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- » When a baby dies before labour begins
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- » Memories and keepsakes
- » A ceremony for your baby
- » Deciding about a post mortem
- » Deciding about a funeral
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- » Taking your baby home
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- » Information for grandparents
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Information for grandparents
When a baby dies around the time of birth, the grandparents have to cope with a double load of grief; their grief for their grandchild, and their pain at seeing the suffering of their own child.
“For me the suffering was doubly dreadful for, not only did I have to watch my loved grandson suffer and struggle for life, but I had to stand by and see my daughter completely heartbroken and be unable, perhaps for the first time since I gave birth to her, to help her in any way". Grandmother.
It is always sad when someone dies, but a death of a baby around the time of birth is especially tragic. Many grandparents look forward to a special relationship with their grandchild. When a baby dies, these dreams and plans for the future are lost.
Grandparents often feel helpless when they see their own child suffer. The pain of grief cannot be prevented or relieved, and it is very hard to watch someone you love in distress and be unable to help them.
You may experience a range of feelings. These can include:
Anger – this may be directed at the health professionals, at the other side of the family, at God, or even at the baby for causing such pain.
Guilt – if the baby has an inherited problem which might have come from your side of the family; if you had mixed feelings about the pregnancy or about becoming a grandparent; or if you worry that your feelings and reactions are inappropriate
Conflict – your religious beliefs or cultural practices may be different from those of the your child and his or her partner. You may feel uncomfortable with the way your child and his or her partner are reacting to their baby’s death. If, for example, you have been brought up to keep ”a stiff upper lip” you may find it hard to accept the way that people deal with a stillbirth or a neonatal death nowadays.
Things to do at the time of a stillbirth or death
If you live near enough, go to the hospital and see the baby's parents. You may want to see and hold the baby if the parents are happy for you to do this. Ask the parents what they would like you to do and how you can support them. For example:
- They may want to include you in photos of the baby or to ask you to take photographs so that they have plenty of memories to share in the future
- They may want you to come to any ceremonies they arrange such as a baby blessing, baptism, funeral or memorial service. They may also want help with arranging a ceremony.
- If there are other children, the parents may welcome help with childcare and household chores
- The parents may also welcome your help with contacting more distant family members to tell them what has happened.
In general, it may be best to be patient and wait for them to ask you to do things. As you know, people who are shocked and grieving often find it hard to make decisions. Give the parents time to decide what they want. If your suggestions and offers of help are not welcomed, try not to feel offended or hurt. This is an extemely hard time for all of you.
- Continue to visit, phone or write, and provide love and support.
- Balance this with giving parents time on their own if this is what they seem to want
- Remember that the partner is as grief stricken as the mother, and needs care and support as well
- Talk about the baby whenever the parents want to, and use the baby’s name if he or she was given one
- Many parents display a photo of the baby. You may want to have a copy and may choose to display it as well
- Read the sections on this website to find out what the parents might be feeling
- Try not to offer reassurance. Time does heal but being told that it does is usually unhelpful.
- Remember that each baby is unique and that nobody can replace him or her.
- Suggest practical things you can do such as cooking a meal for them or looking after their other children.
- Don't feel you have to be strong. If you want to cry, do so. Children are usually helped by knowing that their parents care.
- Find your own sources of support. Perhaps you have a friend who is good at listening. Or you can call the Sands Helpline which is there for anyone who is affected by the death of a baby. Talk to someone
As well as sorrow, the parents may feel anger and guilt, and the mother especially may feel jealous of women with babies. This can cause problems if there are other pregnant mothers or new babies in the family. Those whose pregnancies are normal and whose babies are healthy can feel guilty. Parents whose baby has died may find it too painful to be with others who have healthy pregnancies and babies. Situations like these can demand great tact, understanding and forbearance from the grandparents.
It will take your child and their partner a long time to recover from the death of a baby, probably longer than you or they expect. Even when the intense and overwhelming grief has passed and they reach what some have called a “new normal”, the sadness can last for years. Anniversaries such as the baby’s due date, death, festivals and family occasions can bring new surges of grief and are may be particularly hard.
Future pregnancies will be very anxious times, and a new baby may be greeted with very mixed emotions. Extra support and care may be needed during and after all pregnancies that follow the death of a baby.