Grief after stillbirth or neonatal death

Grief after stillbirth or neonatal death

After stillbirth and neonatal death: how you might feel

The death of a baby is very painful and sad.

There's no right way to feel or grieve the death of a baby. This experience is different for everyone, and everyone grieves differently and in their own time.

You can't rush your grief and healing. It's normal to feel up and down for some time. You might also find that grief and sadness come up at specific times of the year - for example, the anniversary of your baby's death, due date or birth date. These feelings can also come up if you become pregnant again. Or the grief might catch you by surprise, when you're not expecting it.

Grieving the death of your baby can be physically and emotionally draining. You might need to take some time off work. It's OK to ask your workplace about personal or bereavement leave.

Partners: different experiences of grief after the death of a baby

You and your partner might experience or express grief differently. For example, some people might find it hard to say how they feel but might exercise or work more as a way of letting out their grief. Some people might not like talking about it at all.

Also, the partners of women who've experienced stillbirth or neonatal death might think other people see their experience as less important. For example, medical professionals and other people might focus only on the mother's needs. It's normal for partners to feel like their feelings don't matter in this situation. But their feelings do matter.

These differences are normal, but it can be hard to grieve if you think that your partner doesn't feel the same way you do.

If you and your partner can share your feelings and talk openly after the death of your baby, it can help you both through this difficult time.

One week we were bringing a child into the world and then we weren't - there was this deep sense of loss.
- Daniel

Sharing your grief about stillbirth or neonatal death with others

It can be very upsetting to tell family and friends about your baby's death.

Although people will want to comfort and support you, they might not understand your experience. And sometimes people might try to comfort you by saying things that minimise your loss. For example, 'At least you know you can get pregnant' or 'At least you have your other children'. It might all sound like empty words to you.

But many people find that it does help to talk to others. You could let close friends and family know what your baby meant to you, what support you need and how much you want to share your experience. If you don't feel like talking about your baby's death, you could consider sharing it in writing.

Acknowledging your baby's death

Many parents find that doing something more formal to acknowledge the loss of a baby helps their healing.

Here are some ways to acknowledge your baby's death:

  • Having a memorial service: many hospitals offer communal annual remembrance services, or you could have a private memorial service at home with family and friends.
  • Donating to a charity: you could buy or make something to give to a worthy organisation.
  • Naming your baby: naming your baby, even if your baby was stillborn, acknowledges that your baby was a person to you.
  • Collecting mementos: you could have a special box for things like ultrasound photos, photos of your baby, hospital tag, sympathy cards, pressed flowers and maybe toys or clothes that were ready for your baby.
  • Choosing a keepsake: this could be something like an ornament or jewellery.
  • Creating something: this could be a drawing, quilt, scrapbook or a piece of music.
  • Making a memorial place: for example, you could plant a tree or go to a place that you love when you want to spend time thinking about your baby.
  • Saying goodbye: you could do this by writing a poem or a letter to your baby.
  • Burying your baby: it's possible to have a burial, either at home or in a cemetery.
I keep the photos and film of the ultrasound in a special box. They are evidence that my baby existed. I pull them out quite often and look at them.
- Kim

Looking after yourself after your baby's death

There are several things you can do to look after yourself:

  • Talk about your experience with a friend or relative who has also lost a baby. This can help you feel understood and validate your feelings.
  • Join a face-to-face or online bereavement support group. You might also consider becoming a volunteer to support other parents who've experienced the loss of a baby.
  • Speak with a mental health professional who has experience counselling people who've had a stillbirth or neonatal death. This can help you come to terms with your experience.
  • Make sure you have sensitive and understanding people around you, especially around anniversaries that mark your baby's birth date, death date or any other significant dates. These days can trigger grief and also fear about future pregnancies.
  • Keep a journal to record your thoughts, feelings and memories. This can be a good way to express and explore all your different feelings about the stillbirth or neonatal death.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs and any behaviour that makes you feel numb. If you push away your feelings of grief, it'll probably take you longer to grieve and heal.
  • Join a gym, visit your local swimming pool, walk for a charity, or try regular massage. Self-nurturing and physical activity with clear goals can help you to work through your emotions and get your body strong.
  • Cultivate and maintain a vegetable plot or a garden. This kind of activity can be soothing.

Trying for another pregnancy

Some couples are keen to try to get pregnant again after a stillbirth or neonatal death. Some might also feel pressured by family or friends to try for another baby as a way of 'moving on'.

But if you get pregnant again before you're physically or emotionally ready, it might not help your grief much at all. This is because the grieving period can take time and a lot of emotional energy.

You might also feel a mix of different emotions, like excitement about another pregnancy or fear of another stillbirth or neonatal death. Keep in mind that just as your body needs time to recover physically, your emotional reserves do too.

It can help to discuss your physical and emotional readiness and any other concerns with your partner, doctor, midwife, friends or a support worker.

It's best to talk with your doctor about when it's OK to try again.