When your baby has died before, during or after birth
If you have been given the devastating news that your baby has died in the womb, your health care team should advise you of the next steps in giving birth to your baby. This is an extremely difficult and upsetting time and you should be surrounded with information, love & support.
Your first thought may be to want the baby delivered as soon as possible. The question of how and when your baby will be born is something that you should discuss with your doctor.
You may be advised to wait until you labour starts naturally and your health care team should explain the reasons why. The resulting wait will be a very difficult time, but it will give you an opportunity to prepare for your baby’s birth.
Alternatively you may be encouraged to take a drug called Mifepristone. This drug blocks the affect of progesterone, and so causes the womb to start contractions. Some women taking this drug experience cramps, pain and headaches. It is very important to discuss the benefits, risks and alternatives of all options for the birth of your baby so that you can make an empowered decision.
Going home from hospital knowing that your baby has died and that you still have to give birth can be a very frightening time. Physically you may not feel or look any different at all, and it may be hard to accept that the scan was correct.
If you have other children and they know about the pregnancy, try to explain what has happened in an honest, factual and age appropriate way. There are some great resources (listed below) for explaining death to children and also helping them through grief. It is important to realize that they will grieve also, and their grief may look different to yours.
It is best to tell your family and close friends about the baby so that they are aware of the situation and so they can support you. You may feel very sad and isolated, you may want to have somebody to talk to, or you may want to be alone. It can help to talk to somebody who has been through this situation and support organisations A Little Life Time and Féileacáin can provide you with that.
You may feel anger, frustration, guilt or all of the above and these are normal feelings. Your partner may appear to be handling things differently to you and again this is very normal. There is no set way to grieve, no rules, no plan no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of your baby.
Preparing to give birth when your baby has passed or is expected to pass soon after: Your care team will discuss the options for birthing your baby. As a bereavement doula I can help support you through any stage and all stages of this extremely difficult time. I would be honored to accompany and companion you and your partner through the labour and birth of your baby.
Its important to ask any questions you might have and to vocalise your fears. Often people worry about what their baby will look like, how their baby will feel and the hospital staff should be able to give you answers to those questions. Stillbirthday also has descriptions of what your baby might look like and feel like. Often babies born sleeping look heartbreakingly perfect. A helpful option could be to ask midwives to take and show you a photo of your baby at birth before you hold your baby, to help you prepare to see him/her.
If you have any specific birth preferences do please also discuss these with your care team. You have a say in how your baby will be born and your say matters. If you had been planning a homebirth, for example, this should still be an option for you. If you had hoped to birth vaginally or without the use of medications, or to birth using hypnobirthing, or to have a doula present, these should still be options to discuss also. Stillbirthday have resources here for birth preferences and birth plans in this situation https://stillbirthday.com/birth-plans/
Trying to cope with birth and death together can be very confusing. It can help to separate the birth from the death. To say hello to baby before you say goodbye. As a birth and bereavement doula I can help and support you with this.
This amazingly powerful video tells the tale of the birth and short life of Ezekiel Anthony Acosta. It is a very emotional film which takes the viewer through the preparations for birth, the celebration of birth and of life and then the saying goodbye. It might be very difficult to watch but it may inspire you to make plans for your baby’s birthing also.
Making Memories - celebrating your baby.
Like every new parent, the time you have with your baby shortly after birth is truly precious. Hold your baby for as long as you like and look at every little detail. It is lovely to have some photographs taken of your baby shortly after birth. While it might seem strange or intrusive at the time, it is better to have photos you don’t want then to long for photos you can’t have. This is your baby, a baby who will never be replaced and who will have a special place in your heart.
An amazing global organisation, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep will arrange for a professional photographer to come to the hospital/your home and take beautiful photos of your baby. The hospital bereavement team will assist you with memory making. Féileacáin provide the hospitals with beautiful memory boxes to help you make precious memories of your baby. They have also provided all the maternity units in the country with cameras and offer feet and hand imprinting to ensure all parents have beautiful keepsakes.
It can also be helpful to bring a special outfit for your baby to wear, a baby blanket and little teddies or keepsakes from siblings. Saying Goodbye You can take as much time as you need and want with your baby before saying goodbye.
The option of bringing your baby home is now open, thanks to the provision of ‘cuddle cots’ provided by the charity Féiliceain. All Irish maternity units now has access to at least one of these cuddle cots which make it possible for you to bring your baby home before you say goodbye. You can learn more about these in this Irish Times article.
Preparing to say goodbye to your baby will not be easy. Please enlist the help of family and friends to help and support you through funeral arrangements and planning. Some families like to have a private service and some a large celebration of their baby. There is no right or wrong. Please take time to consider how you want to say goodbye without being influenced by others.
Take your time in making decisions.
Useful resources and links on stillbirth and loss of a baby:
Article: A fathers story of stillbirth