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Grieving parenthood

Coping with the loss of a baby

The twilight glow of light in the hospital room was dim, but I could see the ink drawing on the bed sheet. Throughout the night, the heart-shaped form captured my attention, despite my efforts to ignore its presence. A physician, frustrated by the lack of paper at his ready disposal, had drawn the shape of my uterus on the sheet while explaining why we had lost our first baby. Instead of the typical shape, there was a small division of tissue. As our baby grew, the placenta detached at this division. The prognosis for future pregnancies was not good. The heart beside me represented heartbreak.

Empty time – responses in solitude

It is normal to be at a loss when deciding how to fill the time that would have been spent caring for your baby. Dr. Andreas Teuber of Brandeis University writes that Mary Shelley may have written Frankenstein while grieving the death of her 11-day-old daughter. A dream recorded in Shelley’s journal foreshadowed plot lines in the tale of horror she penned: “Dream that my little baby came to life again – that it had only been cold and that we rubbed it before the fire and it lived.” Research conducted by James Pennebaker shows that writing about one’s emotions can be effective in coping, showing a beneficial impact in immune system functioning.

Empty time – sharing with others

Thirty years ago, Sister Jane Marie Lamb, OSF, founded Share (www.nationalshareoffice.com) to meet the needs of those experiencing miscarriage or infant death. Parents help one another heal; the group engages in supportive outreach. Members promoted hospital policies to place symbols outside rooms alerting staff to the loss. Share advocated a halt to the flow of advertisements for infant products mailed to the homes of bereaved parents. Sister Jane Marie’s book, Bittersweet ... Hellogoodbye, helps parents explore ways to say goodbye through rituals.

Bring your anguish to the Lord

All our human emotions are appropriate to share in prayer, including anger. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” She was so distraught that Eli first attributed her behavior to drunkenness instead of anguish. Eventually, the desire of Hannah’s heart was fulfilled and she conceived. “She named him Samuel (heard of God), saying, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him.’ (1 Samuel 1:10, 20)

When offering consolation, remember that the parents are mourning this baby, a unique individual loved by God from conception. Listen with compassion and offer support as parents mourn the child that cannot nestle in their arms and grieve the anticipated milestones that will never be experienced.