“Saying Goodbye before Hello: The Death of a Baby in Utero”

How do we grieve the loss of a child before we were ever able to see them, touch them, and kiss them?  The death of a child in utero can be a uniquely challenging grief experience in that the parent does not have a physical connection with the child except of course this baby has been […]

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How do we grieve the loss of a child before we were ever able to see them, touch them, and kiss them?  The death of a child in utero can be a uniquely challenging grief experience in that the parent does not have a physical connection with the child except of course this baby has been inside the mother.  This type of loss seems so incomprehensible to many that it is not commonly discussed and these losses are not openly grieved in our culture.  As a therapist it is my belief that the bravery of Christy Tiegen and John Legend will do a lot to remove the stigma of sharing and grieving openly for a miscarriage or loss of baby just before or after delivery.

            For the parents, their dream has disintegrated into despair.  The shock can be overwhelming and the grief seems unbearable.  I believe the grief process must be an active and engaged experience particularly in this situation.  I encourage couples, where possible, to follow the death rituals of their religious beliefs.  This can be an intangible experience that needs to be made tangible.  Having a memorial service or funeral can be very healing.  I have counseled families who have buried their child at a traditional funeral home and some who prefer cremation followed by a ritual at their home or in another special place.

            Many friends and family do not know what to say or do when this happens to someone they know.  I encourage them to acknowledge the death of the child for the family in a concrete way.  A card, flowers or a donation to a children’s charity is a wonderful and meaningful way to contribute to the healing of the family.  

            The myth that the couple will forget this experience by having another child is completely incorrect.  The loss of a child, the loss of the dream will forever be a part of the family’s story.  We need to weave this loss, this family member into our lives and into our family story.  We must in an active and meaningful way say goodbye to our child even if we never were able to kiss them hello.

Healing Tips for Family and Friends

Ask if they had a name for their baby? 

Ask if there will there be a service? 

Acknowledge in a tangible way the loss – send a card, flowers or a donation to a charity or organization that is meaningful. Also, use the child that passed away name on the memorial or in the card. These small concrete acts are healing for the parents who are grieving.

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