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How you might feel.
Every parent’s experience is individual, and every circumstance is different, but the death of a baby can bring a grief that is deeper and lasts much longer than other people realise. Many parents say that they never knew it was possible to feel such sadness, and that their lives are turned completely upside down. You may experience all sorts of emotional and physical reactions following the death of your baby, some of which you may not expect.
Most parents feel shocked and numb, especially in the first few days after their baby’s death. You may find it hard to take in what has happened, and also hard to understand and remember what people are saying. You may cry and sob, even when you are not expecting to. Some parents wake up and find that they have been crying in their sleep. Some wakeup feeling alright for a split second, and then remember what has happened.
“ I remember the morning after my daughter died so clearly. I awoke and after barely a moment realised that she had gone. I sobbed and sobbed.” Father
Both parents can lose their confidence and self-esteem. Mothers in particular may feel guilty and blame themselves for their baby’s death. Some feel that they have let their baby, their partner or their family down. But the death of a baby hardly ever has anything to do with what the mother or the parents did or did not do.
“ It was my responsibility to nurture my son through the first nine months of his life and to see him safely into this world. And even if you don’t smoke, didn’t drink, took all the multivitamins advised...that guilt is still there. It was my responsibility and I failed.” Mother
Anger is a common reaction to loss. You may be angry with yourself, with your partner, with your baby for making you feel so alone, with God, or with the health professionals who cared for you or your baby. You may also be angry with parents who have healthy babies. When your own life has fallen apart, it can be very difficult to accept that, for most people, life is going on as they planned.
Parents who lose one of twins or triplets often face conflicting emotions: grief for the baby who has died, as well as hopes and fears for a vulnerable new baby or babies. This is especially hard to deal with.
“ It was really hard and confusing - grieving for our beautiful baby son and at the same time feeling so relieved and delighted to have his twin - our wonderful baby daughter.” Mother
Many bereaved parents have physical reactions to grief. These can feel very similar to intense fear. You may have palpitations or chest pains. You may feel a heavy weight on your chest or find yourself sighing a lot. You may feel sick and have diarrhoea; you may have a lump in your throat or butterflies in your stomach. You may not feel like eating anything, or you may find that you can’t stop eating. You may feel exhausted but find it difficult to sleep.
Your sleep may also be disturbed by very vivid dreams or nightmares. If your baby spent time in the neonatal unit, you may have had to cope with a roller-coaster of emotions as his or her condition changed. You may also have had the stress of travelling long distances to and from home to get to the neonatal unit. You may be physically, as well as emotionally drained.
Bereaved parents often say that their arms literally ache for the baby they were expecting to hold and care for. Some mothers still feel their baby kicking inside them, others hear their baby crying. You may search for things without being quite sure what you are looking for. It may feel comforting to curl up, or you may find yourself rocking back and forth with grief. All these reactions are common and normal.
“ I had thought that terms like ‘your arms aching to hold him’ belonged in trashy romance novels. But they are true. Your arms do ache. Your chest does feel as if a huge stone has settled on it. Your heart does break into a million pieces. It’s the loneliest feeling in the world.” Mother
Even though her baby has died, a mother’s body will react in just the same way as it does when she has a live baby. She will have the usual vaginal blood loss (lochia) that follows birth, and her breasts may start to produce milk. These physical reminders of the baby can be both painful and distressing. There are ways of suppressing the milk supply and easing the pain. Your midwife, doctor or health visitor should explain these to you. Many mothers also get “after pains” as the uterus contracts back to its normal size. Some have painful stitches or a caesarean scar and will need pain relief. In addition to their grief, many mothers get the normal “postnatal blues” a few days after the birth.