The following is excerpted from Gone Too Soon: The Life and Loss of Infants and Unborn Children.
Nothing better illustrates the impact of the loss of a baby than to see a mother who, having lost a baby through stillbirth fifty years ago, wells up with emotion as she talks about her baby’s life. This woman has nine living children, forty-one grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren; yet the pain she felt those many years ago is still very much evident. Losing a baby is indeed a life-changing event, much as is giving birth to a healthy baby.
Even though the pain may be intense and despair may seem inevitable, those who lose babies need not be subject to a life of hopelessness. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, a loving support system, and a few techniques to help deal with grief, the pain can be managed and eased.
Allow yourself any luxury you can—you deserve it. Buy yourself a new outfit, go out to dinner or a movie, spend time alone; do whatever makes you happy. Remember that taking care of yourself does not mean you have forgotten your baby; it is a way of coping. And be sure to have a regular physical exam. Some physicians believe that parents who have experienced an emotional trauma have an above-average risk for illness.
Find a strong and loving support system.
Family members and friends can be a great source of comfort during a difficult time. However, it also helps to talk to people who have been through the same kind of tragedy and have experienced emotions and challenges similar to yours. Through your hospital or health-care professional, seek support groups and, if you desire, appropriate counseling.
Trust yourself and your judgment.
When a baby dies, there are several decisions that need to be made. Some women feel like they are being strange if they want to see and hold their baby after its death. However, health-care professionals are now realizing the importance of this time between the parents and their child. Experts say that parents’ thoughts and fears about how the baby will look are often much worse than the reality. Parents are also encouraged to take pictures and to keep the baby with them for a while in their room. In some cases, there are burial and memorial service issues to be handled. Do those things you think are appropriate, and do not worry about being strange. Your grief is yours alone, and only you know how to handle it. One woman who lost a baby at birth recalls, “My husband and I went up to the hospital to dress the baby for the burial, even though everyone told us not to. I’ll admit sometimes it’s hard for me to think about it, but I’m really glad that we did that.”
Accept each stage of grief.
Rather than fighting the emotions that accompany grief, go through those stages willingly and realize that by doing so, you will resolve your grief more easily. Many people feel guilty about being angry or depressed; but remember, those emotions are completely normal. At the funeral of a friend, one woman who had previously lost a baby was shocked when a speaker said there was no reason to grieve because of their religious beliefs. “I believe in the gospel and it’s a great comfort to me,” she said, “but I still hurt so bad I didn’t know what to do. It didn’t matter where my baby was in the afterlife. The fact was, she wasn’t with me.” Many people interpret sorrow and despair to be a lack of faith in Heavenly Father and in the gospel. Remember that regardless of how devoted you are to the gospel, death hurts, and the grieving process is necessary to be able to find joy in life again.
Give your baby a name.
Many people find comfort in naming their baby regardless of its gestational age. By doing so, you are showing that your baby was a real person and entitled to acknowledgment.
Write a letter to your baby.
It can be very therapeutic to write all your feelings down in a letter to your baby. What would you like him to know? What would you tell him if he were here?
Envision yourself giving your baby to Christ.
This may sound unusual, but many women have found peace in actually envisioning themselves placing their babies in the Savior’s arms. This mental exercise seems to take some of the fear out of death, and gives comforting assurance to the parent that the baby is in good hands until they are together again.
Cherish the memories of your pregnancy and your baby.
Try to remember the happy times in your pregnancy and the positive and loving feelings you have for your child. As was previously mentioned, some women struggle with the issue of whether the baby existed. Even when a baby is lost through stillbirth or infant death and a memorial service is performed, the brief life of the child can seem like a blur to many parents. It then becomes important to them to have proof that their baby did indeed exist, and to concentrate on happier memories. As one mother explains, “We all find it so important to ‘gather evidence’ to prove our child’s existence and the impact it had on our lives. Whether that means completing a baby book for the lost child, writing poetry to the baby, or collecting mementos from the hospital, it is important for others to know that this was a child that was lost.”
One woman who had a stillborn daughter kept a special box containing mementos of her daughter’s birth. Contained in the box were the hat put on the baby following her birth, a corner of the blanket she had in the hospital and was subsequently buried in, and pictures the hospital took of the infant. Explains one mother of a stillborn son, “I thought it was morbid and disgusting when a friend of mine had a stillborn child and had the picture of the baby displayed. But that is exactly what I am going to do with the pictures of my son. He is as important to me as my other children, and not a mere memory that I would like to forget.”
