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- » When a baby dies before labour begins
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- » A ceremony for your baby
- » Deciding about a post mortem
- » Deciding about a funeral
- » Leaving hospital - going home
- » Taking your baby home
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- » Mainly for fathers
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For family and friends, how you can help
The death of a baby is a devastating experience. The effects of grief can be overwhelming, and parents can be left feeling dazed, disorientated, isolated and exhausted.
"Nothing can prepare you for the shock of your baby dying - great expectation turned to despair and all consuming grief within such a short period of time."
You may not have known the baby but to the parents their child was a real person, one they have come to know and love during the months of pregnancy. Although you cannot see a gap in the family there is a real loss.
"We are a family that will never be complete."
The sense of bereavement is as profound as with the death of an adult or older child, and more unexpected because death has no place at birth.
The parents' feelings
Both parents will have a mixture of feelings, which are normal responses to loss. These may include shock, disbelief, guilt (either parents may feel their baby died because of something they did, or did not, do), isolation (because no one seems to understand the situation), jealousy and bitterness (because everyone else seems to be pregnant or wheeling a pram), and anger.
How can you help
Do get in touch with them. Don't assume they would rather be alone.
Don't avoid the parents - don't avoid the situation. It will just make them feel more isolated.
You can get in touch by email, letter, or phone to show your concern. Parents often keep messages and sympathy cards with other reminders of their baby such as photographs.
If you are expecting a baby, or have a young baby you may feel that bereaved parents would rather you didn't visit. Ring up and ask. They may not be ready to face you or your child, or they may be glad to see live and healthy babies and be hurt if you keep your child from them. You won't find out how they feel unless you call.
Visit in person, and let yourself be guided about what to do. Give both parents a chance to talk about their experience. Remember that fathers grieve just as much as mothers. They will usually not need much encouragement and it does help them.
Find out if the baby has a name and use it. It makes the baby seem more of a real person. Ask if they have a photograph of their baby. Don't be afraid to look at it - most babies who have died tragically like this, do in fact look perfectly normal.
Try not to be embarrassed or feel guilty if they cry. You did not cause the tears, they were waiting to be shed. Don't be afraid to cry yourself, you are showing that you care.
Encourage other friends to keep in touch as well
What to say
It's more important to listen than to worry about saying the 'right' thing and certainly don't worry if you feel you have said the wrong thing. It is better to try to communicate and understand than not to make that attempt at all.
Do say that you are sorry
Do be willing to talk about the baby
Do remember that bereaved parents can be very sensitive (they may not for instance want to hear about a mutual friend's pregnancy or child; they are sure to ask if they do want to know).
Don't say that they are lucky because they have other children or that they can have another one. No other child is or will be a replacement for the child who has died..
Don't try to blame anyone for the baby's death, even if the parents do.
Don't say 'I know how you feel' unless you have also lost a baby or child.
Don't give advice about what they 'should do', but do make suggestions about what they 'might want' to do, if you feel it's appropriate.
Grief goes on
Recovery from the death of a baby takes many months, even years. Parents should not be expected to 'get over it' in a few weeks. Continue to offer support and friendship but if you feel that either or both parents needs additional support, you could suggest that they get in touch with Sands locally, so they can meet with others whose baby has died. Sands members can understand their needs and offer addtional long-term support and friendship.
You should also be ready to support parents if there are subsequent pregnancies. These can be a very stressful times as it is hard for parents to believe that everything will go well. Contrary to popular belief, a new baby will not put everything right. It may bring back a lot of sad memories of the baby who died.
"Everyone is supportive and caring. They expect me still to be sad sometimes, which helps because the pain doesn't go away just because you have another baby."
The parents may need extra sympathy and understanding on anniversaries and birthdays, at festivals such as Christmas and other special occasions. They will appreciate it hugely if you are able to remember these dates. They will never forget the child who died, but the sadness will grow less with time.
If you need information or support, please contact us. Sands supports anyone affected by the death of a baby. Talk to someone