Coping with Stillbirth

A FEW FACTS

A stillbirth is a fetal death that occurs at 20 weeks and beyond.

In the US, 23,600 babies are stillborn every year. That’s one in every 160 births.

Some known causes of stillbirths are birth defects, problems with the umbilical cord or placenta, and certain conditions in the mother, such as uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.

In about 40% of stillbirths, the cause of death cannot be determined.

Stillbirth is significantly less researched than other prenatal and perinatal causes of death in medical writing.

Not so long ago, parents did not see their stillborns and the babies were often buried in common graves. Parents were encouraged to move on.

Now, hospitals routinely offer support to the parents of stillborns, guiding them through the process of saying goodbye.

 

BEYOND THE FACTS

The word “stillbirth” strikes fear in our hearts. There is no other loss in which life and death clash with such vehemence. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, mothers and fathers are primed for new life and suddenly, life stops. How does one survive the unthinkable?

 

AT FIRST

 Expect the nursing staff or the hospital social worker to lead you through the decisions facing you when your baby has died. In many cases, they have been trained to help during these critical hours. If they do not initiate helping you, ask for a social worker and request the help you need.

         Spending time with your baby is so important. Some time spent creating memories will help your recovery and honor your child. You will be glad to have photographs. You may bathe and dress your child if you wish. In some places, parents can take their child home for a brief time.

         There is nothing morbid about spending time with your child after his or her death. This is your only time to say hello and goodbye. It is precious.

         Other early decisions involve who to invite in to see the baby and whether to plan a funeral or not.

 

AS THE DAYS GO ON,

         Put yourselves first. Tell friends and family what you need. Take their help.

         Expect that many people will not know how to react. Don’t overextend yourself or open yourself to those who cannot be supportive.

         You are processing a traumatic loss. Give yourself time to rest. Pay attention to your needs. Don’t be rushed.

         Grief can feel chaotic. It is not unusual to experience abrupt emotional shifts, to feel scattered, to feel like you can’t cope. Anxiety is common. Rest. Reach out when you need to. Be quiet and alone when that feels soothing. Seek professional support when needed.

         Pregnancy loss support groups offer an understanding community where you can talk about your loss. The hospital social worker can direct you to the local support group.

         This grief is very idiosyncratic. No one can tell you how to do it. No one should be allowed to. It will take as long as it takes.

         Recovering from the loss of a child involves allowing the grief process to continue and healing the trauma of the loss.

         Exercise, try to eat healthfully, feel whatever you are feeling. Today, all you have to do is today.

         Find what soothes you: Seeking support at parents’ pregnancy loss groups, reading about others’ experiences, listening to music, writing, focusing on your spirituality, wrapping yourself in a warm quilt. Get enough sleep. Talk about your baby.