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A Parent's Grief:
The death of a baby is a violation of expectations. Most parents naturally assume that a healthy baby will be born, and if sick, the baby will survive. We believe that if "we do all the right things" during pregnancy, even in preparation for pregnancy, and after, a healthy baby is a guarantee.
The death of a baby is a profound loss that often others don't acknowledge or even realize. Attachment to a baby may begin before conception. Parents fantasize about the future with their child. The loss of the baby involves never getting to know the baby, the way that others know people. The hopes and dreams for the child have already been a part of your life. Not only is the baby lost, but so is the chance to see the child grow and become a vital part of the family. Some parents feel responsible for what happened. Some parents talk about a sense of failure, guilt and self doubt. Mothers tend to feel principally responsible. Some feel angry at their body's betrayal or guilty about what they did or didn't do. Some feel angry at other women who have healthy babies.
There is a loss of social support present with the death of a baby. Unfortunately friends and family often don't understand the depth of the loss. Death is not a popular topic and many avoid it at all cost. Most have no idea what to say to someone who has lost a parent or spouse, let alone a child. Often parents talk about their feelings of loneliness and isolation and feeling that they are the only ones who care.
Remember: People don't expect babies to die, so this is a violation of expectations.  Many people find death tough to talk about. Many don't recognize the depth of the loss of a baby. A lack of mourning rituals and a lack of family and friend support can make a parent feel desperately lonely with grief.  In spite of these issues, a parent can grieve and survive the death of their baby. Know that you are not alone.   
National Support:
AMEND:( Aiding Mothers and Fathers Experiencing Neonatal Death) national network, founded 1974.  Offers support and encouragement to parents having a normal grief reaction to the loss of their baby. Provided one to one peer counseling with trained volunteers.  www.amendgroup.com  Email: martha@amendgroup.com  
Bereaved Parents of the USA national 80+ affiliated groups. Founded 1995. To aid and support bereaved parents and their families who are struggling to survive their grief after the death of a child.  Information and referrals, newsletter, phone support, conferences, support group meetings.  Assistance and guidelines to starting groups.  www.bereavedparentsusa.org 
CLIMB, Inc  (Center for Loss in Multiple Birth)  international network founded 1987.  Support by and for parents who have experienced the death of one or more of their twins or higher multiples during pregnancy, birth or infancy or childhood.  Newsletter, information on specialized topics, pen pals, phone support.  www.climb-support.org    email: climb@pobox.alaska.net  
My Miscarriage Matters: Organization founded and provides support to the survivors of miscarriage, stillbirth and early infant death loss while increasing awareness around devestating and heartbreaking issues. Support for bereaved mothers and fathers.  Live Chat Hours: 10 am- 10 pm. People can become volunteers as well. For more information to go: www.mymiscarriagematters.com      Like them on Facebook: Miscarriage Matters
SHARE: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc.  National, 100 chapters Founded 1977.  Mutual support for bereaved parents and families whose lives have been touched by the tragic death of a baby through early pregnancy loss, stillbirth or in the first few months of life.  Information, education and resources on the needs and rights of bereaved parents and siblings.  www.nationalshareoffice.com   email: share@nationalshareoffice.com   1-800-821-6819
UNITE, Inc.  Support for parents grieving a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. Provides support for parents through subsequent pregnancies.  Group meetings, phone help, newsletter, lending library, annual conference.  www.unitegriefsupport.org    email: administrator@unitegriefsupport.org   888-488-6483
First Candle/SIDS Alliance: (bilingual) national, 50 chapters, founded 1987.  Provides education, advocacy, research and support for families of babies who have died from SIDS, stillbirth and miscarriages.  Bilingual grief counselors, available 24 hours a day. Newsletter, conferences, chapter development guidelines. 800-221-7437  www.firstcandle.org    email:  infor@firstcandle.org   
Compassionate Friends, The   National 600 chapters, founded 1969.  Offers mutual support, friendship, and understanding to families following the death of a child of any age. Provided information on the grieving process, referrals to local chapter meetings (Parsippany, Chatham, Camden, Nutley, High Bridge, Hamilton, Spotswood, Tom's River, Bridgewater).  www.compassionatefriends.org   
 Three Little Birds : a resource for grieving families  www.threelittlebirdsperinatal.org    
Perinatal and Palliative Support, Birth and Bereavement Doulas

