When Your Infant Has Died
The death of your infant has shattered your hopes and dreams for the future. It has sent shock waves through your body. This is one of the most difficult times of your life. It may seem as if the world has stopped and everything is moving in “slow motion”. Because, we live in a world that is based on order, logic and reason, infants are not “supposed to die.” It is especially difficult to understand what has happened when they do. As parents and adults, you may feel that you are supposed to be able to protect your child, nurture them and raise them to adulthood. You are even supposed to die long before they do.
So, what happened? You may be asking yourself what you did wrong, or what was it that you did or didn’t do, and for that, there very often are no answers. You not only have to live without your baby but you may also have to live without knowing why or what caused the death of your child. In addition, if your baby was not born yet or died shortly after birth, some people may discount your grief. They may assume that because you did not have time to develop a long term relationship with your baby, your loss and your pain will be less. Sometimes a miscarriage or stillbirth is not even acknowledged by other family members and friends.
These assumptions only increase the pain and feelings of isolation. You did, however, have a long term relationship with your child, if only in your mind. You dreamed of watching your child grow up and you anticipated being a parent for a long time.
What Does Grief Feel Like?
Grief is a natural and normal reaction to loss. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological response. It is a complex process that affects every aspect of your life. Love, anger, fear, frustration, loneliness and guilt are all a part of grief. It is important to understand that grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith. You grieve because you have loved. You may experience sleep irregularities, changes in appetite, upset stomach, heartache, restlessness, crying, irritability or sighing.
Grief sometimes comes in waves and can be paralyzing. You may feel numb, frozen inside and exhausted. You may not be able to concentrate or remember things.
Depression or feelings of emptiness may temporarily overcome you. You may experience headaches, tightness in the throat or chest, muscle aches or a burning sensation in your stomach. Grief hurts.
Anger and guilt are common emotions. You may feel angry with God, your spouse, your children or with others. You may be angry with yourself. When the cause of death is unknown, parents find themselves having to deal with suspicion or extreme guilt. The ‘if only’ and ‘should have’ thoughts can cause tremendous doubt and pain. Guilty feelings often accompany or follow anger. You may want to withdraw and be left alone.
You may think you hear your infant crying or sense his presence. Your arms may ache with emptiness while your heart seems to burst with pain. You may begin to wonder if you are going crazy. All of these reactions are a normal and natural part of grief.
How Long Does Grief Last?
There are no times frames for grieving, although many expect it to be over very quickly. Everyone will grieve in her own way and in her own time. Because there is a special bonding that takes place between the mother and her unborn child, the mother may have more intense feelings for a longer time. Dads often feel left out of this special grieving and need to be included in the sharing of grief.
It is important to understand that you won’t get over the death of your baby, but you will learn to live through it. There will always be intense pain as you remember the birthday, the anniversary of death and as you mark the passing of events you had planned to enjoy with your baby. Be prepared for these moments of grief and do not be alarmed as they continue throughout your life. Parents do not stop loving a child simply because the child has died.
What Should I Do Now?
There are many things you can do to help yourself through grief. Acknowledge your loss and begin to accept the pain of grief. Try to live through it, not avoid it. Postponing the hurt simply intensifies it later.
It is important to name your baby no matter how young he or she was when they died. This honors the life, the dreams and the hopes you had for that child. This will also validate the life and allow you to talk about your child to others. In many cultures, the naming of a child is sacred. Embrace the experience of conceiving your child and your hopes for them. They were and are as much a part of your family as anyone else even if it was only for a short time.
Share your thoughts and feelings. You may find it helpful to find a support group. Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support, The National SIDS Foundation and The Compassionate Friends all offer excellent resources and support. You do not have to do this alone.
Learn as much as you can about what happened. Ask your physician any questions you may have. Fears about subsequent pregnancies should be expressed, too. You may wish to wait awhile before becoming pregnant again. Allow yourself sufficient time to mourn and to recover your physical and emotional strength.
Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your diet and get some exercise. Exercise is an excellent way to reduce the stress of grief.
Get plenty of rest, too.
Allow yourself to begin to heal. You will laugh again and enjoy life once more, but it will take some time. Do not be disturbed by your first laugh. It does not mean you are forgetting your baby. It also does not mean you are over your grief. Be patient with yourself.
Create a ritual to help you remember your baby. Light a special candle on important days, establish a memorial fund in your baby’s name, or donate a toy, money, rocking chair or time to a special charity. All of these rituals may help your commemorate your child’s life.
Right now you may want to talk to someone who has traveled their grief journey a few miles ahead of you. It really helps to know you are not alone, crazy or a failure. And if you have misplaced yours for awhile, borrow hope from a friend.
Grief lasts far longer than anyone expects. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Your baby died, but you did not lose the love you shared. Even though death has come, love never goes away.