Support for parents who have lost a baby

Published on: 21/04/2015

May we express our deepest condolences to you on the sad death of your precious baby. We hope this information helps get you through this awful time. You may like to share it with your family and friends to help them understand how they can help you.

This information is based on my own experiences. My son Hugo was born in February 2014 when I was 24 weeks’ pregnant because I had pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. My beautiful Hugo fought so hard, but he was too small, and premature. He died in my arms when he was 35 days old.

While we may share similar experiences and feelings after the death of our baby, however our baby has died, our grief is completely individual, and personal. This is not a ‘how to’ guide: there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve, but it is intended to help give reassurance and comfort.

How you are likely to feel

Losing a baby is overwhelming. You may feel a range of emotional and physical reactions such as being disorientated, lonely, angry, guilty, and exhausted. Grief can also feel like physical pain – it can feel scary.

The loss of your baby may be your first experience of bereavement, which can make the feelings seem even more overwhelming. However, the death of a baby can be considered unique because you lose not only your baby, but the future you expected to have together, and all your hopes and dreams, too.

You may have heard of the stages that bereavement presents such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (the Kubler-Ross model). The model can be helpful because it can reassure you that your feelings are to be expected under the circumstances. However, it can suggest that you will methodically go through each of the stages and one day feel better. Unfortunately, grief does not work like that. Grief is messy, unpleasant and painful. While the intensity of the pain does gradually ease, the process is not linear. That means you can have a run of good (or ‘better’) days and then something (or nothing at all) can send you right back to where you started. It can be very frustrating. Try to be kind to yourself, and not expect too much of yourself. It can be best to take things on a day-by-day basis.

Grief is very individual. You may find you grieve differently from your spouse/partner. In a heterosexual relationship, how we deal with the loss of our baby tends to conform to gender stereotypes with the mother being very demonstrative about her grief and the father finding things to distract themselves with. You are likely to be at different stages at different times. Try to respect each other’s needs: it is crucial to talk often about how you are feeling to minimise further hurt by falling out or having rows.

Things to say and do

Collect mementoes of your baby – things like photographs, foot and hand prints can be a helpful physical reminder of your baby. We have framed photos of Hugo on our mantelpiece, and both my partner and I have jewellery with Hugo’s hand and footprints on. Display the mementoes in whatever way is right for you.

When someone asks how you are, it is often considered polite to respond by saying “I am alright thank you”, but it is fine to be as honest as you need to be.

People may say silly and insensitive things to you. You’ll know that it is mostly not intended to be hurtful, but knowing that, is usually unhelpful when you are on the receiving end. Some things people say, especially when you are having a bad day, will make you want to punch them. It’s probably best if you don’t punch them, but there’s no reason why you should always have to bite your tongue if someone has done something to upset you. Don’t hold it all in – try not to worry what other people think.

Express your feelings as much as you can and in whatever way is right for you. Talk, write (it doesn’t have to be on a blog, it can just be for you), letters to your baby – get those feelings out. It can feel cathartic. Family and friends will want to offer help. This might involve going to the supermarket for you, or providing a listening ear. You will usually need to tell them how they can best support you – which can often be difficult because you don’t know what you need yourself. It’s fine to want company, and it’s fine to need space. Let people know how and when to get in touch with you. In the earliest days, I wanted to see very few people. I found texting easier than talking on the phone or face-to-face because it was easier to sort out my feelings and what I wanted to say. On a good day, you may make plans to meet a friend but when the day comes you realise you can’t face it. That’s fine – your real friends will understand.

Every day things that were fine before are likely to take on a different significance after the death of your baby. There will be poignant reminders of your loss everywhere: on the TV, in books, magazines, and on the internet, out and about. Do whatever you need to do: avoid certain programmes; turn the TV over or leave the room during advert breaks (after suffering a loss you realise how many feature babies); hide updates on Facebook by friends who regularly post baby photos.

Get Support

It’s really important to get support. Here are a few things and organisations that I have found helpful:

Formal counselling can be crucial to help you find your way through your feelings. The hospital where your baby was born and/or died may be able to offer you counselling. Your GP or health visitor may also be able to help you find counselling support.

If your baby died on a neonatal unit, Bliss can put you in touch with counsellors with special training. Call their Family Support Helpline on 0500 618 140. Failing this, counselling is often offered by locally-based charities – you may have to do a Google search to find them.

The SANDS helpline – 020 7836 5881. It is open Monday to Friday: 9.30am to 5.30pm Tuesday and Thursday evenings: 6pm to 10pm. On the occasions I phoned I had to leave a message, and a kind lady called back about 10 minutes later. I found talking to the helpline invaluable because they just listen, and don’t offer judgement or try to offer advice.

Online magazines like Still Standing share other bereaved parents’ stories, and it can be reassuring to know you are not alone in what you are feeling.

Written by Leigh Kendall for MAMA Academy