What do I do with my baby after he or she is born?
If you give birth at home and retrieved the body, try to keep the baby in a saline solution or water until the burial. You will need to keep the container in the refrigerator, although this is not recommended for more than several days. (I don’t know what the maximum time is, but just be aware.) The reason for this is that the baby has been in his own waters since conception and looks “natural” there. When Innocent was in water I could see his infinitesimal toes. Out of the water I couldn’t. Because his skeleton is not very hard, his body, especially his head, will “flatten out” over time unless he is supported by fluid. This is not practical with babies over a certain size, but by then this is not so much a problem. Do be aware that even 20 week babies’ heads are very malleable and expect to see this phenomenon. If you can’t keep the baby in fluid, you still need to keep him in either the refrigerator, or, if you anticipate burial will be delayed for a while, in the freezer. I recommend not keeping the baby in fluid if you will be using the freezer.
[UPDATED INFO: After Andrew was born we had him out for a few hours. By the end of that time he was starting to shrivel from loss of moisture. We put him in a container of saline, and because we weren’t able to go home yet and put him in the refrigerator, we put that container in a larger one full of ice. He rehydrated and even though there were other times before his burial when we had him out for a while, he always rehydrated after a night in the saline in the refrigerator.]
If you give birth at a hospital, make sure you tell the staff (ahead of time if possible) that you want to take the baby home. Sadly, most hospitals treat younger gestation babies as medical waste and will dispose of them accordingly unless you request otherwise. Older gestation babies (the age will vary, but around 18-20 weeks) are usually kept in the hospital morgue and are easy to request for burial. Even if you requested genetic testing, you should still be able to come back to the hospital to retrieve the baby. [I have since found that too many facilities will refuse to release the remains of your baby after a D&C, surgery or natural miscarriage, or will only release them to a funeral director. This is a major problem and one that is being worked on. Be very aggressive if confronted with this problem and speak to whomever needed.]
If you have a D&C, do tell them ahead of time that you will be wanting to take the baby home. It is required that any tissue the doctor removes during a D&C be sent to pathology so that everything can be identified. This is to avoid a situation in which something (like the placenta) is left behind, although this is not very likely. You will still be able to go to the hospital lab in a day or so (varies with hospital) to pick up your baby. He will most likely be in a specimen cup. I do not recommend trying to open the cup and go through it. You will not have an intact body and it can be very disturbing. You can still bury the cup in a casket and/or wrapped in some fabric. [Again, see above regarding hospital disposition.]
If you have surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy, you can also request the body. As with the D&C, everything will be sent to pathology, but you should still be able to come and pick up the baby, just request this ahead of time (although even if you don’t request beforehand, you should still be able to retrieve the baby as long as you request this soon afterward). [Again, see above regarding hospital disposition. If you have requested your baby’s remains and been refused, please email me at anna crawford @ cableone dot net (no spaces).]
I want to take pictures of my baby, but what if he is disfigured?
The worry that the baby will be disfigured and somehow “frightening” or “horrifying” is a common one. It’s true that sometimes babies will exhibit a physical abnormality. Most will not. If the baby departed quite a while before being born, he may show signs of this including fluid collections under the skin, lightly peeling skin or softening.
Take pictures that include the entire body even if there are disfigurations. Later you may want to be able to see the entire baby just to remind yourself of what he looked like. Memories fade and change over time and this way you will be able to see him as he was.
Take pictures that focus on details like hands, feet, ears, legs crossed, whatever. Wrap the baby in a bit of cloth and take pictures of that. Take pictures of the hands on top of the blanket. Place your wedding ring around his ankle. No one will be judging these photographs later so take whatever photos you like.
Take pictures under different lighting: daylight, lamplight, dim, bright, whatever. I suggest not using the flash especially if you are photographing a very young baby. Their skin is very smooth and will be wet and reflects the light in a very distracting way. Instead of using a flash, adjust the ambient lighting.
Later you can change some of the photos to black and white. This is a good way to disguise the non-pinkness of the skin. You can also fuzz the edges of the photo to really focus on a detail. Drawings can be made from these photographs and artists who do this are skilled at glossing over minor defects.
Beautiful photographs can be taken of any baby. Even if your baby is very tiny and has deformities (see Bethany’s baby Blessing on the photographs page under 8 weeks) you can photograph them. If this is something you feel that you really aren’t up to, ask someone else to do it for you. If you are delivering a baby over 25 weeks, a Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photographer will come to the hospital to photograph the baby free of charge.