Following her miscarriage, one woman put together a special book containing writing she had done including a letter to the baby, ultrasound pictures of the baby, and other special pictures and thoughts she had collected that were a comfort to her. “This was the most significant experience of my life,” she observes, “and I want to remember it in a positive way and have some memorial to my baby.” Other women find comfort in planting a tree or a flower to memorialize their baby, or by having the birthstone of their baby set into a piece of jewelry they can wear. Finally, one woman explains the necessity of selecting a headstone for her stillborn daughter’s grave: “It’s the last thing I can do for my daughter—I’ve got to have that headstone.”
Put an obituary in the paper.
This is a statement to the world that your baby lived and died, and that its life was—and is—important to you.
Keep a journal.
Many people find it helpful to record their feelings in a journal. Oftentimes people feel uncomfortable telling others all of their thoughts and feelings, and writing them down is a great way of expressing them. It is important that entries be honest and not try to be “noble.” This is the only way that difficult emotions and issues can be worked through. A journal can also be helpful after the crisis is over. It can be surprising and gratifying to see your progress since each entry was made.
Seek spiritual guidance.
If you have doctrinal or spiritual questions, or are in need of comfort, seek helpful books or writings from the prophets or other Church leaders. If you need help more specific to your individual situation, seek counsel from your bishop.
Welcome priesthood blessings.
Priesthood blessings can provide peace, comfort, and direction. Blessings can also give the father of the baby a tangible way to help.
Whenever possible, put off making any major decisions.
Decisions such as a job or residence change are best made when you have had sufficient time to resolve your grief. Hasty decisions made in moments of deep grief may be problematic later.
Try to be patient with others.
Remember that people deal with grief differently, and many people will not react in the way you expect them to. Others may make insensitive comments that may even seem cruel. It is unfortunate that in a crisis bereaved parents must deal with the insensitivity of others, but most people do not mean to be hurtful. One way of alleviating awkward feelings toward others is to be honest with them about how you feel and tell them gently when they hurt you. By being open, you not only take a step in resolving your relations with others, but you can do your part in educating society about the tragedy of the loss of a baby.
Help other women.
After experiencing something so traumatic as the loss of your baby, you are uniquely prepared to take your wisdom and help others in a similar situation. One woman who lost a baby years ago visits her daughter’s grave only on occasion, but she has not forgotten her. She takes every opportunity to speak out about her tragedy, inform others, and help other women who have lost a baby. By doing so, she believes that she symbolically “puts flowers on her baby’s grave.”
Believe in Christ.
Perhaps the greatest tool we have to help us conquer our trials is the Savior Himself. When in the midst of despair, we can lean on the scripture in Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5–6).
As darkness seems to become all-encompassing, perhaps the only recourse available is simply to trust in the Lord. Trust that He is, that He is guiding our lives on the path He sees fit—perhaps a path that in a previous time we agreed to follow. Or perhaps it is a path chosen by these babies so that they may fulfill their own special missions. Someday we will know the truth and the whole picture of the Lord’s eternal plan for us. Until then, bitterness cannot be allowed to mar the beauty of the lives of these pure, innocent babies. If we can continue to communicate with the Lord through prayer, seek His wisdom through the scriptures, and heed the words of the prophet and other present-day leaders, we will find peace. He will not forsake us if we earnestly turn to Him and allow ourselves to be encircled by His loving arms.
Lead image from Wikimedia Commons
You can find comfort and beautiful insights into the life of your lost little one in Gone Too Soon: The Life and Loss of Infants and Unborn Children
They are gone too soon—precious little ones lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. However brief their lives, they are not soon forgotten. And the pain of their loss is very real to parents and family. This book is a tenderly crafted message of comfort and counsel for those who have lost—or for those who know someone who has lost—little children.
Author Sherri D. Wittwer, who knows the poignant reality of such a loss, writes from a Latter-day Saint perspective of special gospel insights that can bring comfort and aid in the healing process as well as strengthen faith in the Lord. Wittwer draws on her own, as well as others’, moving experiences and reflections as she discusses the grieving process for parents and siblings and the spiritual resolution that makes acceptance possible. She portrays the pain, disbelief, anger, acceptance, and finally the peace of those who have endured this difficult trial. With them, you’ll come to understand the kindness and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven who has promised a special place in His kingdom for those precious “angel babies.”