Leaving the hospital after the death of your baby is incredibly difficult. You may have your baby with you to transport them to the funeral home and you may not have your baby with you, either way this may be a time when you think about what is best in this moment and give yourself permission to change your mind. Below are some questions to consider:
- Do you want to go to your home or stay with a family member or friend? This offers you time to make other decisions and to navigate the road home.
- How are you leaving the hospital? Who is driving you? Who can help you get yoru things together from your hospital room and/or NICU room?
- Do you want visitors waiting when you get home? Are there 1 or 2 people that can meet you there to help with anything that you may need?
- If you have other children make a plan for them in the midst of everything. Do you want them to be at home when you arrive? Would they like to go and stay with a friend or family member?
- If you have a nursery or baby items in your home would you like to have someone in your inner circle pack the items up or close the door to this room before you arrive?These items can be gone through when you are ready, in whatever timeline that is.
- Can someone in your inner circle arrange meal delivery for you when you get home?You might leave a cooler on the porch for people to drop food in. No need to have a schedule, no need to interact with those brining meals, all your village to nourish you without it being another burden.
Your community will offer to bring you food, help with pets and housework or even take other kids out of the house. LET THEM.
I am so sorry you are receiving and reading this letter, and we are here to help support you. We know your baby died too. From our experience, we know that dad can often be overlooked.
Sometimes there are expectations that you will be taking care of your partner, and while it is so important that she is well cared for, you need to be taken care of also. Unfortunately, our culture may not be well equipped to support men and their varying experiences of grief and loss, therefore many men have no idea how to go about grieving the death of their child(ren).
In the immediacy of your loss, you may be focused on caring for your partner. You may be required to go back to work soon, or you may choose to go back to work soon. Once at work, you may often be asked about how your partner is doing, but few people (if any) may ask how YOU are doing. There may be little time and space for you to check in with yourself about how you’re doing. And without others encouraging you to take care of yourself, it may fall by the wayside. Instead of that happening, please remember to take good care of yourself – whether that be physically, mentally, emotionally and/or spiritually.
Here are some common experiences other dads have experienced with the death of their child(ren):
- feeling very connected or very disconnected to your partner after your loss. This connection and disconnection will continue to change over time.
- expressing feelings differently than one’s partner. Your partner may want to talk about your baby/babies that died all the time. You may not. One of you may prefer to engage in activities, one of you may prefer to be more still and silent. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Allowing for and accepting differences in grieving styles is important.
- feelings of failure. As the man, you may see yourself as the protector and provider in your family. But your baby died, and you couldn’t stop that from happening. Your partner is sad and grieving, and you can’t stop that. Please know that it is not your job to fix this (although we know that would be “nice” to be able to do!).
- feelings of anger and needing to know what happened, what went wrong, and if this can be prevented in the future if there may be plans to have more children.
Below are some resources that you can check out to help support you in your time of grieving. And if you need or want anything at all, please reach out to one of us here with Love, Camden & Friends.
We are so sorry that you have this folder in your hands as it means that you have recently said goodbye or are in the process of saying goodbye to your baby. If there was a way that we could take your pain away, we would. We are 4 women who have all walked the path of loss, in different ways at different times and found each other. Our mission is to provide resources so no one ever has to go through this alone.
Please know that there is not any one, perfect way to walk through this process, nor can you be fully prepared for such heartbreak.
You are not alone. Collectively this guide has been developed with the help of parents who have walked a similar path and our psychotherapist partner, Shelly King. Our greatest hope is that this guide might support the many decisions that you are being faced with, and help make the precious moments with your child beautiful and healing.
Our hearts are with you and when you are ready we would love to connect with you.
As a psychotherapist and babyloss mama, I am very passionate about distinguishing between grief, depression and other mood disorders. While they may look very similar, they are not the same. Grief is the normal, natural reaction to the death of your baby. And it may last longer than you, or those around you, are comfortable with. Because of this, you (and/or others) may feel the need, want or desire to “fix” you so you can be “better” faster or “move on” more quickly. You are also a postpartum mama with changes in hormones that affect how you feel. Given everything that is happening right now, it can be difficult to distinguish what is going on with your mental health. The notes below are meant to be a guide; a beginning. Please reach out to a professional you trust if you have any questions or concerns.
So what are the differences between grief and perinatal mood disorders? Let’s look at the basics below. I will provide a bullet list for each one below. You may notice the mood disorders look a lot like grief. Please be aware perinatal mood disorders ALSO apply to men. This is for ALL parents.
Common, Normal Grief Responses:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep
- Feelings of overwhelm, numbness and/or disconnect
- Passive suicidal thoughts – not wanting to wake up in the morning; wishing you were dead
- Changes in memory – difficulty remembering things and/or confusion
- Feelings of anger, guilt and/or shame
Common, Normal Grief Responses:
- Sadness, crying
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sleep disturbance
- Irritability, anger, agitation
- Appetite changes
- Mood swings
As you can see, depression and grief look very similar. Now let’s look at a few other perinatal mood disorders.
