First, I am so sorry. I have lived through a pregnancy with possibility of my baby dying hovering over my head. It’s harder than anyone can know, unless they’ve been there themselves. This shouldn’t be something anyone has to read or write because babies aren’t supposed to die. And women shouldn’t have to carry them knowing they might. But I was there, so I know it happens. When I was pregnant I was hungry for people living through the experience I was- books and blogs helped. I learned how others prepared and how others wished they did. Just because you are preparing for your baby to die doesn’t mean that you don’t want her to live. Of course you do! But in the days following my daughter’s death, I was glad I had done a few things and wish I had done others.
I hadn’t thought of this until I read someone else’s blog, who was in a similar situation. She had bought two blankets- one to take the baby home in, and one to hold the baby in if he was dying. While I was hospitalized the last weeks of my pregnancy, I did this too. The irony is the blanket for my baby’s death came on time, but the blanket for my baby’s home coming didn’t come until after her birth and death. I was happy to hold my daughter in something I had specifically picked out for her, not the standard hospital linens. I held her in that blanket for hours and I like to think she knew that was her blanket, that we were looking forward to her whether she lived or died.
When we found out Mabel would be a sick little baby, we stopped buying baby things. Once I had some normal ultrasounds, I finally let myself cautiously buy a few things- a car seat, cloth diapers, a high chair. Family started giving us a few gifts. I let myself walk into Carter’s and just look at the clothes- a little frustrated that there were no gender neutral outfits. But I hadn’t yet gotten around to buying anything when we had the ultrasound showing oligohydramnios at 27 weeks. After that, we didn’t buy anything. We canceled our baby shower, which today still makes me so so sad. Sad because I didn’t get that chance to celebrate my daughter and sad because we never had the opportunity to really prepare for her. But I couldn’t bear the thought of having all the baby stuff and packing it up if we didn’t take her home with us. But as we neared her due date, I felt like I wanted an outfit for her- a burial outfit- just in case. Chris didn’t like the idea of calling it that, so we called it a coming home outfit- we’d take her home in it or we’d bury her in it, whatever the case may be. I wanted something I had chosen with love. As fate would have it, the outfit arrived the day before we buried our daughter.
A week after we lost Mabel, I stumbled across someone’s professional birth photos on facebook. Seeing them threw me into an emotional downward spiral. Aside from the obvious sight of her delivering a live baby caught beautifully on camera, I was struck by the thought that she not only has a live baby but gets the memories of her birth captured so beautifully. I left the hospital with no baby and no professional photos to remember her by. She gets those photos and gets to have more photos in the future. There is an organization- Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep- of professional photographers that can help. After Mabel was born, our NICU nurse contacted them but no one was available. If I had thought of it ahead of time, I would have contacted them while I was pregnant. Or found my own and paid whatever money it would take to make those memories. I am lucky that we had our camera with us and several nurses took some amazing photos. I look at those photos daily and are my most treasured possessions right now. If nothing else, have a camera handy, even a cell phone, and give it to someone to take photos. You’ll be focused on holding and looking at your child in the moment, as you should. You’ll want the pictures of you doing so in the future. And take video! I did not think of this while Mabel was alive and wish I had.
Get a kit that does inkprints and clayprints for your baby’s hands and feet and keep it close. Many hospitals provide these, but not all do. My sister had sent us two photo frames, one with clay prints, one with ink prints. I had opened the gift in the hospital and was planning on taking it home for later. I went into labor before that happened and I was so glad I had them nearby. Those clayprints are the only physical thing I can touch to remind myself of my baby’s contours.
Have the hard conversation with your partner or family. What are going to do with your baby’s remains. I knew my husband preferred cremation for himself and I preferred burial. While pregnant, I asked him if we could bury our child- I wanted her near us and wanted a physical place to go visit. He was amenable. Deciding on burial, I researched funeral homes and cemeteries in our town. So the day we said good bye to our daughter, I was able to give our nurse and my parents the name of the places we wanted and they took care of the arrangements. One thing I learned at the funeral home was when you are buying burial plot for your child, you should think about buying your own burial plot. Do you want your baby buried with you? Do you buy two additional plots- one for you and one for your partner? Is there a family plot available? We had a family plot offered to us, but it was an hour away and I wanted her closer. Chris and I also ultimately decided on buying just her plot- we were new to the town we lived in and didn’t feel settle yet. We decided that when I die and am buried, we will move Mabel to be we me. There is no way to truly prepare yourself for your child’s death and then to be asked to think about your own really hammers home the point that no one should have to bury their child.
These are just the things I can think of. If any of you have lost a child or is preparing for that day, please feel free to comment with your ideas, to help others in our shoes.