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National Funeral Directors Association. We would like to thank them for allowing us to mirror some of the fine Consumer Information available at the NFDA Online website.
|When A Baby Has Died|
When someone close to us dies, the process of grieving is how we begin to untangle the emotional bonds we have formed with that person. Grief is the painful but necessary process that lets us say goodbye.
But when a baby dies before it is born or soon after birth, parents face a difficult emotional task: they must try to say goodbye to someone they had little chance to know. They must accept that a life has ended, even though it barely began.
Reactions to a Baby's Death
The grief caused by your baby's death can take a physical toll as well. You may lose weight, have difficulty sleeping, become irritable or listless or feel short of breath. Grief has even been known to cause hair loss.
There are two normal reactions to death that you will probably experience very acutely: anger and guilt. Because a baby's death seems so unnatural, there's an especially strong urge to blame someone. You may be very angry at your doctor, believing he or she should have known something was wrong and saved your baby. You may be angry at God for letting your baby die.
You are likely to feel guilty for many reasons. Parents of unborn babies who die often mistakenly blame themselves for the death. The mother may believe she harmed her baby through an improper diet or too much physical activity. Both parents may tell themselves that they should have sensed that something was wrong and alerted the doctor.
If your baby died before birth or shortly after, you will likely be overcome by a tremendous sense of emptiness. Pregnancy brings with it a number of expectations, dreams and fantasies. Now, after the emotional buildup of preparing to welcome a child into the world, you must instead accept the loss of both your baby and all your expectations.
Reactions to a SIDS Death
The primary role of parents in our society is to protect their children; parents whose baby dies of SIDS often blame themselves for not somehow preventing the death. They say, "I didn't take care of the baby. I must have done something wrong." Your sense of guilt may be deepened by the medical investigation that county health officials are required to conduct after a SIDS death. In order to eliminate other causes of death, a medical examiner must ask probing questions that, to grieving parents, may seem to imply blame.
Unfortunately, you will for a long time be constantly reminded of your baby. You no doubt have filled your home with baby clothes, bottles and a crib. You are likely to receive coupons for baby food in the mail and perhaps a free subscription for a baby magazine. Photographers may call and offer to take baby pictures. Just walking past the infant-wear department in a store may bring on bouts of mourning.
Coping With Your Grief
You will want to name your baby and hold a funeral or memorial service. Take your time and decide what you really want to do.
In any case, make sure you and your spouse decide together. Deciding what to do with the baby is an important step in the grief process for both parents.
Vent your feelings. This is the time to lean on your friends and relatives, to talk about how you feel, to express your anger and grief. Remember, no matter how brief your baby's life, you have just as much right and need to grieve as any other bereaved parent.
Some well-meaning friends may try to comfort you by saying you'll have another baby, but you know another child cannot replace this baby. Other friends will probably be at a loss for words around you. You can bridge the gap by telling them what you need and how they can help.
Even more importantly, talk to your spouse. The death of a child can strain a marriage. No two people grieve exactly the same way, and you may find that you and your spouse are on such different emotional wavelengths that communication is difficult. It is important that you set aside time to be alone together to talk about your feelings, cry or simply hold each other. The intense grief and guilt felt by parents whose baby has died of SIDS may cause bizarre dreams, mood swings and even hallucinations.
Perhaps the best way to resolve your sense of guilt is to gather as much information as you can about SIDS. The more you learn, the more you will realize that you could not have prevented your child's death.
Remember, despite years of research by top medical investigators, SIDS continues to claim two out of every 1,000 babies. You simply are not to blame.
Bereaved parents often find that nothing helps them resolve their grief as much as talking to others who have lived through the loss of a child. You may want to consider joining a self-help group for bereaved parents.
Remember, grief can be very slow to heal, and there is no set timetable. If you believe you are not handling your grief as you should, you might consider asking your doctor, clergyperson or funeral director to suggest a counselor. If nothing else, you may be relieved to find out that you are reacting to grief normally.
Talking to Your Other Children
However, you should assure young children that they had nothing to do with the baby's death. Young children who harbored jealousy or anger toward the baby may fantasize that those negative emotions somehow caused the death.
Remember, your other children had expectations and hopes for the new baby, and they need to resolve their grief too. Painful as it may be, you need to talk to them about the baby so they can accept his or her life and death. They will take their cues from you, so give them permission to grieve by letting them see your own grief. You will not do them any favors by "protecting" them from their feelings.
A Note to Grandparents
Remember your own grief. You need to express your feelings. This is a good time to be with your family and friends.
|Copyright © 1998 National Funeral Directors Association|