Making Memories

“Why Make Memories?”
By Lori Martini

“Why am I offering my patients the options to make memories with their baby who has died?”

What should I say when a bereaved parent asks me; “WHY are you suggesting that I spend time with, make memories and take mementoes of my baby who has died?” Or when the parents just aren’t saying anything at all.

Yes, what does a medical staff member say to a newly bereaved parent when they want to know “why” they are being asked to consider “making memories” with their baby(ies) who have just died?

Logically, if medical and nursing staff don’t truly understand the reasons “why” and also the healing benefits behind spending time with their deceased baby(ies), then how could they possibly be expected to ever convey “effectively” the reasons to a newly bereaved parent, that is more than likely in shock and not thinking clearly.

If any medical or nursing staff member that is taking care of a newly bereaved family has never personally experienced having their baby die, then it can be “very” difficult to truly understand the “whys.” Especially in the actual moment of the loss when the mood is quite intense and could feel very disturbing and uncomfortable to all involved.

Below you will find just a brief sampling of what some of the reasons could be, which hopefully will allow for a little more understanding.

Naming Baby:
This is a family member who has died (not a medical non-event.) Naming a baby honors their life. However short it may have been.

Hold, Touch, Smell, Caress & Kiss:
Holding their baby can be very healing. It creates a forever memory of time spent with their child. It’s their “one and only” chance to do what any parent would normally do with a baby who had lived. And it’s a time to bond with and get to know their baby’s body too. Really see what features on their baby resembles the Mom, Dad and Grandparents etc…

-Healing From The Start- 

Talk, Sing & Read To:
It’s a special ‘memory making’ time to express feelings to their baby. Parents can tell their baby that they are loved & always will be, sing to them, read to them (books, poems, things from the Bible.) Parents can tell their baby what they had wished for, their pain, their hopes, etc…

Bathe and Dress:
This is a time to parent their child and create a memory. If they had picked out a special outfit for their child prior to knowing that their baby had died, then they can still dress the baby in this outfit or have a relative go get a handpicked, special outfit for their baby to wear (making decisions and choosing options for their baby, is still a form of parenting their child even though the child is not living.)

Rocking baby:
Rocking their baby is a very soothing movement and loving thing to do. It creates another parenting memory for them to look back on lovingly when the pain is not so intense in the future.

Have music playing while making memories:
Many families have reported that when they spent time with their baby who died, the room was overwhelmingly quite, which added to it feeling somehow disturbing and wrong to spend time with their baby. Gentle music playing in the room, while a family is spending precious moments with their baby, has been reported to add to the quality and peacefulness of spending time with their baby.

Call in a “Peer Support Parent:”
A recent study has shown that the majority of newly bereaved parents said that they wish that in the moment of their loss at the hospital that they were offered to have a past bereaved parent (who has integrated their grief into their lives) to come to help support them. During their time at the hospital and once at home. And with Waiver Forms for the newly bereaved parents to sign, hospitals can now open their doors to this option without fear of liabilities. A “Peer Support Parent” is not there to make decisions for the parents. They are there to provide a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, to help guide the parents in making memories with their baby, offer bereavement resources and to inspire hope (for they are an immediate example that one can survive and thrive after such a horrific loss.) Having a Peer Support Parent at the hospital can also help support medical staff in this very difficult, but rewarding, part of their job (providing grief care.)

 -Healing From The Start-

Why Call in a Professional Counselor:
A counselor that “specializes” in perinatal bereavement issues can provide very helpful professional support. It is highly recommended to find a counselor with the specific experience of having supported many bereaved parents after the loss of a baby. A counselor who does not have this background might not be able to provide as sensitive emotional care.

Call in a Clergy person:
A clergy person may perform religious ceremonies/rituals and services that can provide great comfort to families. Even if someone is not religious, having a clergy person do a non-religious service can validate even further the reality that this was a precious life that has ended. No matter how small the person, it still is a person who died and needs to be honored.

Take Pictures and Videos of their baby:
Memories fade over time and by having pictures (and perhaps even a video) of their baby this can provide a very comforting visual reminder for the parents to keep forever. Enabling them to keep their baby’s precious memory alive and also allows the parents to remember the true, specific details of their baby’s features (Mom’s hair color? Dad’s fingers? Grandmom’s nose…etc.)

Why put special items next to the baby(ies) in their picture:
By adding the parent’s wedding rings, a cherished cross or a special toy that was intended for their baby, etc. it can add special meaning to the picture. Which can personalize the picture and allow for added healing by providing the parents the opportunity to see and hold the same object that was next to their baby in the picture once their baby is gone.

Take pictures with multiple babies together (especially when some have died):
It can warm a parent’s heart to be able to see the siblings that were bonded in the womb, to be forever portrayed in a picture together. And when the sibling gets older it can allow the sibling to see what their sister or brother looked like.

What’s the urgency in getting a professional photographer to take pictures right away?
The harsh reality is that when a baby is stillborn or has died shortly after birth the baby’s skin coloring can change very rapidly. To have better quality pictures for the parents it must be a priority to get pictures done as soon as possible.

