Resources for Bereaved Parents
If your baby has passed way, the hospital staff will do their utmost to provide you with the support that you need at this very difficult time. The bereavement midwife and chaplain, in particular, are available to answer any questions that you have and provide you with emotional and practical support. The support organisations listed below can also help.
How you might feel:
Every parent’s experience is individual, and every circumstance is different, but the death of a baby is a major bereavement. Here are some of the more common emotional and physical reactions that you as a bereaved parent may experience:
- Difficulty going home from hospital without your baby.
- A need to tell and retell the details of your baby’s death and a need to remember things about your baby.
- A feeling of numbness or an empty feeling.
- A feeling as if a part of you has died.
- Feeling fragile and vulnerable.
- Wondering if you are losing your mind.
- Going through the “motions” of everyday living.
- Feeling unable to cope.
- Crying a lot and experiencing mood changes.
- Continually searching for answers.
- Questioning your faith.
- Finding a lot of reminders about your baby.
- Feeling sad with the changing seasons.
- Difficulty going on holidays or away without your baby.
- Avoiding social interactions.
- Feeling sad on special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter and other festivities.
- Sleeping all the time.
- Constantly feeling cold.
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite leading to overeating.
- Restlessness, difficulty concentrating, poor memory.
- Difficulty with decision making.
- Physical exhaustion, insomnia, lack of motivation to get out of bed.
- Heaviness in the chest and tightness in the stomach.
- Respiratory reactions – excessive yawning, gasping, sighing, and hyperventilating.
Depression and grief symptoms are very similar, it is important that you seek advice from your GP if you have concerns that you are not coping very well.
Making memories of your baby
- We encourage you to take lots of photographs of your baby. Many parents contact “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org, a volunteer organisation of photographers who take professional remembrance photographs, free of charge. They will come to hospital at short notice.
- You might consider carrying out the following activities with your baby (and take photographs): bathing your baby, dressing your baby, reading a story to your baby, singing to your baby. This will create a “picture story” which your family will treasure for years to come.
- You might also consider gathering items that you remind you of your baby. The following is a list of items that other parents have kept as mementos:
- Ultrasound photos
- Medical records
- A lock of their baby’s hair and his or her footprints and handprints
- Soft toys their baby held
- Identification bracelet
- Cot cards
- Clothes their baby wore, or the shawl that he or she was wrapped in
- A list of the visitors and phone calls they received
- Cards and letters.
- Grandparents, your siblings and your other children might also like to spend time with your baby.
- Consider buying identical soft toys for your baby, one to go into the coffin with your baby and the other to keep as a keepsake.
Ways to help yourself
- Be gentle and patient with yourself, you will not be able to do you what you normally do. Grieving is very exhausting.
- It is helpful if you cry freely as you feel the need. It is a good expression of grief.
- A balanced diet, rest and moderate exercise are especially important at this time. Talk to your GP if you have lost your appetite.
- Avoid major decisions if possible (moving house, changing jobs for example) for at least a year.
- Avoid making hasty decisions about your baby’s belongings. Do not allow others to take over or rush you. Do it at your own pace when you are ready.
- Consider recording how you are feeling in a journal and use it to express feelings you can’t express face to face.
- Try to talk openly about your feelings or find other ways to express your emotions (such as writing or crafts). Find a good listener, someone who will just let you talk.
- Often talking to another parent who has lost a baby can help as they are on the same journey as you, just a little bit further down the road.
- If you feel unable to cope, are anxious all the time or having difficulty managing the intense emotions you are experiencing, it might be helpful to seek the advice from your GP or a professional counsellor.
Personal Story – Mia
To be pregnant on twins was very special. When I was 5 months pregnant, we found out that Mia, one of our twin girls had hypoplastic left heart syndrome and possibly trisomy 18. This meant that the left hand side of her heart had not grown. Mia died in utero when I was 32 weeks pregnant. She was delivered 4 weeks later, with her twin sister Emma.
The support that we received from both the hospital staff and support organisations was fantastic – something that we could not have done without.
Mia will always hold a very special place in our hearts. Her life and death has been life-changing. We miss her so much every day.
Written by Mia’s Mammy
How to tell siblings that their baby brother or sister has died
- Be open and honest about what has happened as you can.
- Use clear, simple and age appropriate language.
- Provide books specifically written for siblings experiencing grief.
- Encourage siblings to ask questions.
- Expect behaviour changes, for example, anger, confusion, separation anxiety, regression.
- Ensure that your child’s school is aware of the baby’s death.
- Consider seeking advice from one of the organisations’ listed below.
Helping a parent whose baby has died
- Get in touch with the parent as soon as possible. The most important need of bereaved parents is to have their loss acknowledged and their pain understood.
- Make regular contact with bereaved parents rather than waiting for them to contact you. This will let them know you are thinking of them and that you are always there for them. If they do not want to talk, try again after a few days later.
- Bereaved parents may have little energy for everyday tasks, so it might be helpful if you offered practical help such as shopping, cooking or house work. You could also offer to mind children and maybe take them to school and extra-curricular activities.
- Encourage parents to talk about their baby and feelings. Be patient and try to just listen without judgement. The reactions of parents may not seem rational. But they need to know that they can express their grief openly and honestly. Parents often experience feelings such as envy, anger, blame and guilt and should not be asked to justify them. These are normal grief reactions.
- Talk about the baby and use his or her name. This shows parents that their baby matters to you and is a unique person.
- Acknowledge the parent’s sadness on family occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day.
- It is okay for you to cry. It will be appreciated by the parents and will bring about more honest communication.
- Other newborn babies may become sad reminders to bereaved parents of what they are missing. If you have a newborn baby, don’t be offended if bereaved parents don’t want to see or hold your baby.
- Remember that the death of a baby also affects the extended family, for example, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc.
- Encourage the parents to seek help for support organisations listed below and to make contact with other parents whose baby have died.
If you or someone you know, if affected by the death of a baby, there is support available. The following is a list of some the organsations that can offer you advice and support:
- A Little Lifetime Foundation – www.isands.ie
- Anam Cara – www.anamcara.ie
- Barnardos – www.barnardos.ie
- Feileacain – www.feileacain.ie
- Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep – www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org
- Miscarriage Association of Ireland – www.miscarriage.ie
- Potter’s Syndrome – www.potterssyndrome.org
- Rainbows Ireland – www.rainbowsireland.ie
- Soft Ireland – www.softireland.com
- The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network – www.childhoodbereavement.ie