If you’ve arrived at this page, having just discovered that your baby has died (or might die), you might be wondering what might help you at this difficult time. We have created this section to give you some ideas of how you could spend your time with your baby. These ideas are just that – ideas. It’s impossible for us to give you a script, or a timetable. Each situation, family and baby are individual.
These ideas are inspired by many things; our time with Finley, the extensive reading we have done, the hundreds of parents we have spoken to who have walked this sad path, from the responses of professionals on training days we have organised. We share this information, with the intention of helping you to understand what is possible, so that you can make an informed decision about what is right for your family at this time. Many parents find it sad, or frustrating to discover something they’d have liked to have done, when it is too late. It may be that you like just one idea, or that you find that you don’t need to do any of these things, that it’s not right for you.
It may be comforting to look back in the years to come, and understand that you made the right decision for your family, based on the information you have been given. It can help greatly to have few, or no regrets when you begin to heal and rebuild your lives.
Finley was born on 2nd August 2009. In the years since services, equipment, resources and products available to parents when their baby dies have greatly improved. We didn’t have the benefit of time to research what to do in our time together. I woke up from emergency surgery to discover that I had a little boy, who would never wake. We were led by the staff on duty, giving us information and ideas and capturing memories for us in photographs and video.
We spent 3 days in hospital. Finley remained with us for the whole of that time. Friends and family visited, my husband stayed. In that time we both bathed and dressed Finley, we took many photographs (including a family portrait). Staff captured his hand and footprints in ink. We took a clay cast of his feet. We photographed him in different outfits, ones we’d brought especially for him, that are now in his memory box. We read him a bedtime story.
Whilst these memories did not make it any easier at the time (although they did perhaps provide a distraction and give us something to do), they have certainly helped me to heal. I now enjoy looking at those items, I feel close to Finley and have a tangible reminder of him which will last, even when my own memory fades.
The following suggestions tend to focus upon full term stillbirth, as in my own experience, we have also tried to include suggestions, ideas and comments for other situations.
Having A Blessing
All hospitals have a special professional, called a Chaplain. A Chaplain is a person of faith who is able to provide emotional and spiritual support, and to carry out multi-faith (or non religious) ceremony. The staff who are caring for you may ask if you would like to meet with the Chaplain. You can also request to meet them at any time, you can visit them in the hospitals chapel or contact them to discuss your wishes prior to entering the hospital.
The Chaplain has awareness of many different religions and their customs, beliefs and practices and support people in many different situations. They are also able to provide support and services to you if you have no particular religious beliefs.
You may wish to discuss your wishes and beliefs with friends and family members, or with your partner. Because things happened very suddenly with Finley, we didn’t really have much time to consider our wishes or to prepare. Although myself and my husband loosely affiliate with Church of England Christianity, we don’t have a particularly deep faith. The Midwife asked us if we’d like to see a Chaplain, and my Mum wanted to, to discuss the funeral services on offer. The Chaplain offered to give a blessing. In my mind this was an opportunity to give Finley his name, although it wasn’t a christening. When your baby is born, without taking a breath, there are some restrictions placed upon certain religious ceremonies. It is not possible for example to have your baby christened, or baptised.
We found it comforting to have a Chaplain meet Finley, and to say a blessing for him and a prayer for us. It was a small service, performed with my parents present. We recorded the service, so that we could look back on it.
I hadn’t considered the importance of a name prior to this ceremony. Afterwards it brought great comfort to have had Finley formally recognised, so much so that I later gave my first baby a name too. I had experienced a miscarriage at 8 weeks and had not acknowledged this baby in the same way.
Bathing Your Baby
It may be possible for you to bathe your baby after they are born. This is an experience which many parents are not offered the chance to do – and perhaps it isn’t something many bereaved parents would think of themselves.
It is common for bodies to be cleansed after their death, however this tends to be carried out by funeral directors, unless a family member expresses a wish to help with this task. In the UK, we tend not to have much awareness of what the normal processes are when somebody dies, it is not spoken about and unless you have lost a close family member, it may remain unfamiliar to you.
There are many reasons why you may wish to bathe your own baby after their death. Perhaps they have spent a lot of time in the Special Care Unit, and you have not yet been able to bathe them or dress them. Perhaps it is important to you to be the person who prepares their body for the next stage of it’s journey. Perhaps you want to see their entire body, and remember their perfection.
It is helpful to consider the following
- Ask the midwife about bathing your baby as soon as possible. It may take time to organise, and also there may be issues to resolve.
- You may wish to just dress your baby in a nappy following their birth if you intend to bathe them. This minimises the moving and handling of your baby to dress and undress them more than once.
- Your baby’s nose may run or bleed during the bathing, or their bowels may open, due to the warmth of the water. The midwife can help you if this does occur.
- You may feel unable to bathe your baby, but wish for them to be cleansed. Your midwife or funeral director will be happy to do this for you. You may like to video or photograph this.