-Healing From The Start-

Limit sedative use:
Sedatives can interfere with decision making and cloud a bereaved person’s judgment. If altered by drugs, the bereaved parent might make decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t have made. They may not be able to fully remember the beautiful details of their time spent with their child. And might have major regrets later on because of this. Sedatives can also stall the grief process.

Recommend their other children spend time with their deceased sibling:
Never force a child to be a part of spending time with their deceased sibling, but offering this option is highly recommended for many reasons. It will allow the sibling to feel included in the family, help with their own grieving and make the loss real for them. As well as, allow for them to truly understand that it was not their fault in any way (younger children sometimes come to this conclusion falsely.)

Invite the parent’s family & friends to see their baby:
When newly bereaved parents are surrounded by family & friends, this could help them to feel more supported in their loss. Also, by family & friends being allowed to actually see the parents baby this can make the loss more “real” for them. They will then be able to see with their own eyes that this is a family member that has died. Sometimes because the bereaved parent’s friends & family have not actually seen the baby, it is very easy for them to view this as an unfortunate event and not like a family member who has died. When viewed as a “medical non-event”, friends and family can’t possibly fully support the bereaved family properly during the vital up and coming months of intense grieving.

Recommend a perinatal loss support group for them to go to after they have gone back home:
By attending a support group this can allow the parents to really know that they are far from alone in this type of a loss. They can learn what other bereaved parents are feeling, thinking and how they are coping. It can also allow them to get their feelings out in a safe and supportive environment. Provide them with resources. And offer great comfort by being surrounded by others who “truly” know some of what they are going through.

 -Healing From The Start-

Why read the “important parts” of a baby loss book, such as “Empty Arms” by Sherokee Ilse, to the parents?
If the bereaved parents could read “the important parts” of a baby loss book (or be read to by medical staff) the parents could learn immediately about what other bereaved families have done when their babies had died. It can add to the parent’s confidence level in proceeding to make memories with their baby. It can validate that what they are feeling is normal, that this should be treated as a person that died and not just some unfortunate event. And allow the families to see that making memories and taking mementoes of their baby is a normal and healing thing to do. It can also help them to immediately see they are not alone in their loss. As well as, provide resources for getting help and ideas on how to cope. Finally, it can help inform the parents of their options and rights in regards to their baby.

Have a ceremony/funeral/memorial service:
This gives the bereaved parents an opportunity to publically parent their baby. A chance to do something special & meaningful for their baby, to be surrounded and supported by family & friends, as well as creating a memory of honoring the very real life of their baby that has ended too soon.

Creating mementoes and keepsakes:
This helps the parents to keep the memory of their baby alive. Allowing them to feel forever connected to their baby once he or she is gone. For example, having a lock of their baby’s hair enables the parents to remember exactly what color hair their baby had, to have ink prints would remind the parents of the true size of their baby’s feet & hands. And by creating clay impressions of their baby’s hands & feet this would enable the parents to run their fingers over them, which has been reported by past bereaved parents to “almost” feel like they can still touch their baby.

Offer an autopsy and pathology exam:
Bereaved parents usually want to get an answer as to why this happened to their baby. Was it a developmental problem? Was there a disease or infection of some sort? And finding out the “why” could allow the parents to get a better idea of what the chances are of this happening to them again might be in a future pregnancy. 

-Healing From The Start-

Offer birth, stillbirth and death certificate:
This legally validates their baby’s existence. It is written proof to the entire world, as well as to themselves, that they are parents of their much loved baby that happens to of died. This written proof is just one more way of helping the family move forward in their grief journey.

Why stay on the maternity floor?
To receive compassionate care from nurses that are very familiar with the needs of a woman after birth, especially after the loss of a baby. Some mothers, who have just had a baby die, actually demand to stay on the maternity floor. Their feelings are that they are still mothers who just gave birth, just like the other women on the maternity floor. The only difference is that the other women get to keep their babies.

Move to a different floor?

Some bereaved mothers choose to move to a different floor, so that they can avoid seeing happy parents with their newborns. As well as to avoid hearing the sounds of babies crying.

Why take baby home: A) The families can make memories with their child in private and not feel rushed into saying goodbye in a hospital environment. B) They can show their baby around their house/rock their baby/cry in private. C) Talk to their baby about what they had wished for them. D) Have pictures taken with the baby in their own home with family members. E) They can have a memorial service with their baby present- this would allow parents to publically do something special for their child. F) And a memorial service would make the loss more real for friends and relatives (by allowing them to actually see the beloved baby.) If it’s seen as a ‘real’ loss of a family member (which it is) by relatives & friends they tend to be more supportive to the grieving family in the tender days to come.

Please note that there are many more reasons “WHY.” Do take the time to learn what they might be, so that you can make a profound impact on the quality care and beginning grieving process that you are implementing for your bereaved patients. Truly the more you understand the “why make memories, the better you will be at compassionately guiding the newly bereaved parents in their decision making process (these are decisions that the parents never thought in their wildest dreams that they would have to consider.) Fully explaining the “WHYS” to the parents could help minimize their regrets of what they chose to do (or not do) with their baby……and there is no going back in time. Thank you for all that you do to make a difference for your bereaved families and all that you give of yourself. So very admirable indeed!