Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Keep Their Memory Alive—6 Tips For Remembering Your Deceased Baby



THE QUALITY OF A PERSON’S LIFE CANNOT BE JUDGED BY OUR LIMITED UNDERSTANDING OF TIME.

            You’re a broken-hearted parent. You’ve just lost your baby unexpectedly at birth, or soon after, and you’re reeling emotionally from your precious child’s death. Or you’ve just received news from your doctor that the baby you’re carrying in your womb has died, or will not live long after birth because she has a devastating, untreatable medical condition.
           
            The last thing you prepared for was this. You prepared a nursery—at least mentally—and purchased baby clothes, maybe had a baby shower or two, picked out names and made wonderful plans for the new addition to your family. But now all of that has to be set aside for your new reality. (All except the names, that is.) 
           
            But don’t lose sight of the fact that this baby is just as real and just as precious as your other children, or the children you might have or be parents to in the future. Because you are stunned into numbness at the news, you may forget or neglect to consider how important it is to create memories of your little one, even in the short amount of time you might have with them. You won’t ever want to forget this priceless little person because he was indeed a part of your life, if only while you carried him.
           
            Consider the following to help you create a “living” memory of your child:


1. TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR BABY

THERE IS ONLY ONE
BEAUTITUL CHILD IN THE WORLD
AND EVERY PARENT HAS IT
           
            A single picture will be something you can value just as much as the other pictures you have, or will take, of this child’s brothers or sisters. It will be tangible evidence that your baby was a part of your life, even for only a short time. Take a camera to the hospital with you for the delivery. Arrange for a hospital photographer, or a professional photographer to come in, if possible. (I have two blurry Polaroid pictures of Victoria. I wish I’d had someone take more professional shots. I regret that, but this was before digital cameras and cell phones, so I didn’t have a lot of options. Even one of those disposable cameras would have been better than what I do have. Also, I hadn’t considered taking pictures. The nurse suggested that. I was grateful for her suggestion. I just regret that I didn’t plan ahead for any possibility.)


2. SEEING, HOLDING, (AND TALKING TO), YOUR BABY

A PERSON’S A PERSON
NO MATTER HOW SMALL
Dr. Seuss
           
            Often parents are afraid of seeing their dead child because of what they might look like. Medical staff has found that when parents only imagine what the dead child looks like, they later develop distorted notions that may worsen the feelings and grieving process. Most parents are actually relieved and pleased when they do take the opportunity to see and hold their baby, like my husband Chris was when they brought Victoria out to him. The vision of their baby—as if in sleep—ends up being far more comforting than any ideas they would have mentally manufactured. (It was a great relief and blessing to be able to hold and feel Victoria, to examine her fingers, toes, and limbs. To “talk” to her, to bundle her, to caress her. To give her any physical love I could in the short amount of time I had with her. And she did appear to be simply resting peacefully in deep sleep.)

            Ask the nurse to bundle the baby like a newborn, and then don’t be afraid to ask the nurse to stay with you while you hold the baby, or to leave the room so you can have some privacy with your little one.

3. BATHE YOUR BABY OR DRESS THEM IN A SPECIAL OUTFIT            
            
         These might seem strange suggestions, but many parents find that doing these activities “may help to satisfy some of your intense desires to care for your baby, the same desires which you anticipated when you still expected the baby to be born alive. The fact that the child is dead does not automatically diminish your need to cradle, and speak words of love to him or her.” (One of the most shocking realizations for me was that my body didn’t know that Victoria had died and reacted just as it did when I gave birth to Parker. I’ll go into more detail in next week's posts, but your body and mind have the same desires to hold, nurture, and protect your dead infant as they do for a living one.)

           Take a special item of clothing with you to the hospital to dress your baby in. Take pictures of her in that outfit. This might be the clothing you would like to have the mortician dress her in too.


