The Daily Beast published a story last week about the trend of grieving parents posting memorials to stillborn children on YouTube—and it struck a nerve. Dozens of parents responded with their own stories of stillbirth and details on how they manage their grief.
The letters that follow have been edited for clarity and grammar.
Through my tears, I applaud you for the courage to talk about this topic. The silent grief is the worst of all. My beautiful son Dhillon was stillborn at 36 weeks and holding him and memorializing him is the only way I know how to legitimize his short but meaningful life.
Mill Valley, California
Our first baby. Celeste, was stillborn at 36 weeks, on September 4, 1976. The umbilical cord had prolapsed. We were very young and totally unprepared for this terrible event. At that time, there was no counseling for parents who had lost babies. We were advised not to even look at our daughter, let alone hold her and photograph her. I felt as though I had no identity…not really a mother and not really like someone who has never had a child. I was in a strange land, in between, that no one could understand. Finally after four weeks of grieving, a loving pastor recommended we name our daughter and have a memorial service, after all, she was a person. That was the beginning of the healing. Today, we have three adult children and four grandchildren, with one more arriving in a few weeks. Our two daughters and I have had opportunities to share our story with others who are suffering a similar loss. We encourage parents to spend time with their babies and have photographs taken; name the babies and have the funerals. We never saw Celeste but she is forever in our hearts: as a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, and our little angel. While we are healed and forever touched, we reserve a special place within our hearts for those who have felt this pain.
The midwife helped prepare me for saying goodbye, and asked what I wanted my last memory to be. I broke down, saying that I had not changed his nappy. I didn’t feel like his Mum. She helped us, by making sure that we could do what we needed to do. Three and half days after his birth/death, I undressed my son, changed his nappy, bathed him, and dressed him in an outfit. I changed him into his pajamas and I read him a bedtime story.
For 6000+ UK parents every year, they cannot unsee. They have to go through this experience, and honoring their babies is helpful to their grief. I know that many people around the world remember my son, many health professionals have learnt from our choices. Care is changing worldwide to better support parents like me—and I am glad to have a voice. Over 70,000 people have watched my goodbye to my son. That makes me a proud mother.
My son was still born August 1997. I had a normal routine pregnancy and his passing was a complete shock. There was no one at the small hospital where I delivered him to support me or to offer me the idea of taking pictures of my sweet boy. A dear friend took some pictures of my son the day of his funeral. I treasure those pictures and wish that I had taken more. I felt so alone during this time of my life and I truly believe that people experiencing the same loss need to be encouraged to celebrate the life of their baby.
Our daughter, Alyson, was stillborn at full term with no indication of any problems in 2008. While I have not created a memorial for her on YouTube, I can understand (and admire) why some people have. To have people comment or view your video would almost help you validate your child’s short life. That they have a sort of purpose here on earth to teach us all how truly lucky we are to LIVE. I can see how with each view or comment, their parent is comforted that there is a tangible record of one more person that their child impacted. It keeps them alive in a way, they are remembered, they existed, and though they are no longer here, they still have an impact that can be counted through views or comments. I know for me personally, when I have someone mention my daughter and her brief life, it brings me joy to know she is remembered. I disagree with the idea that it prolongs grief. If it brings a parent joy to see that their child is remembered, or made an impact, is that truly grief? I would consider it pride. I am proud of each of my four children, and every time I hear how they have made a difference in someone’s day- it makes me happy, whether they are here, or in heaven.
I lost my son shortly after he was born, and I am blessed to have pictures of him. I am thankful that I had a nurse who volunteered from NILMDTS come and take pictures of him. They were able to get me a mold of his feet and his footprints. I was also able to cut a lock of his hair. Although I didn’t have him for very long I am blessed for the time that I was able to spend with him.
This was very difficult to read, and the videos to watch. My son, Nathan Daniel was still born at 38 weeks, on January 2, 2006. You think time heals the wounds, and it does, but the memories come flooding back very easily. Nathan, like Shiloh from your story, had Down’s Syndrome and a heart defect. Nathan died about a week before he was born, the last movement I can recall was Christmas day. On December 27, I had a routine doctor’s visit. The doctor at first could not find the heart beat, but did locate it after a few moments. When I was in labor at the hospital, the doctors discovered the heartbeat heard had been my own. Nathan was born with his skin peeling away, he was in rough shape. The doctor on call that night cried with me after he was delivered. The nurses cleaned him up, warned me of his appearance and let me spend as much time with him as I needed. They were the ones who took the pictures for me, of him with his gown, and little hat. Of him with me, and with his father. Nathan is buried near his grandfather. I was asked by a few people why we were having a funeral for him. Why wouldn’t we? He was our son. He was loved. He will always be loved.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
My first baby, a boy, was stillborn at 28 weeks 28 years ago. I wanted to see him, but the nurse in attendance took him away after I got a quick glance. The hospital gave me footprints and a photo. We buried him on top of a family member. I was very sad as I loved him from the time I learned I was pregnant. Many people told me, “You are young and can have more children,” but I really wanted this one, too. My doctor told me that I needed to, “Get over my trauma.” I grieved then and still do to this day sometimes. I loved that baby and that love never died.
This year, my Jennifer would be 34. Her loss so many years ago is still alive and real. A case of the flu in January proved fatal to her in July. My child was small for her gestational age and her body showed her struggle to live. She was the carbon of her sister who would be born 12 years later. Black curls, tiny well formed hands and feet, and a sweet face that I can clearly remember today all these years later.
