Stillbirth is a devastating outcome for too many families. Some families will have known for a while that their baby wasn’t well. Others will receive the shocking news at a routine appointment. Some may learn of their baby’s death while they are in labor. However your journey started, please know there are people to support you and you do not have to do it alone.
Stillbirth is the death of a baby before birth after 20 weeks gestation. In the United States, 25,000 babies are stillborn every year. Unfortunately, the majority of these families will never know why their baby died. The most common causes include placental issues, umbilical cord accidents, infections, and maternal health conditions (such as hyptertension or diabetes). Your health provider can talk to you about what is known in your situation and if there are additional tests you can consider to try to find an answer.
If you have not yet delivered your baby, take a few moments to discuss a new plan with your partner, friends, or family. Local health professionals may also be able to help you create a new plan for this birth. The Star Legacy Foundation Family Support Coordinator is available to help as well.
Throughout this experience, you may find yourself feeling sad, angry, in disbelief, frustrated, confused, lonely, or distant. These are normal emotions with acute grief. Physical symptoms are also possible and may include nausea, vomiting, headache, heart palpitations, chest pain, aching arms, inability to focus, or a loss of appetite.
Many parents find it helpful to spend time with their partners or children and other loved ones. Writing down your emotions and thoughts can be therapeutic and help guide your conversations with your health professionals. Most parents are grateful for the time they spend with their baby after delivery. During this time, you may rock, hold, bathe, and dress your baby. You can take photos, create handprints and footprints, read him/her a story, or any other activities that are comforting. These are moments you’ll treasure for years to come.
Much of the attention will be focused on the mother, but it is important to recognize that this is a family event. Fathers, siblings, grandparents, and other loved ones will be grieving as well. Allow them to be involved as much as possible and to the extent that is right for you. Even though the parents are experiencing the same event, everyone grieves in their own way. Open communication is important to understand and support each other during this time. It is normal for people to process emotions differently. Try not to compare your emotions to that of others. Grieving a baby and supporting a grieving parent both take tremendous energy. Be kind and patient with yourselves.
It is common for the following weeks and months to be filled with many emotions. Many parents are troubled by reminders of your baby such as seeing other pregnant women, the nursery you have prepared, or hearing the name you gave your baby. Well-intentioned people may make comments that are hurtful. When possible, tell people how you are feeling and how they can help. Give yourself time to find your way on this grief journey. There are no right or wrong answers. Only what feels right for you, your partner, and your baby.