No one likes to think about pregnancy loss. When the pregnancy test comes back with two lines, your mind automatically flies into the future, imagining all that will come: when your belly will show, the baby shower, delivering your baby, birthdays, holidays, and the first day of school.
So when a baby dies, whether in the first weeks of the pregnancy or right at birth, that death is a profound loss for the parents, siblings, and other family and friends. Miscarriage (pregnancy loss up through 20 weeks gestation) and stillbirth (pregnancy loss from 20 weeks up through labor) affect millions of families every year.
Previous generations frequently neglected to mourn the death of those babies who died before birth. As recently as 20 years ago, some doctors wouldn’t permit a mother to see her stillborn baby for fear that it would make her go crazy, according to Deborah L. Davis, PhD, author of Empty Cradle, Broken Heart.
Thankfully, the medical community’s stance on the death of an unborn child has changed to include what we now know about the psychology of grief and loss. Many obstetricians now encourage parents who have suffered a pregnancy loss to attend a support group, take photographs of the infant when he or she is born, and memorialize their babies.
As a perinatal bereavement consultant at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, Geraldine Wismer offers emotional support for families facing the loss of a baby. “It is different [when a baby dies] because you don’t have the memories of a lifetime to share with family and friends,” says Wismer. Losing a baby “is a very unique grief. Parents’ greatest fear is that their baby will be forgotten.”
In Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, Davis writes, “Most parents find it helpful to have the baby memorialized in a tangible way. There are many ways to publicly acknowledge your baby’s existence.”
When my daughter, Beatrice Dianne, was stillborn at 36 weeks gestation, I knew that I wanted to honor the eight and a half months she had lived. My husband and I read about ways others have memorialized their babies’ deaths and found that there are many tender and meaningful ways to celebrate a baby’s short life.