After discovering that your baby has died, you may be given an opportunity to go home for a day or two before returning to be admitted to the hospital to give birth to your baby. Your carers will talk with you about the best way to give birth and in most instances, your labour will be induced as a normal birth is preferred, rather than a caesarean-section. Mothers can often respond to this news in one of two ways; either a wish to be put to sleep and the baby taken out of them, or a desire to go through a normal labour and birth if that is possible. Both responses are tinged by fear and it’s not wrong that you will be afraid to see your baby for the first time. However, when your baby does arrive, that fear will dissipate.
Your doctors and midwives are likely to recommend that you try and have a vaginal birth for a number of reasons. You can usually get up and move around fairly soon after a vaginal birth and you can go home sooner as well. This also means that you are more mobile to have precious time with your baby after you give birth. On the other hand, your healing time following a caesarean operation is longer than that following a vaginal birth. Also, it is unlikely that the cause of your baby’s death will be known before the birth and your carers will wish you to avoid a potential infection by having a vaginal delivery instead if possible.
Labour following the death of a baby is generally longer than that with a live baby as the baby is not able to participate in the birth. Pain relief will be available if you choose to have it. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for pain relief medication as labour following an induction can sometimes take a day or two to actually start. This is normal and your carers will be with you to support you during this time.
You will find that going through a vaginal birth will give you time to consider what is happening. It gives your mind time to process this event – something that you could never have prepared for. You might like to think about who you would like to share the news with, talk with the midwife and doctor to find out what happens after the birth, and think of ways to make the most of the little time you have with your baby by recording mementos. Most importantly, take this time to come up with an ‘alternate’ birth plan. You couldn’t have foreseen this tragedy but that doesn’t mean that the birth is completely out of your hands. There is usually no rush so use the time to plan what you want the birth to be like. Who do you want in the room? Is there a particular midwife you would like who may be able to assist you give birth to your baby? Are there things you would like in the room or some music playing? Don’t be afraid to ask or to change your mind. This is your baby’s birth.
You will feel afraid during the labour and birth and this is normal. Some people harbour a secret hope that there has been some terrible mistake and that the baby will be born alive. Sadly, mistakes such as these are not made. However, a midwife will be with you to support and guide you through your labour and birth, and to support you through this hard time.
What happens immediately following the labour?
When the baby is born, the midwife will either hand you your baby or take him/her away to wrap up in a blanket. It is your choice, and you can make this decision at any time. Parents are generally surprised with the overwhelming feelings of love they have for their baby – for some reason, we sometimes think that we won’t love this child just because he or she has died. This is very far from the truth. Be proud of giving birth; you are the parents of a beautiful baby and wanting to share the news with family and friends and asking for congratulations is ok.
Can I spend time with baby?
After the birth, there will be an opportunity to spend time with your baby. It can be confronting to think of what your baby will look like and it may prove difficult for you to initially believe your baby isn’t simply sleeping. In these precious moments with your baby, you will be able to give your baby their first bath, dress them, take photographs with and of them, and celebrate their arrival as you would any other baby. You will be offered an opportunity to stay in hospital and can invite family and friends to meet your baby. Don’t be afraid to ask people to come and see your baby. This may be their only opportunity to do so and will give them the chance to both celebrate your child and grieve with you in the months following the birth.
How will my body respond after the birth?
You will experience all the other normal physical things that happen after a baby is born. You will have vaginal bleeding for the first 7-10 days. This will initially be bright red and then will slowly become darker brown like the end of a period. If the bleeding continues to be heavy or you pass blood clots you need to tell your midwife and get checked out to make sure the bleeding is normal.
About 50 to 73 hours after you have given birth to your baby, you will find that your “milk comes in”. This is when your breasts fill with milk and is a normal process. Naturally, this can be very distressing as it is a painful reminder once again that your baby is not alive and able to suckle. Given that the milk will not be drained from your breasts, you might find them becoming very uncomfortable and feeling heavy and lumpy. The best treatment for this is to use ice packs or iced face cloths on your breasts. It is also important not to stimulate your breasts especially with hot water pulsating on them in the shower as this will stimulate milk production. This feeling of breast engorgement will settle down in a couple of days. There are also medications available to suppress your milk coming in but these also have side effects and are not often prescribed.
Many women experience the ‘baby blues’ after giving birth. This usually means that women feel sad and teary, even if everything in their birth has gone well. For women who have had a stillbirth, the time following birth is even harder. It is really important to know that this is normal but that care and support from your midwife, doctor or GP, and your partner and family can help you get through this devastating time. It is important to talk to your care providers about these feelings and to be unafraid to ask for support.
How can I make sure I capture every moment?
You will be able to spend time with your baby for up to one week. Some hospitals even have cold cots which allow mums and dads to spend overnight with their babies.
Your time with your baby is incredibly short. To make these precious moments count for a lifetime, you might want to consider putting together a Memory Box or at least taking mementos that you can later put into this precious box. The following are suggestions of mementos that other Stillparents have kept:
Give baby a name: Depending on how far along in the pregnancy, baby will look like a living baby,and a name will let you refer to the baby for many years to come.
Take photographs: Remember that these will be for you and your family to view. How your baby looks shouldn’t have any place in your decision to take the only images you will ever have of your baby. Take photographs of your baby dressed or naked, and being held by family and friends. Our Stillparents tell us that you can never have too many photos and even if you don’t feel like taking photographs at the time, please do so. You can store them away or ask someone to hold onto them until you wish to view them. Keep electronic and printed copies of these photographs as well.
Take hand and footprints: You can do this either by printing your baby’s hands and feet on paper or card, or by taking impressions in plaster.
Cut a lock of hair: Many of our Stillparents purchase a locket and they carry a lock of hair of their beloved baby around their neck.
Wrap your baby in a special blanket for the funeral and keep an identical one for yourself, or keep clothes that you dressed your baby in.
Write down notes of what and who your baby looks like, their special features, and any other thoughts you have that you might want to reflect on in the years to come.
Write a letter to your baby: This can be kept with your baby when they are buried and you can keep a copy for yourself.
Keep the hospital name tags: Hang onto yours and your baby’s.
Keep cards from family and friends.
Flowers: you might want to press and dry these.
Other memento ideas
The Stillbirth Foundation is often approached by organisations and individuals with a genuine desire to help the parents of stillborn babies create beautiful mementos of their precious babies. Below are some of these wonderful people and organisations (please note that some of these do charge a fee for their services).
Volunteers hand-make baby burial clothing and wraps for distribution to Australian hospitals. Newly bereaved parents who have experienced the traumatic loss of their baby through stillbirth are able to wrap their baby with love and dignity.
Adelaide-based artist, Samantha Ricci, can recreate an image of your stillborn baby. To view her beautiful work and inquire about how much it will cost, click here . You can also click here to view testimonies of her work on Facebook from other families.