Advice: Take more photographs than you think you ‘need’. These are the only photographs you will have. I treasure even the very blurred photographs of Innocent because I don’t have many of him. My only regret is that I didn’t take more.
How do I bury my baby?
You can purchase a casket, although you will most likely have to do this on-line as funeral homes do not usually have anything smaller than a newborn-sized casket which would overwhelm an 8 week baby. A site I found is Heaven’s Gain, a home-based business that offers caskets in sizes divided by trimesters. They also offer clear bottles to fill with water and use along with the caskets for younger gestation babies (see reason above).
You can use any special container that you would like, although you should try to make it respectful. Craft stores and hobby shops usually sell small unfinished wooden boxes that work well for caskets. Embellishing them can be a very simple process involving folding a piece of cloth into the bottom. Putting an icon in with the baby or affixing it to the inside of the lid is nice as is putting a cross somewhere on the outside.
Depending on the gestational age of the baby, you can swaddle him in a small fabric square, enfold him in it completely or (if old enough), put on a simple shroud. (source for patterns)
Where do I bury my baby?
It is recommended that you not bury the baby on your property. If you should move, this may be a problem. Many church cemeteries have special areas set aside for babies. If not, you can inquire about a small space there. Public cemeteries, if they do not have a special area set aside, have allowed parents to bury a baby at the foot of another family grave or another such compromise. Some cities have cemeteries just for babies. Ask questions. You should not have to purchase an entire plot. Our own baby is buried in a family cemetery in the country. Friends or church members may be able to make this available for you. Check with the local department of health about local regulations regarding burial on private property.
A word of advice…
I suggest you think of your baby’s grave as just that: his grave. If you think of it as him, then you are setting yourself up for unnecessary heartache. We believe that the baby’s soul is in Heaven. It is important to care for his mortal remains with respect, but the mortal remains do not represent him. By all means, put a cross on the grave. Plant flowers. Bring flowers. Trim the grass. But I suggest not propping up teddy bears, pinwheels or other toys at the grave. It gives the impression (even if you tell yourself otherwise) that this is his substitute nursery. If you ever have to relocate and move to a distant location, you will begin to feel guilty that you are not “visiting” him. Different people will handle this in different ways, but this is something to consider.
What do I do if I don’t have a body to bury?
What do I say when people ask how many children I have?
This is a tough one. I’ve only been asked this twice myself since Innocent died (although I know that number will increase) and I answered differently each time. Once I said that I had five living children and my youngest had died before birth. The other time I said, yes, I have five children.
Most of the time you would think this would be such an easy question. How many? One. Or Four. Or whatever. But when you can’t actually see the child(ren) in question…what do you say? If this is your long-lost cousin Sam, then you might feel comfortable saying, “I have two angels waiting for me in Heaven”. But if it’s someone at the grocery store who stopped to admire your son’s big, blue eyes and then says, “Is he your only child?”, then what do you do? Say, “Yes,” because you don’t feel like going into the whole thing with someone who will be moving on to squeeze cantaloupe in thirty seconds, but feel like you denied the existence of your other child? Say, “No, but his older sister was born too soon at fifteen weeks so she’s in Heaven now,” and risk getting into a discussion you really didn’t want to get into? Is it worth it?
The answer is one only you can answer. As I mentioned above, I’ve answered differently depending on the situation. With people I’ll probably never see again, I will probably generally just admit to five. With someone I will be seeing now on a regular basis, I’ll probably tell the whole truth. But you never know; the day you just decide to bite the bullet and number your departed children with your living children may be the day that the person you’re talking to really needs a listening ear for the same situation and would never have brought it up. I think you just go with what is most comfortable at the time. As time goes on, you may feel more comfortable with one answer or another.
I think the people who have the hardest time with this are the ones who have no living children. You and your spouse are at a couples dinner at church and after you mention to someone that you’ve been married six years they say, “Do you have any children?” Some of the same stuff mentioned above applies here, but it will probably sting much more. Kind of the way you would feel on Mother’s Day if you have children in Heaven but none on earth. Are you a mother? I will go ahead and say unequivocally, “YES, you are a mother.” What you decide to answer to a perfect stranger, however, is entirely up to you. Just don’t feel bad for whatever you decide to say.
What about my other children?