Written by Clara Hinton
When a mother hears the word “stillbirth”, there are often hundreds of questions that race through her mind. The first and foremost question is, “What is a stillbirth?”
A stillbirth is the birth of a fully formed baby who is not living. The death may have occurred weeks before labor. Or, the death of the baby may have taken place hours before labor, or during the actual labor. The end result is always the same, though. A stillbirth is the birth of a baby who has died.
What causes a stillbirth? Many times the cause is never known, and a stillbirth is not likely to occur in a subsequent birth. Sometimes the cause of a stillbirth can be traced to problems with the position of the umbilical cord. Other causes can be traced to defects in the baby, especially chromosomal defects. High blood pressure in the mother is also a risk factor.
A stillbirth is an extremely difficult loss to endure. The baby will most often look perfectly formed and perfectly healthy. There will be ten little fingers and ten little toes, and perhaps a full head of hair. It is important for a mother to understand that she will have strong feelings for this little baby, and it will take a while for the shock of the baby’s death to seem real.
Most hospitals are very understanding about how important it is for a mother to hold her stillborn baby. A mother should not rush through the experience of holding her stillborn baby, but should take all the time she wants and needs holding her child. This time alone with the baby will be cherished time later on, and will be instrumental in helping cope with the grief of child loss.
There are many things to consider when a stillborn baby has been delivered. Should the baby have a name? Should pictures be taken of the baby? Should the baby be dressed in clothes? Should a memorial service be planned? If the baby was born prior to the state’s requirements for a burial, can the baby be buried at home?
Often, nobody will make suggestions to you at the time of the delivery of your stillborn child because it is such a painful experience for everyone. It is much easier emotionally to rush through the entire ordeal, often leaving the parents with a lot of unanswered questions and future grief. It is so important to be aware of the fact that you do have rights and you do have several options available to you.
Above all else, do what is healing for you. If you want to take hundreds of pictures, then do so. If you want to have a memorial service for your baby, of course you should follow through with this. If you want to dress your baby and rock him/her for several hours, then ask the hospital staff for a rocking chair and take your time alone holding your baby. Remember—this is your baby!
The grief one experiences from a stillbirth is a very deep grief. There was anticipation and planning for a beautiful child, and all of those dreams were taken away. By doing everything possible to validate the fact that you delivered a baby, you will aid in your journey of grief in the days ahead. The walk from grief back to joy-filled living might be a very slow process. Be gentle with yourself! Working through grief is lots of hard work!