Supporting Someone Who Has Had a Miscarriage or Stillbirth:
It is so hard to know how to help someone who has lost a baby to miscarriage or a stillbirth. Although you can't make the pain go away, there are things that you can do to support the parents and help them deal with their grief. 
  • Be there for them. Grieving parents retreat from the world for a while, so make an effort to keep calling, visiting and let them know that you are there if they need you.
  • Acknowledge their loss, and don't pretend it never happened. Even an early miscarriage can cause significant and lasting grief for a couple and that loss should not be ignored or minimized.
  • Listen to them. They may need to talk about the loss of their baby; some parents keep photographs of a stillborn baby and want to show their family and friends. Just follow their lead, and talk when they need to talk and listen a lot.
  • Offer to help them commemorate their baby. Some parents hold funerals or memorial services for their baby. Some keep a grief journal or memory box with thoughts and mementos of their lost baby (hospital blanket, bracelet, shower announcement, lock of baby's hair, photo, pictures of mom pregnant). Ask if you can help with any preparations.
  • Help out by offering to field phone calls or answer letters and cards until they feel up to it. For many grief stricken parents this is such a helpful way to show support as it is too painful for many to keep telling people the story immediately after. Others want to talk to people and share about their pain immediately. Ask.
  • Remember that grandparents and siblings also grieve.  Many will need support as well.
  • Take care of the parents as much as possible by bringing in dinners (arranging a calendar for the co-workers or religious congregation can volunteer to cook, help with  groceries, child care for siblings, help with laundry or cleaning or just ask what specific ways you can help them.

    Tips and Warnings:

  • Help them find pregnancy and neonatal loss support groups in their area or on-line. It is so helpful to meet and talk with others who have been through what they are going through.
  • Refer to their baby by name, if they had chosen and announced a name.  Many grieving parents are comforted by this because it means that we acknowledge that the baby existed, even though for a short time.
  • Avoid saying anything that may make them feel guilty.
  • Avoid saying, "it was for the best," or "you can always have another baby."  Many people use statements like this in an effort to comfort and reassure the parents but it is the last thing grieving parents need to hear.
  • Just say , "I am so sorry about the loss of your baby".

To communicate with a bereaved parent, the death of their baby must be recognized.

A parent's hopes, dreams and future have become uncertain. In order to assist them in re-building their shattered world, they need patience, understanding and compassionate support. What can I say? "I'm sorry" or "I don't know what to say", is better than nothing at all.


Please don't avoid your friend now, he or she needs you now. Silence is okay and sometimes welcomed. Just be there with them, give a hug, or be the shoulder to cry on. Your presence is a very powerful and meaningful support. Avoid cliches, which tend to minimize a person's grief.

DON'T SAY: It was meant to be, everything happens for a reason, at least you have more children, you can have another child, God needed another angel, he is in a better place, I know how you feel, time heals all wounds, you can handle this, God never gives more than we can handle.....avoid these statements!

Apologize if you do say something inappropriate or insensitive.

Most of all, DO: LISTEN. A parent' biggest fear is that their child wil be forgotten. Acknowledge the baby, no matter how short their life. Whether the baby died during pregnancy or lived a short time, the family lost a future and with it many hopes and dreams.

If the baby was given a name, use it. If there are pictures, ask to see them. By honoring the memories, you are assuring them that their baby will never be forgotten. Be specific in your offer to help. Sometimes dads are forgotten or overlooked as also grieving. He often gets less support and acknowledgement in his loss. Allow him opportunity to open up and listen to him, offer support.

Remember that everyone grieves differently



Grief is a process. No one ever "gets over" the loss of a child.

Don't avoid the parents. Acknowledge the anniversary of the couples' stillborn delivery. It allows people to know they are not alone and that others are grieving too.

Avoid telling them about other miscarriages or stillbirths. They have enough to deal with now.

Show sensitivity. Acknowledge that other's happy news may be painful for the grieving parents. Don't be angry at them if they can't attend a baby shower, baptism, or other ceremony at this time. They probably already feel guilty and isolated enough.

A wonderful web site is :    www.missinggrace.com   This couple Candy and Steve have created a web site about the stillbirth of their precious daughter Grace. There is information, personal stories, photos of Grace, helpful suggestions as to ways to mourn and rituals that have helped them through their own grief journey. Steve wrote a great letter sharing his personal experience as a man who is supposed to be strong for his wife while his own heart is breaking. He invites other dads to write to him.