Anxiety or Panic Disorder Symptoms:
- Panic attacks
- Low appetite
- Fears: losing control, illness, danger, fainting
- Physical symptoms: shaky, dizzy, or short of breath
Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms:
- An anxiety disorder after a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred, was threatened, or was perceived
- Shattered expectations
- Person’s experience of event is what matters
- Intrusive, repetitive thoughts – usually of harm coming to the baby
- Tremendous guilt and shame
- Person engages in behaviors to avoid harm or minimize triggers
- May initially present as depressed
- Highs can look like increased physical activity and energy, heightened mood, exaggerated optimism, excessive irritability or aggressive behavior, decreased need for sleep without fatigue, reckless behavior, grandiose thoughts
- Lows can include: prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells,
pessimism/indifference, persistent lethargy, recurring thoughts of death or suicide, significant changes in sleep and appetite, social withdrawal
What to do if you have concerns about your mental health:
When you (or others) have questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to our psychotherapist supporting our work, Shelly King. You may also contact another psychotherapist, a psychiatrist (MD who specializes in mood disorders and will know so much more about this than your primary doctor), your doctor or another care provider you trust. We all need support in life, and at this tender, grieving time, AND as a postpartum parent, you have the right to ask others for help. You need a village of support during your grief experience. You may also benefit from “alternative” supports such as acupuncture, massage, nutrition support, energy work, cranial sacral work, or other modalities you are aware of or have heard about. Touch in with yourself and see which, if any, of these things may feel helpful.
Your milk supply will not disappear. If your milk has not fully come in don’t be surprised if it still does come in. If you have been pumping or breastfeeding your milk will continue and it is important that you do not stop pumping abruptly as this can lead to infection and other unpleasant medical conditions.
- Go through the “drying up” process as quickly as possible
- Continue to express milk and donate (The Mothers Milk Bank is a great option)
It’s ok to hate your body for making milk, or not making milk. Breastmilk can feel like a betrayal: how can your body not know what is happening? That your baby is gone. There is no right way to feel about your milk coming in. You get to feel anything that you feel. No matter what you decide to do it is the right decision for you. Remember that there is no road map for this, you are doing a great job.
There is no way to prepare for the death of your baby. Below are some ways to bond your baby as you say goodbye.
- Give your baby a name.
- Make skin-to-skin contact with your baby.
- Bathe your baby.
- Sing & Read to your baby.
- Rock, hold, kiss & cuddle your baby.
Consider asking for a lock of hair, footprints, handprints, and photographs of your baby and your family.
If you would like to extend your time ask the hospital staff for a comfort cot or ice packs.
You and your baby have the right to be treated with care and respect. During this time your brain might be in shock and decisions can be hard to make. If your needs or expectations are not being met and you can articulate that, speak up. Provide information to help people support you as you navigate this time.
- You have the right to hold your baby. Spending time holding and getting to know your child can help long-term with grieving and healing.
- Request to hold your baby if you would like to hold him or her
- Stay as long as would like to be with your baby
- There is nothing strange or weird about holding your baby after he or she has died
- You have the right to create memories.
- Ask for footprints, handprints, the hospital hat, blanket and I.D. bracelet, a lock of hair.
- Ask for someone to take pictures
- Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is an incredible resource for these images (www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org)
- You have the right to honor your baby.
- Naming your baby
- Photographing your baby
- Ceremonies & Tributes (Baptism, Blessing, Prayer Circle…)
- You have the right to feel anything that you feel: Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Joy.
- You have the right to feel numb.
- You have the right to grieve. For as long as you want, in the way that feels right for you.
- You have the right to disconnect from your life for a little while. You do not have to answer the phone or your emails – if you want to take time to just be alone or with your partner, take time.
- You have the right to NOT make sure everyone else is ok. To think only of yourself and your child with no obligations beyond you.
Finding the words to share your loss may be very difficult. We suggest thinking of people in concentric circles; those closest to you, your inner circle (immediate family & best friends) moving into extended family and friends, acquaintances, and work colleagues. One option is to ask someone in your inner circle to be responsible for notifying and/or interacting with people.
It’s ok to move slow. Just begin with one person.
Things to consider:
- Do you want visitors?
- What things feel supportive to you and your partner right now that people may be able to help with?
- A home cooked meal, care for pets, delivery of food, childcare for siblings, help with laundry…
- What boundaries feel important to share?
- Not answering the phone, set times for when/if people visit, requesting no drop by visitors, requesting that a friend or family member have the task of talking to a particularly challenging member of your tribe.
- Do you want children; siblings, cousins, friends to visit?
If asking someone to make these calls for you doesn’t feel supportive consider an email. Creating an email that gives the information about what is happening and letting people know that there will be more information forthcoming can useful.
You can take as much or as little time to tell people are feels right to you. You get to have the space and time to grieve that you need. There is no time limit to “get over it” or “move on”. There is no right way to tell people and no roadmap for how they will take it, this journey is filled with steps and all you may be able to do today is put one foot in front of the other.