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What to Do When Your Baby Dies

Five tips that can light your way through the darkness.

Key points

  • When a baby dies at any time during pregnancy or infancy, parents can experience a profound sense of loss that leaves them reeling.
  • Grieving takes time, and there are many ups and downs; wherever you are on your journey, that’s right where you’re supposed to be.
  • Go with the flow of your grief and find ways to reduce the tension held in your body, whether by jumping into action or diving into emotion.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Oct. 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This post is for parents who’ve experienced the death of a baby at any time during pregnancy or infancy.

A bereaved mother writes:

I can't get over the death of my baby. It’s been eight months now; nothing seems to help. I even have your book Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, on surviving the death of your baby … I can’t even open the book.

I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure the death of your baby. My heart goes out to you. Many parents, especially during the first year, notice that “nothing seems to help.” Here are some ideas that can light your way.

Have realistic expectations

Your baby’s death isn’t really something to “get over.” It’s something you simply learn to live with, because it entails many layers of loss, which cut so very deep. For example, you’ve not only lost a precious baby, you’ve lost your innocence, a part of your future, and a part of yourself.

Grieving takes time

Most parents need several years to feel like they get to a point where they can say, “I have grieved and mourned, and over time, my pain has softened. I’ve managed to integrate this terrible loss into my life so that I can move forward with my baby in my heart and live well, in honor of my baby’s brief life.”

You’re right where you’re supposed to be

The roller coaster of grieving is unpredictable, with many ups and downs. Rest assured, especially during the first year, when the “downs” prevail, you may feel like you’re making zero progress. It’s common for parents to feel worse during certain months, especially as the first year anniversary approaches. Healing feels impossible. But rather than doubting you’re on the right path, simply accept that you’re on a long, winding, and bumpy path. You may wish it was short, straight, and smooth, but alas, adjusting to the death of a baby is a mighty journey, not a walk in the park. But, on this mighty journey, wherever you are and however long it takes, you are exactly where you should be.

Go with the flow of your grief

Grief is a tension that you hold in your body. As you travel this journey, you can release this tension by allowing your grief to find it’s natural expression and going with that flow—whether that means jumping into action or diving into emotion. Jumping into action can help when your body feels generally restless; diving into emotion can help when you feel tension in specific areas, such as a lump in your throat, aching arms, or hollowness in your chest or belly. Jumping into action might mean delving into projects that keep your interest, solving problems at work or around the house, playing sports, or getting out into the great outdoors for a walk, a run, a ride, a hike, a ski, a paddle, or a sail. Diving into emotion might mean writing about thoughts and feelings, talking to others, and having a good cry. Whenever you sense the need to jump into action or dive into emotion, go with the flow and do what you’re called to do, and you’ll experience a release of tension, which means you’re making progress along your journey of grief and adjustment. In fact, even as you are grieving, you are also healing.

Find comfort in the words of other bereaved parents

One of the hardest aspects of experiencing the death of a baby is feeling so crazy and alone. But no matter how or when your baby died, you share much emotional common ground with other bereaved parents—many of whom have felt feelings like yours, had thoughts like yours, and done what you’ve done. Empty Cradle, Broken Heart is full of parents' quotes and by reading their words, you’ll realize that you’re not as crazy as you thought you were; you’re not the only parent who’s gone where you’ve been. It can be enormously reassuring to discover that your grief is normal, considering what you’ve experienced, and that maybe you can survive, just as these parents have.

Deborah L. Davis
Grieving the death of a baby is a mighty journey. And you can prevail.
Source: Deborah L. Davis

Here is one mother's recent reflections on grief and healing.

Around the year mark, things shifted. We had already made it through all of the holidays, all of the seasons, all of the milestones without her there. In my mind, I continued to insert her into our family but now that image wasn’t as painful as it once had been. I remember waking up the day after Selah's birth/death day and feeling as though we had survived and I was finally able to really start moving forward. I still longed for a different narrative but was starting to accept that this was ours. I don’t think the phrase time heals indicates that time makes the pain any less prevalent, time just gives you a chance to accept the hand you’ve been dealt and the strength to keep going. –Sislye

References

Davis, D.L. (2016). Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby (3rd ed.). Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.

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