4. COLLECTING REMINDERS OF YOUR CHILD
            The following items may become treasured items providing sweet reminders of 
                      your little one.
            ~ a lock of hair (although not all babies are born with hair)
            ~ a set of footprints or handprints
            ~ a birth certificate
            ~ final ultrasound pictures or film
            ~ the plastic arm bracelet prepared by the hospital to identify your child
            ~ a record of the weight, length, head and chest measurements, like the ones
                        taken for all babies at their birth
            ~ the receiving blanket your baby was first wrapped in (I have a receiving
                        blanket, but it’s not the first one Victoria was wrapped in. I wish I had
                        that one. If I had thought about it, I could have asked Chris to keep it.)

5. NAME YOUR BABY

HUMAN BEINGS SHOULD NOT DIE
WITHOUT THEIR NAMES BEING REMEMBERED
           
            This may seem obvious, but parents don’t always name their babies, particularly if they die in utero early in the pregnancy. Medical staff experienced in this area strongly encourage you to name your baby, preferably the name you had planned to name the child. It will be easier to “connect your memories” to this special baby if you are able to refer to them by name and remember them by name. Resist the temptation to give them another name and “save” the name you had selected for another baby you might have in the future. Not giving your baby a name may leave you, and others, with the feeling that the baby didn’t count. Names have significance. Names identify people; they hold special meaning for family and friends. My little girl was as much “Victoria” in death as she was in life.

6. WRITE A LETTER TO YOUR BABY
            Some people, particularly the writer and journaling-types, find it helpful to write a letter to their baby expressing their immediate feelings. It can be cathartic to express your pain this way. in a personal letter that no one else sees, or one you share with others at a funeral or memorial service—somewhat like a eulogy. On-line forums are also available for you to share your grief, like Caring Bridge. Some sites allow you to share your feelings anonymously; blogs are available for fathers and mothers to share their pain and experiences. It was immensely helpful to me sit and write my manuscript about these events. My entire story encompasses two years; yours may encompass more, or less time.
           
            The danger comes in when you constantly relive these moments by frequently reading and re-reading what transpired, or pull out the keepsakes to look at and touch. Doing so will keep you rooted in the past, your pain, and your loss. It will deter the healing process. In next week’s extra blog post, I will cover ways you can say goodbye—memorial or funeral service— and celebrate the birth and death of your baby.

WE MUST NOT WALLOW IN OUR MEMORIES
OR SURRENDER TO THEM,
JUST AS WE DON’T GAZE ALL THE TIME AT A VALUABLE PRESENT.
BUT GET IT OUT FROM TIME TO TIME, AND FOR THE REST HIDE IT AWAY
AS A TREASURE WE KNOW IS THERE ALL THE TIME.
TREATED THIS WAY, THE PAST CAN GIVE US LASTING JOY
AND INSPIRATION.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer


            I hope some of these suggestions are helpful to you. Some of them may initially strike you as being odd, but think about and consider them, then decide what treasures you’d like to have and keep. I know I would like to have more; and I treasure the ones I do have.

And now I leave you with this anonymous poem ~


BUT SOUVENIRS
Daughters may die,
            But why?
For even daughters can’t live with half a heart.
            Three days isn’t much of a life.
But long enough to remember thin blue lips, uneven
            gasps in incubators,
Racking breaths that cause a pain to those who watched.
            Long enough to remember I never held her
Or felt her softness
            Or counted her toes.
I didn’t even know the color of her eyes.
            Dead paled hands not quite covered by the gown she
Was to go home in.
            Moist earthy smell.
One small casket.
            And the tears.
You see, I hold in my hand but souvenirs of an occasion.
            A sheet of paper filled with statistics,
A certificate with smudged footprints,
            A tiny bracelet engraved “Girl, Smith.”
You say that you are sorry
            That you know how I feel.
But you can’t know because I don’t feel.
            Not yet.

_________________________________________________

Until next week…

Andrea

*Some quotes/lines of thoughts and poetry were taken from when Hello means Goodbye: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Dies Before Birth, At Birth Or Shortly After Birth by Pat Schwiebert, RN and Paul Kirk, MD, 1985.

(This is an additional post this week to my blog. If you're looking for the continuation of my story, see the previous, Monday, March 4th post.)