort you.
- Find respite in the activities and experiences you can enjoy.
- Try to recognize anything positive—discovered strengths, new growth, enlightened perspectives, meaningful pursuits, better relationships. Although it can be a struggle to find treasure in adversity, doing so can help you to heal and to honor your child’s memory. In time, you will feel ready to do this.
- Make a conscious decision to survive. After a while, you can decide whether to remember your baby and move forward with what you’ve gained, or remain stuck with what you’ve lost. Many parents mention that eventually they reach a point where they just decide to stop wishing it didn’t happen and start learning to live with it. When you are ready, you can do that too.
7. Have faith that eventually you will feel better. Like the many parents who’ve come before you, you too can survive the death of your baby.
8. Know that even as you grieve, you are healing. Take one day at a time and trust the process.
9. Remember that your grief is normal and you are not alone.