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When grieving a pregnancy loss, creating a memorial or otherwise honoring your baby can be therapeutic in helping you deal with your grief.
Creating Memories- When you suffer the loss of a loved one, you may turn to memories and mementoes to help you recall his or her life. But when a baby dies, those memories are taken from you before they can ever be formed. So much anticipation and planning goes into the preparation for a child, and miscarriage leaves parents with so much disappointment and many unfulfilled expectations.
One of the ways to cope with the loss of an infant is by taking the time to create some memories and mementoes in the time you have. There are many ways to parent a child, even one born still or prematurely, and taking on the traditional parenting roles for a short time can help you look back fondly, instead of focusing solely on what might have been. Knowing your child, even after death, can help with the grief process and give you a positive experience to look back on during one of the most difficult times of your life.
Many doctors, nurses and hospitals are more than willing to help families create memories of their child at the time of a miscarriage, stillbirth or medical termination. While you should never be forced into anything you aren't comfortable with, you should be aware of all your opportunities while still in the hospital or birth center.
Hold the Baby in Your Arms
Spend time together as a family. This is a chance you'll never have again.
Name Your Baby- As a part of coping with miscarriage or stillbirth, some grieving parents find that it helps to give the baby a name. They may feel that this acknowledges the personhood of the lost baby and validates his or her existence, or they may simply feel that giving the baby a name is a natural part of remembering the baby. Similarly, others choose not to name their babies, especially if the miscarriage happened early in the pregnancy before the gender could be determined. They may feel that giving the baby a name makes the loss feel more real, or they may simply feel strange naming a baby who was never born. Whatever your preference, you should do what feels right for you and there is not one correct path for everyone.
If you do choose to name your baby, here are some tips for choosing an appropriate name:
Keep the name you used for the baby during the pregnancy, whether it was a spoken or unspoken name. Maybe you called your baby Jellybean or Peanut. It's okay to keep those names.
Go ahead and use the name you had picked out before you learned of the miscarriage. You may want to keep that name for a future child, and that is obviously OK, but you might find you always associate that name with this baby.
Consider using a name that you love but which you would not use for a future baby, such as one that honors an older relative.
Use a word that is meaningful to you even if it isn't technically a name. The name for your miscarried baby is not likely to be used by anyone except you and your immediate family, so it doesn't need to be something that meets with other people's approval.
Consider a gender neutral name if the pregnancy loss occurred before it was possible to determine your baby's gender, or if you had a feeling one way or the other about the baby's gender, give your baby a name suited to that gender.
Dress Your Baby- Bring a special outfit or blanket to dress the baby in. Depending on how far along you are when you miscarry, you may be able to use preemie size clothes. Clothes are best suited for babies late in the second trimester or later, such as 24 weeks or more. Early losses, however, may be better suited for wrapping in a small blanket or other cloth. Perhaps you have a special handkerchief or scarf you’d like to use. Some hospitals may provide a small blanket especially made for this purpose.
Footprints and More- If the hospital or birth center does not offer these, ask for footprints and identification bands. Even the tiniest feet can make prints that last forever.
Take Pictures- Take pictures of the baby, and of you and your family members with the baby.
Visitation- Invite those close to you to visit. Your instinct may be to pull away from friends and family, but sharing the experience with loved ones will help bring the memory of your baby to life. This is also a great opportunity for your family members to work through their own grief as well as being there to support you.
Bathe Your Baby- Depending on the age and size of the baby, you may be able to give the baby a bath or assist the nurse in giving the baby a bath. Bathing is usually easier for later losses, like those after 24 weeks, but can be done earlier. Just ask your nurse if you’re interested.
Funeral or Memorial Service- Many funeral homes offer low- or no-cost funerals for children. Planning a funeral can be helpful to you, especially to help spread the word to your family and friends when it can be difficult to talk about your loss. A hospital social worker can help you find one of these funeral homes.
Professional Photography- The volunteer organization Now I lay me down to sleep is a network of professional photographers who come to the hospital or birth center to do a photo session with you and your baby at no cost to you.
Hospital Mementoes- The hospital or birth center may be able to provide you with some mementoes as well, including any clothing or blankets used while caring for your child, or other small tokens, such as pins, stuffed animals or baby rings. Some hospitals will take pictures of your baby with a digital camera and provide you with prints or a CD-ROM of pictures. If you have something you'd like included in the pictures, such as flowers, a special stuffed animal or even your wedding rings, don't be afraid to ask.
This time with your baby is short, but you can make it precious. Know your comfort levels and don't be afraid to ask if your caregivers will help you create a special experience while you can.
New Holiday Traditions to Honor Your Baby- Many grieving families have trouble facing their old holiday traditions. It's OK to start new traditions--in fact, you may come to look forward to your new traditions as much as the old ones in years to come. Here's a list of ideas for ways to honor the memory of your child at holiday time. The holidays are a difficult time to face after losing anyone important in your life. When you’ve lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth, it can be hard to even imagine facing the holidays. Your family traditions can suddenly seem hollow, or too painful to do without your baby.
