It is up to you to decide whether you would like to see or touch your baby after she is born. Your child was born still, but she was still born. If you choose to see your baby, the time that you have together will be terribly short. Here are a few suggestions of things to do during this time to make the most of it:
- Take Pictures. Take pictures right away while the baby's skin is still pink and plump from birth. Photographs taken after the baby's skin has lost its color can be difficult to look at later, but you may choose to take them anyway. Take pictures of the baby's sweet face, tiny hands in yours, and perfect feet. Take pictures of the baby in your arms. This may seem strange, but my mother happened to snap a picture of me holding Charlotte in the midst of my grief that day. I was disgusted at first, but have since realized that this is the only picture that I have of me and my daughter. Many hospitals have photographers who will take these pictures for you. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a non-profit that provides photographers for free after a baby is lost. If your hospital does not contact them for you, consider doing it yourself. These pictures are often a prized possession of the loss moms I have spoken to. If you or a family member would like to take the pictures yourself, consider reading the article, "How to Photograph a Baby Not Alive" by Heidi Faith. (If you would like more information about the appearance of a stillborn baby, please read "The Skin of Your Stillborn" by Heidi Faith on the Stillbirthday site.)
- Make Remembrance Items. It is difficult to know what will bring you comfort in the future as you grieve your child, but it often helps to have something tangible to hold on to. Ask the nurses to take handprints and footprints. Ask someone to bring plaster to take an imprint of her hands and feet or to cut a small lock of hair for you to save. If you brought a special outfit or hat for the baby to wear home, you may wish to dress them in it. We placed the hat and onesie that Charlotte was dressed in for that hour into a shadow box that we keep on our wall at home now. Be prepared, however. A baby that has passed away more than a day before their birth may have very fragile skin. The skin on Charlotte's arms, belly and back was macerated and tore easily as she was dressed and swaddled by the nurses.
- Religious Rituals. You may wish to observe a religious ritual or take time alone with your family to grieve. Many hospitals have their own chaplains, religious rooms (like chapels), and bereavement rooms (quiet rooms for a family to be together) to assist with this. Most hospitals have individuals who specialize in mental health and trauma/grief on staff as well.
- Say Goodbye. Perhaps this is the most obvious item on this list, but it is certainly the hardest. Tell your baby that you love her. Hold her and memorize her tiny features. Some hospitals have "Cuddle Cots" that keep the baby's body at a cooler temperature so that the family may have longer to say goodbye. Ask your doctor or nurse about this option if it interests you.
You will be faced with many difficult decisions. The first one is likely, "Would you like to try to find out more about the cause of your baby's death?" If the reason for your baby's death was unclear after delivery, doctors will give you the option of blood testing (blood is drawn from mom and tested for various issues), examining the placenta for insufficiencies, and/or carrying out an autopsy. The autopsy may or may not identify a cause of death, but it can also provide information about the baby's gender (if you didn't already know this), information about the baby's development, and health problems that could be preventable in a future pregnancy. You will need to make decisions about your baby's body before you can be discharged from the hospital. In our case, a grief counselor met with us several hours after we said goodbye to Charlotte to talk to us about our "options". She informed us that we could arrange for cremation or burial on our own or the hospital could do it for us. While at first it seemed kind that the hospital would do this, it turned out that this essentially meant turning our baby's body over to the state and having her cremated and laid to rest in a group plot. We arranged for Charlotte to be cremated through a local funeral home. They were caring and honored my daughter's tiny body. They even swaddled her in a pink blanket and hat so that she "wouldn't be cold" when my mother, father, and brother visited to identify her.
If you are physically recovering well, you will likely be discharged from the hospital in a day or two. I was allowed to leave the hospital 12 hours after giving birth. While I don't think this is typical, I appreciated being able to go home immediately and not face the barrage of nurses and visitors.
CREMATION & BURIAL ASSISTANCE
- The TEARS Foundation assists with expenses associated with funerals and memorial markers. A Request for Assistance Application must be completed. They can also be contacted at (253) 200-0944 or email@example.com.
- Angel Names Association has a program called S.E.O.L.E. (Securing End-of-Life Expenses) that helps low income families with expenses related to autopsy, burial, funeral, and cremation. A Request for Assistance must be filled out.
- If either of the baby's parents are in the military, they may be eligible for a little known $10,000 death benefit through The Family Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) for Stillborn Children.
- Individuals currently serving in any one of the following occupations may be eligible for up to $1,000 of funding through the Wounded Warriors Project: 911, EMS, or Fire Communications Officer (Call Taker/Dispatcher), Correctional Officer (to include Parole and Probation Officers), Firefighter, Military (Air Force, Army, Navy), Paramedic, Police Officer, A Peace Officer as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada. Funding requests must be submitted by a mental health professional. Requests must be submitted in writing. The letter must include the following: Name of Mental Health professional, Contact information of the Mental Health Professional, Name of Patient, Occupation of Patient, Patients contact information (for audit purposes), Number of sessions required, Amount of funding requested. All cheques will be made payable to the Mental Health professional who has requested the funding. For complete application information visit: www.tema.ca