Aiding Mothers and Fathers
Experiencing Neonatal Death
By the Amend Group
Seeing and Holding the Baby
If possible, parents are generally encouraged to see and hold their baby.
Many times fear about the baby's appearance causes the parents distress.
Usually seeing the baby is not as upsetting as imagining what the baby looked like. Caregivers need to provide families with information about the baby's condition. With this information, the parents are better able to make a decision on seeing and holding their baby.
Naming the Baby
Parents should be encouraged to name their baby. If they have referred to the baby by a special name (Joseph/Amy) throughout the pregnancy, then encouragement should be given to use that special name for this baby. Naming their baby makes this baby an individual, not just the baby that died. Sometimes parents choose not to name their baby, and they need to know that's all right, too.
Taking a Picture
Even though taking pictures has become an important part of hospital protocol following a perinatal loss, to many it may still seem morbid. The majority of parents who have pictures find them to be a source of great comfort. Though some parents cannot look at the pictures immediately, as time passes these images can become their most prized possessions.
It is important that momentos or remembrances of their baby are made available to parents. These can be pictures, foot or hand prints, lock of hair, memorial card, hospital Birth Certificate, Certificate of Baptism (if requested), bracelet, ultrasound picture, crib card, and/or blanket in which the baby was wrapped.
The parents should be encouraged to have an autopsy performed. Some parents begin to think they may have done something that in some way contributed to their baby's death. In many cases, having an autopsy performed helps to alleviate these guilt feelings.
Burial or Memorial Service
Both parents need to participate as much as possible in preparing for the burial service for their baby. At times, the mother is still in the hospital when the baby is buried. Most funeral homes will work with the parents in accommodating their needs, such as delaying the service until the mother is physically able to participate. Often the father and grandparents will make all the funeral arrangements, feeling that the mother is not emotionally or physically able. However, this can be a source of resentment years later.
When one twin lives and the other dies, what most people usually say is "be grateful that you still have one baby." The parents are grateful, but still have the need to grieve for the baby that died. They also need for others to acknowledge the fact that they had two babies, not just one.
Fathers are probably the most misunderstood of all. Many times the mother feels the father is not showing any feelings or emotions about the baby's death. She begins to wonder if he really wanted this baby, or even cares that the baby died.
Most men feel they must be the strong one. To show their real feelings or emotions would make them less than a man. The American male has been taught not to cry or show his emotions in front of others. What some men need is permission to cry. They need to be told it is all right to show their emotions.
Many times, a father's sense of gratitude for the mother's health and safety is stronger than his emotion of grief over the death of the baby. It is extremely important for the father to share these feelings.
Statistics show many relationships can break up as a result of the death of a baby. Instead of the baby's death bringing parents closer, it can pull them further apart.
Reactions of Family and Friends
At times, family and friends will not even mention the baby in front of the parents. They feel to do so would upset them. The parents then begin to wonder if anyone really cares that their baby has died. Parents usually have to be the ones to initiate talk about their baby. Remember, if the parents cry, it is not because you made them cry; it is because you let them cry.
Grandparents also grieve. They grieve for their grandchild that died, but they also hurt for their own child who is suffering the loss of his or her baby.
Children, even the very young, should be included in any plans pertaining to the baby. Most young children cannot verbalize their feelings or fears about what happened to the baby, and why the baby will not be coming home. It is up to the parents to explain what has happened, and to assure the child that he/she had nothing to do with what happened. Children can feel guilty, especially if they really did not want a new brother or sister.