There are plenty of ways to cope with the holiday season, including skipping them altogether. That’s not an uncommon way of dealing -- or not dealing -- with the holidays for grieving families, especially the first holiday season after a loss.
Another way, however, is to start some new holiday traditions. This may be the best option for you if you have other children who are depending on you to keep up with the usual presents, tree-decorating, or candle-lighting.
How Do I Start a “New” Tradition?- Traditions can start intentionally or by accident, but it only takes a few times before it seems like it’s always been a part of your life. If you do want to start something new, it’s best to let everyone who will be involved know early, especially if your new ideas mean foregoing old traditions.
Be honest and upfront. Express your feelings, either in person, or in a note if you have trouble talking about your feelings. Explain that you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and you hope they’ll support your new idea. Tell them having your loved ones around you during this time would be very appreciated.
It’s also important to give yourself permission to celebrate, even in the midst of sadness. One of the hardest steps in grief work is realizing you will experience moments of joy and happiness, and that doesn’t mean you no longer care about your loss, or that you’ve “moved on.” It’s not disrespectful to your baby if you find a way to enjoy the holidays. In fact, it’s an important part of incorporating the memory of your child into your new reality.
What Are Some Ideas for New Traditions?- Anything that feels right to you and helps you honor the memory of your baby can be a tradition. It’s OK to try something one year, and something else another year. Your needs as a grieving parent can change over time, and you may find yourself wanting something different from year to year.
Here is a list of ideas to get you started:
Ornaments- Have an ornament engraved with your baby’s name. You can get a new one each year, if you’d like, to give you something to look forward to when you put your tree. If you have a photograph of your baby that you like, have it resized to fit in one of the many frame-style ornaments available now. Seeing your child on your Christmas tree can help to make your baby a part of the family gathering.
Tie ribbons on your tree- You could choose pink for girls, blue for boys, or white for a baby of unknown gender. There are also ornaments available with the pregnancy loss awareness ribbon on them.
Dedicate a tree specifically to your baby- Have friends and family bring special ornaments to decorate the tree. Pick a theme if you like -- angels, children’s toys, or some other theme special to you. You can make decorating the tree an event, bringing together loved ones for the holidays and to remember your baby
Get crafty- If you or someone in your life is handy with a sewing machine, you can have a baby blanket or special article of clothing made into a tree skirt, soft ornament, or even the clothing for an angel at the top of your tree.
Hang a stocking for your child- Write a letter or note to your baby, expressing your love for him or her and tuck it into the stocking. Ask other members of your family to do the same, filling up your child’s stocking with memories and thoughts of love. You can read the notes, or save them from year-to-year, or if you have young children, remove them on Christmas Eve and tell them Santa (or Jesus, if you prefer) delivered them for you.
Perform random acts of kindness- This idea came from one of our own readers. Ask your friends and family to perform random acts of kindness in your baby’s memory, and have them send you a note describing what they’ve done. Tuck each note into your baby’s stocking and read them aloud on Christmas to see how much good was done in your baby’s honor.
Give your baby a special signature- If you send holiday cards, it can be difficult to have your baby’s name missing from the signatures. Feel free to sign your baby’s name with a special designation, like a rubber stamp of an angel, or a small cross.
Share how you’re feeling- If you send a year-end letter with your holiday cards, be sure to include a bit about how you’re coping. It’s okay to be honest -- tell people if you’re still struggling, and if it helps you to hear your baby’s name, tell them to feel free to talk to you about him or her. If you’re hosting a gathering, display photographs or a scrapbook about your baby so everyone knows you’re OK with talking about him or her.
Light a candle- Whether you keep the candle lit through the season, or just during a family gathering, the flame will be a reminder of the person missing from the festivities.
Buy a toy for a needy child- Many charitable organizations have the names and ages of children available at the holidays. Try looking for a child who is the same age your baby would be. It will give you a chance to buy the kind of presents you might have chosen for your own baby. Feel free to include a note that your gift is given in memory of your child.
Find a memorial service at a local church- Many offer a holiday service that allow people to submit the name of a lost loved one to be read aloud during the service. Others provide candles that you can light in your baby’s memory.
Decorate your baby’s gravesite- A small tree, poinsettia, garlands, or wreath can all work well if you’ve chosen a burial.
Serve the holiday meal at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter- If you can’t imagine going through with the traditional family meal at home, giving your time to people in need may feel better than staying at home alone.
Remember this for next year- Take a few moments to write down how you felt this year, and what your new traditions did for you. It may help you to figure out how you want to celebrate the memory of your child next year. If you’re so inclined, write a poem about your feelings and save it with the rest of your baby’s memorial items.
Start a Miscarriage Blog- Research shows that journaling can be a helpful tool in dealing with stress, but if you're interested in not only writing but also potentially connecting with others, a miscarriage blog can be a wonderful coping tool and outlet for your feelings.
My Angels- 12-15-08 @ 13w3d♥ 05-09 @ 6w2d♥ & 2 Early Losses♥ Twins 9-7-10♥ & 10-2-10 ♥ 2/11/11