A pregnant mother, never imagines that maybe, just maybe, shortly after saying hello to their precious baby, they will also have to face saying goodbye.
Sometimes this is sudden and unexpected, and sometimes this is determined early on in the pregnancy through testing and ultrasounds. Regardless of how and when it happens, having to meet that amazing little gift only to soon say goodbye rips your heart apart in a way that no one will ever understand.
Half of you dies at that moment too-literally. A deep wound full of grief, pain, confusion, hurt, and anger all mixed with a deep feeling of love is formed and never goes away. I know, because I lived it and I would do anything for no other mother or father to experience such immense pain.
However, what keeps me going are the amazingly beautiful memories that we were able to create with our baby boy and from personal experience, I recommend that if you or anyone you know is ever faced with a similar situation, that they too try to create and hold on to these memories. Regardless of how short or long you get to spend with your baby, that baby is your son or daughter and will remain forever in your hearts and lives.
So as difficult as it is to plan for such a difficult encounter, or if you are faced with this situation unexpectedly, here are a few suggestions to help create those precious memories:
Create a specific birth plan.
Talk openly and honestly with your care team and ask as many questions as you may have. Many hospitals offer a ‘comfort care/palliative care’ program designed specifically for families who have received a fatal diagnosis early on in their pregnancy and this can be the best option for you.
This is the care plan that we chose as we learned that no amount of intrusive care would keep our baby alive, so after much consideration, we chose to opt to cherish our time with him and not have him removed from our side at any point- and it was the best decision for us.
A ‘comfort care’ plan is designed to keep mother, fathers and babies together from the moment of delivery to be able to spend each minute available together. The medical team can accommodate you all in one room and depending on the circumstances will try to do as many of the ‘normal’ activities with you and your baby as they would with any other.
For example, in my situation I breastfed, I bathed my son, took unlimited photos and videos, sang, prayed, cuddled him, slept together and just enjoyed and loved each other’s company during our 3 days together.
This is not easy as you will undoubtedly feel emotional pain and will want to take drastic measures to save your baby, but again, in some cases this may be the best option and as painful as it is, it also brings many beautiful memories and inner peace that you get to keep forever.
So discuss your birth plans carefully and inquire on all the possible options offered in your local hospital and go with the one best for you.
Once you have agreed on the specific plans with your partner, and medical team, write them down and print them so you can keep a copy with you at all times to use in case you go in to a premature delivery.
Name your baby.
This is so important not only for any legal paperwork after but as part of the entire process. Regardless of the circumstances, this is your son or daughter and giving them a name ahead of time will help as you speak to them in the womb and for when you finally get to meet him/her.
Begin recording every detail in a journal.
If it is a complicated pregnancy, you may not want to do this — I honestly didn’t and I regret it now, so if you can, do so and just list all appointments, dates, track your weight and all baby details. You will be glad you did after.
Do a sound recording of your baby’s heartbeat.
This is a great idea my husband suggested to me and I loved it. At a regular OBGYN appointment, ask the doctor if you can record with your phone or any audio device your baby’s heart beat from the Doppler that they use. You will love hearing the sound of life and your baby’s heart beating after the have passed.
Consider having a FREE professional photographer at the birth.
Now I Lay me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS) is an amazing organization that dedicates its volunteer professional photographers to be present at these deliveries to take beautiful pictures and help create those memories. Contact them ahead of time and then keep the contact information with you at all times. (You can include it in your birth plan). If you are faced with a stillbirth or unexpectedly your baby passes, many hospitals will contact NILMDTS for you if you ask them to.
Buy a special outfit(s) for your baby.
You will want to dress your baby in different outfits if possible and be able to take different pictures and take the outfit’s home with you. Consider buying a few different sizes, including preemie- just in case.
Make or buy a special blanket to wrap your baby in.
You will cherish it forever and, because you held your baby in it, it may smell like him or her and will possibly provide a small comfort to hold later as you grieve.
Bring any special items from home.
Examples can include: books, toys, and other items you’ll want for photos and special moments with your baby.
Get a memory basket.
MissingGrace is an organization that willsend you a gift basket with lots of beautiful items just for you. Included is also a folder of very helpful information that will help you during the time before and after.
Prepare a camera and video camera.
