NICU Parenting   
The Emotional Journey

Coping After Your Baby Dies  

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There are many activities and resources that can help you cope, move through your grief, and ultimately find peace and healing.

  • Set aside time for yourself and your grief. Let your feelings flow. You may discover that whenever you release a flood of feelings, you will be brought into a meditative, peaceful calm.
  • Let yourself fall apart. Falling apart is scary but each time you crumble you can pick up the pieces and put them together in a new way. Most parents can look back and see that each new way is a better way, and that this cumulative transformation is healing.
  • Respect your own needs. As you grieve, be gentle with yourself. Remember that you deserve to get what you need. Determine what you can do to feel better and move forward.
  • Try alternative therapies. To release or ease painful emotions, try acupuncture, aromatherapy, art therapy, therapeutic massage, and other forms of body work such as Reiki, Rolfing, myofascial release, and movement therapy.
  • Attend to your physical health. Adequate rest, nutrition, and moving your body are keys to boosting energy and positive brain chemistry. Try nutritious juices and shakes when your appetite is off or you aren’t motivated to prepare food. Moving your body can improve your outlook and help you sleep better.
  • Structure your day. This can help you feel more oriented and productive. Mel reports, “The first thing I did was to make a time table. I literally programmed my day-- times to eat, what to eat, times to drink water, time to dress, time to wash, time to go for a walk, time to read. This helped to add structure to the long days and nights. I literally ticked off what I had done each day.”
  • Abide with nature. A vast body of research confirms that direct contact with nature increases mental health and psychological and spiritual development. Relevant to grieving, benefits to you can include stress reduction, improved self-confidence, and a sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging. You can find solace in gardening, walking, hiking, bird watching, or any other activity that gets you outdoors. Even sitting in a sunny window with a view of greenery—or the company of indoor plants—can be soothing.
  • When you feel the urge, do what makes you feel close to your baby. Wear a special piece of jewelry, caress keepsakes from your baby’s brief life, write a letter to your baby, decorate your baby’s grave, and look at photographs. Smell and sleep with your baby’s blanket, cuddle a stuffed animal or baby doll, cradle pillows in your empty arms, lie down on your baby’s grave, or talk to your baby’s ashes.
  • Wrap yourself in memories of your baby. Memories are an important resource that helps you process your experiences, move through your grief, and fold your baby into your life story.
  • Talk about your baby. Telling your story to various friends, relatives—anyone who will supportively listen—can be therapeutic, helping you garner support, process what you’ve been through, gather insights, and boost self-awareness.
  • Write about your baby. Keep a journal of your memories, your experiences, your ideas, and your feelings. Even if you don’t consider yourself “a writer”, unloading your thoughts and feelings onto paper can relieve you of the burden of holding them inside. In the process, you’re also creating a special keepsake.
  • Write a letter to your baby. This direct communication is another way to process that emotional time, express any regrets, seek forgiveness, let yourself off the hook, or demonstrate your love. Then if you wish, imagine or write your baby’s reply.
  • Attend a support group. There is therapeutic value in meeting and talking with other parents who truly understand what you’re going through.
  • See a counselor or therapist. This extra support can fill in the gaps. He or she can acknowledge and validate your feelings and assist you in seeking coping strategies and effective ways of relating to others.
  • Accept the support of others, however clumsy it may be. Tell people what you need. If they are true friends, they’ll be glad to know.
  • Write letters to whomever you wish to vent—the rude neighbor, the kindly stranger, your doctor, the hospital, God, Mother Nature, fate. Don’t send them; this writing is for you.
  • Seek information. Find books, articles, and websites about coping with grief, medical or spiritual issues, or whatever you’re looking to understand or master.
  • Read blogs and other personal accounts of infant death, grief, and bereavement. Seeing how others have prevailed can inspire your own resilience.
  • Be open to advice that seems helpful and pass on whatever isn’t.
  • Engage in creative, musical, or athletic endeavors. These encourage the expression of emotions or release of tension, as well as make you feel like you can accomplish something constructive.
  • Practice meditation and deep breathing. Doing so quiets the mind and reduces distress, giving you respite from the chaos of grief and bereavement. It can also help you find calming perspectives.
  • Practice mindfulness and reframing to halt downward spirals. When you are experiencing especially painful emotions, first, mindfully observe and embrace your distress as a natural part of grief. Let your physiology calm. Then check for distorted beliefs that induce unnecessary suffering, such as, “I should have done something to prevent my baby’s death.” Counter such sufferings with a dose of reality, such as, “My baby’s death was beyond my control.”
  • Lean on the parts of your spiritual beliefs or religious faith that comfort you.
  • Ask for guidance or reassurance from other parents who’ve been there.
  • Find respite in those activities, people, and moments you can enjoy.
  • Try to recognize anything positive—discovered strengths, new growth, enlightened perspectives, meaningful pursuits, better relationships. Although it can be a struggle to find treasure in adversity, doing so can help you heal and honor your child’s memory. In time, you will feel ready to do this.
  • Make a conscious decision to survive. After a while, you can decide whether to remember your baby and move forward with what you’ve gained, or remain stuck with what you’ve lost. Many parents mention that eventually they reach a point where they just decide to stop wishing it didn’t happen and start learning to live with it. When you are ready, you can do that too.
  • Remember that your grief is normal and you are not alone.
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