Sometimes parent’s are not given this option, due to the condition their baby is in when they are born. If your baby is born at an early gestation, their skin will be very fragile. Similarly, if your baby spends several days inside you, following their death and before their birth, they may have blistered skin, or areas of very fragile or broken skin. This means that a traditional bath may not be considered.
In this case you can create a memory bath. To create a memory bath
- Put some warm water into a baby bath or bowl.
- Collect some petals, or confetti and add these to the water.
- Add some drops of essential oil to the water.
- Wrap, or ask the midwife to wrap your baby in a towel so that their head and face is showing.
- Hold your baby above the bath, and gently drizzle water over their face and hair.
- If you wish you can take some photographs, looking down from above as this makes a beautiful image, giving you the memory of bathing your baby.
It is also ok if you are worried about doing so, unsure if you want to, unsure if you will be able to. As with all of this section of the website, this page exists to give you information, and to help you if you wish to do something similar to make a memory with your baby. The suggestions may not be right for everyone.
Dressing Your Baby
You may have already prepared for your baby’s arrival, and have many clothes for them. If this is the case you may wish to take several outfits to the hospital, including at least 1 sleepsuit. You may wish to dress your baby yourself, or ask a midwife to help you.
Sometimes it can be difficult to dress your baby, at certain times their body may be very floppy, or stiffen. Their skin may be fragile, blistered or weeping.
Your midwife may be able to use gauze to cover some of the sore areas, prior to dressing your baby. If you would like your baby to wear more than one outfit, it is helpful to dress them in a sleepsuit. You can then add a second outfit, and change this outer wear if you wish to. This means that the impact on your baby’s skin is minimal.
Early PregnancyIf your baby will be born at a small birth weight or early gestation, it is still possible – and comforting – to dress them. In the past I have spoken with many parents, whose heartache has been further deepened because they have been unable to dress their baby. They feel so sad that they were only able to wrap their baby in a blanket which was too big. Some parents have been able to find dolls clothes, or teddy bear outfits in a suitable size, however going shopping may be something you do not feel able to do.
There are several organisations mentioned below that can help you to dress your baby.
Cherished Angel Gowns created beautiful outfits from old wedding dresses. Preemies UK are able to supply a range of outfits and products for a baby born at an early gestation. They include Angel’s Pockets, Moses Baskets (made to the size of an Ice Cream tub), outfits, hats and bootees. Little Things are also able to supply unique items.
Many hospitals stock items from these organisations, or similar ones. Prior to delivering your baby you may wish to ask what they already stock, or to contact an organisation mentioned to ask if they are able to send a package to you.
If you knit, or know someone who does you could make your own items. Here are some l
inks to patterns you might find helpful.
There are also some websites which you can purchase outfits for premature babies, from 1lb in weight, which might be suitable for a baby from 20 weeks upwards. (please note that these websites feature images of living babies).
Hands and Feet
There is something amazing about teeny, tiny hands and feet. So precious, like our own hands. Perfectly replicated, but scaled down. It may not feel like it right now but it is still possible for there to be a beautiful moment in meeting your baby. Exploring them. Checking that they have ten tiny toes. Holding their hand in yours. Wondering over whose nose they were blessed with.
Overtime, our memory dulls a little. Some parts grow brighter, some may dim. Capturing your baby’s hand and footprints is a good way of helping to ensure that you can forever remember how big or small their hands and feet are. There are several ways that you can do this. Your midwives will be very used to helping with this task, so you can ask them to help if you don’t feel confident in doing this alone. Your funeral director can also help with this.
Printed hand or footprint.
Most hospitals will offer printed hand and footprints as a keepsake. They are simple to take, and they can be stored in medical notes, should you not wish to take them with you when you leave the hospital. You may find that in years to come you would like to ask for them. Many parents choose to have these prints done as a tattoo at a later date.
It is possible to capture the prints using an inkpad and ordinary paper. It is likely that it will require 2 people to be able to capture a good print. One person will need to manage the paper, and one manoeuvre the baby. It is possible to capture prints from babies born at an early gestation, perhaps from 16 weeks upwards.
You can also purchase inkless hand and footprint wipe kits, which leave less mess. Some charities, (such as Towards Tomorrow Together) supply these kits to hospitals, also some hospitals have a supply of them, so you might like to ask them if they do before you go.
As well as taking a footprint, it is also possible to cast your baby’s hands and/or feet. Please remember that midwives and funeral directors will be happy to help create these types of casts in many situations. It is important to ask their thoughts, as sometimes a baby may be born with very fragile skin, which is placed under some strain by the removal of the alginate. They may suggest that this is completed after you have said goodbye, or that you don’t watch the process.
Please see the video tutorials below for instructions. Please note, that the videos feature live babies and children, and may be distressing for this reason.
Hand and Foot – A useful tutorial showing a technique which would work with both hands and feet.
Round base hand – This one gives a flattened display piece, with the flat hand slightly raised from the base plate.
Family cast – This is a lovely idea for capturing a family cast, if a little complicated to carry out. Variations on this theme may be possible such as capturing the family cast in this way, and displaying it with the stillborn baby’s cast in the centre.