Take as many pictures as possible so bring those extra cameras and if possible assign a friend or family member to be responsible for the picture taking. A personal tip is to try to smile for at least a few of the photos. Though you may be crying or so sad, try your hardest to capture some ‘happy’ pictures as you will seek those out after to display them proudly in your house/office.
Begin making funeral arrangements.
No expectant parent should ever have to consider this, but the sad truth is that some of us have to ensure such pain, and where possible try to be as prepared as possible now so you can enjoy your time with your baby. Decide which funeral home you’d like to use as well as burial or cremation plans. Your hospital’s social worker can be of great assistance for this. If you can’t face doing this, your partner or family member of friend can be very helpful for this. Make the necessary arrangements.
During the Hello:
This is the most special time and the time to create all the memories as possible. Take time and do not feel rushed!
Enjoy each second!
Time will fly by and you can’t get it back so enjoy each second of your time with your baby. Sing, pray, bathe, dress, feed him/her, and try to do as many of the ‘normal’ things you would typically do.
Bring a special lotion or essential oil for your baby.
It’ll be a special time to massage their precious little body and the scent will remind you of them forever
If you have other children, consider allowing them to hold, kiss, and see their new baby.
Let them see your emotions and talk openly with them about what is happening. Take pictures of them alone and as a group.
Focus on every part of your little one and take lots of photos.
Rock them, carry them, sing to them, read a special story to them, kiss them, and love on them for as long as you can and like.
Take hair clippings, make hand and feet molds and finger prints.
Clay molds can be purchased at many local craft stores and nowadays many hospitals provide them. Definitely try to do this- you will be proudly displaying them after.
Take all the time you need.
Don’t let anyone rush you. You can’t have this time back.
If you have spiritual beliefs.
Consider baptizing or doing a special spiritual ceremony for your baby. Contact your church or ministry ahead of time or ask the resident chapel to be present for the birth of your baby to bless him/her.
Above all, enjoy your time and take lots and lots of pictures and video recordings. Hopefully you have a NILMDTS photographer present to capture professional photos of your time together as you will cherish this after.
This is by far the hardest part and you need to feel free to take your time. Do not in any way feel rushed. There is no set time where you need to give your baby back to the medical team. You can hold your baby even once he has gone for as long as you want to. We held our baby for close to 4 hours after and during this time we took more photos, cuddled him more, prayed over him, cried, took deep breaths of him and his natural baby scent and just held on to him for as long as we could.
This is something that some hospitals offer and if you can do it, I recommend it fully. It is a regular bath that the nurses give to your baby once he has passed. They place the baby in the warm incubator that is typically in the room, bathe him with all baby shampoos and products, dress him in his final outfit, take final hand and foot molds and prints, and take more pictures of the baby and parents. This is such an amazing time to spend those last minutes with your baby and to know that he is ‘clean’ and smelling so fresh is such a comforting feeling. So if your hospital offers this, I wholeheartedly recommend you do it.
Ask for all items.
Preparing to leave the hospital is very difficult and you should ask for any or all items your baby had or used that you can keep.
Have something to hold when you leave the hospital.
A teddy bear or blanket can help as you leave without your baby. Leaving the hospital empty handed will be such an empty and lonely feeling, especially as you see other mothers happily leaving with their babies. Just try to stay focused and strong and hold on to the memories you were able to create.
Healing process takes time and don’t rush it.
Cry as often as you need, cuddle and do nothing for as long as you want to. You need to come to terms with what has occurred and remember that your hormones will be more elevated so you need plenty of time for yourself. Speak about your baby and experience to close family and friends as this helps.
Place mementos around your house of your time with your baby.
For example we have 2 large collages of pictures of our time with him and to this date, 11 months later, we cannot and do not plan to bring them down. Store and PROUDLY share the memories. Tribute Code.com is a very special place where you can keep the amazing and treasured memories you created with your baby for free and it’s a project I personally designed in memory of my baby and to help other grieving mothers and individuals honor and keep those memories alive.
If you are reading this because you are preparing for a loss, please accept my deepest and warmest hugs and love for you. If you have recently lost a baby, please accept my most sincere condolences. And if this list has helped you in any way, I am honored to have been able to share it with you.
Photo credits: adapted from Holly Norval | Flickr