Helpful Books:
For Bereaved Parents:
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart  Surviving the Death of Your Baby by Deborah Davis, Ph.D  A very helpful book that describes the heartache of miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death and how it affects thousands of families every year. This book offers reassurance to parents who struggle with anger, guilt and despair after such a tragedy. The author encourages grieving and makes suggestions for coping. 
Miscarriage: Women Sharing from the heart. 1993, Alan and Marks.
When the Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daugher by Bernstein  1997
Stillbirth Yet Still Born Davis, D  2000
For Bereaved Couples:
For Better or Worse: For Couples Whose Child Has Died 1992 The Centering Corporation
For Parents and Children:
Our Baby Died. Why?  Pregnancy Infant Loss Center 1986 (young children)
Talking About Death: A Dialogue between Parent and Child.  Grollman, E  1976 (parents)
No New Baby: For Boys and Girls Whose Expected Sibling Dies. Centering Corporation 1988 ( young children)
Am I Still a Sister?  1992 Sims,A

For Bereaved Fathers:
 Fathers may feel overlooked. Men need to grieve in order to come to terms with the death of a baby or child. It is normal to feel misunderstood and to feel the need to grieve secretly. Mothers and Fathers express grief differently and this can be the cause of difficulty. Most marriages do NOT break apart after the death of a child. Men are socialized to deny or suppress their feelings. Many men today are beginning to claim their feelings. Many seek out information and social support. Finding other men to talk to helps a lot. Counseling can be of great support. Share your own grief with your partner. Remember that you will both grieve differently yet can keep a good relationship in spite of that. Learn to tolerate different grieving styles. They are normal and natural and it is necessary to grieve in your own ways.
Invisible grief is common for many men. When grief is invisible, where does it go?  Underground.
There are five common styles of filing grief away according to Deborah Davis:
  • silence
  • secrecy
  • action
  • anger
  • addiction

Often two or more styles accompany each other.

Silence:From an early age many boys are shamed, rejected and reprimanded when they express needs, want affection or show fear, weakness, disappointment or sadness.  "Buck up." "Big boys don't cry." "Don't be a sissy." These are heard by boys as they grow up. Boys are even encouraged to cut themselves off from physical sensation such as pain, cold and anxiety. Many athletic coaches yell at boys who are shivering to quit being wimps and get out there and play! Then we wonder why fathers cannot acknowledge their feelings. Shame is often associated with "letting" themselves feel those emotions or sensations. They avoid the feelings to avoid the shame. A way to do this is to withdraw into silence. 

Secrecy:  When boys do express feelings, they quickly learn that peers are not so accepting. He also sees how other men keep their feelings private. Some families that boys grow up in even deny emotions, so he learns to keep them to himself. Grief may be expressed, but only privately. Perhaps a father will visit the grave alone or journal in private. He may wait for opportunities to be alone and then open up and cry. This is better than silence, a father will miss out on the benefits of social support, recognition and validation.

Action:  Many men jump into action after a sudden death. They may orchestrate the funeral arrangements, mobilize legal action, engage in hard physical labor or become deeply involved in a hobby, sport or project at work.  By taking action, there is a sense of pushing away feelings of helplessness and reestablishing feelings of competence and control. Being in charge, taking up projects and making decisions are ways to strike back at the unfairness of the universe.  To be competitive at work and play is a way to fight back the feelings of fear and vulnerability.

Anger: Some people get stuck in anger. It is normal to feel angry after a death of a child, but anger can also become hurtful to you and others. Some people are walking around like time bombs waiting to explode at the next person who says the wrong thing. Some angry people experience back and shoulder pain, indigestion and headaches. Anger kept inside can become depression. Some other ways that people express their anger is through sarcasm, cynicism, paranoia or forgetfulness. When a man uses this as a coping strategy, he pays a high price and it keeps him from healing. Instead of dealing with sadness and pain, one dwells on law suits, revenge, resentment and bitterness.

Addiction: Simple way to avoid painful grief. Substance abuse will alter emotions by altering brain chemistry. Other behaviors such as gambling, adultery, competitive sports, and fervent religion can provide an emotional fix by immersing  one in a drama that distracts one from other parts of your life. Addiction helps you hide, but it doesn't help you cope.

Helpful book for a father:   A Guide for Fathers, When a Baby Dies.   By Tim Nelson

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