My healing began when I realized that Jennifer was my child, and I would have to grieve for her and heal on my own. Twenty years of therapy, two children, and 34 years have led me to a place in my life where I can say, “Jennifer was real. She was mine. She was good. She will always be in my heart.”
My son Connor was stillborn at 39 weeks, just a few days before they were going to induce labor. We have a lock of his hair, a few photos, and plaster footprints, along with the tiny blue urn we chose when we had him cremated. I am thankful everyday that the hospital staff made sure I received those mementos. During the days and hours after I have birth, my family was numb with grief, unable to make the smallest decisions, let alone devote the time and attention needed to memorialize my first born child as we planned his funeral. Connor would have been 7 this year, and after all this time, I think of him often, and how I can prevent other families through knowing the heartbreak of a loss like this. I am now a molecular biology undergrad, with every intention of getting my PhD and devoting my career to stillbirth research, because there are so many unanswered questions about the various causes, and possible prevention.
As a “civilian”, to use the term in this article, I had never been touched first-hand by the loss of an infant. Friends had, and one encouraged me to apply to serve as a volunteer photograph with the organization Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, which provides access to affiliated professional photographers willing to provide sessions for families in their most difficult moments of loss. I had never been able to view even close relatives after death, and was very apprehensive about my ability to remain professional in these situations. I have served 18 families in the last year and a half as an affiliate and have found every family I have served to be deeply grateful that they could turn to a professional for this very delicate service. While I, like other Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photographers, provide only still images, we create slide shows set to music for families so they are able to use these at memorial services and to keep for themselves to aid in the healing steps from their loss. I am so appreciative for the ability to be able to provide services, as every affiliate is. We know that their time with their little ones is so brief, and they share those precious moments with us, allowing us to return the gift with images they can keep forever.
Almost 14 years ago on Thanksgiving our son died during delivery. He was stillborn. It was devastating. Unfortunately a local woman had also lost her twin only 2 months before. She was my saving grace, through our initial grief and our subsequent pregnancies. The internet was not the place it is today. Luckily I found Dr. Joanne Cacciatore and her organization MISS. It also inspired me to work with our state legislature to pass a bill so our children received a Certificate of Stillbirth.
I have also tried to talk to many people locally and try to reduce the stigma around infant death. I’ve been able to speak with many women with similar situations to mine. I’ve also had the chance to revamp the local hospital’s protocol for still births. It has helped me cope. My dream is to consult with organizations (eg. hospitals, funeral homes, clergy, support groups) to get the word out. Hopefully to make a taboo subject not so difficult to discuss. One day…
Our baby, Amy, was stillborn 32 years ago, and we still think of her every day. Sadly, at the time, no pictures of her were taken and we only saw her for a brief moment. We didn’t even get to hold her before she was taken away. I sometimes struggle to remember what she looked like, and that truly saddens me. Everyone kept telling us not to worry, that it just “wasn’t meant to be,” and that we would have another child. We now have two lovely daughters, but we will never forget our first.
My mom had me when she was 17 in 1973. In those days, they didn’t have private rooms for the mothers of stillborn babies like I think most hospitals today do. Her roommate had had a stillborn baby and my mother felt sad for her. The nurses would bring me in and my mother said she felt guilty because she had a “beautiful little girl” in her arms. She knew this poor woman had come into the hospital expecting to leave with her little girl, too—and instead was going home with nothing but her grief. My mother (who later became a nurse herself) let the woman hold me as a gesture of kindness and compassion, but a nurse came in and took me away from the woman and scolded my mom telling her she was not allowed to do that. I have always remembered this story and it has always broken my heart. I am happy to be able to offer what I do as a gift to the broken hearts of parents on the worst day of their lives.
Angela Kay Hackney, RN BSN
Our baby boy, Dominic, was diagnosed with Trisomy 18 a rare chromosomal abnormality, at 6 weeks. They said it was unlikely that he would live to full term. As we went month to month hearing Dominic’s heartbeat and feeling him move around, we thought he was getting bigger and stronger and hoped and prayed he’d be one of the very few that lived longer than the estimated week or less the doctors predicted. Then, at our last (9 months) prenatal visit, we heard no heartbeat. I went thru 48 hours of labor and had him September 20. He weighed 4lbs 7oz and was 12 inches long. We had the organization Now I Lay Me down to Sleep take professional pictures of Dominic and our family, and they truly are precious. We buried our little Angel and we know that he is perfectly healthy up in heaven with Jesus. We are still mourning Dominic, but we look at these pictures and it helps. Even typing this out is some form of dealing with this trauma.
Deb and Tom
My fourth daughter Alauna Christian Blakely was born sleeping in July 21, 2011. I carried her for 37 weeks and three days. She was in a breech position I was going to a routine ultrasound to see if she was still breech and if so the Dr was going to attempt to turn her. During the ultrasound I was informed no movement or heartbeat was detected and she had passed away. I was devastated. I had just felt her move a few hours (6hours) before my ultrasound. I was immediately admitted to the hospital and induction was started for me to go into labor. I labored for 12 hours. After her birth I was able to spend three days in the hospital with her. Precious time. During that time family was able to come visit her and hold her. I was able to bathe and dress her and have her baptized. Alauna was never able to open her eyes or breathe her first breath. She was born into heaven a beautiful angel and she has impacted our life so much. I cherish each day and don’t take it for granted. She has given me a new perspective on life and each day she is always on my mind.