After stillbirth and neonatal death: how you might feel
The death of a baby is very painful and sad.
There’s no right way to feel or grieve after the death of a baby. Everyone grieves in their own way and time.
You can’t rush your grief and healing. It’s normal to feel up and down for some time. You might also find that grief and sadness come up at specific times of the year – for example, the anniversary of your baby’s death, due date or birth date. And sometimes grief can come when you’re not expecting it.
Grief can also come up if you or your partner become pregnant again.
Grieving the death of your baby can affect you in many ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. You might need to take some time off work. It’s OK to ask your workplace about personal or bereavement leave.
Partners: experiences of grief after the death of a baby
You and your partner might experience or express grief differently. This is common.
For example, some people might find it hard to say how they feel but might exercise or work more as a way of letting out their grief. Some people might want to talk about their loss and their feelings of grief, whereas others might not like talking about it at all.
Also, the partners of birthing mothers who’ve experienced stillbirth or neonatal death might think other people see their experience as less important. For example, medical professionals and other people might focus only on the birthing mother’s needs. It’s common for partners to feel like their feelings don’t matter in this situation. But their feelings do matter.
If you and your partner can share your feelings and talk openly after the death of your baby, it can help you both through this difficult time.
Sharing your grief about stillbirth or neonatal death with others
It can be very upsetting to tell family and friends about your baby’s death.
Although people will want to comfort and support you, they might not understand your experience. And sometimes people might try to comfort you by saying things that minimise your loss. For example, ‘You can try for another baby’ or ‘At least you have your other children’. It might all sound like empty words to you.
But many people find that it does help to talk to others. You could let close friends and family know what your baby meant to you, what support you need, and how much you want to share your experience. If you don’t feel like talking about your baby’s death, you could consider sharing it in writing.
Acknowledging your baby’s death
Many parents find that doing something formal to acknowledge the loss of a baby helps their healing. For example:
- Donate to a charity: you could buy or make something to give to a worthy organisation on behalf of your baby.
- Name your baby: naming your baby acknowledges that your baby is real, loved and missed.
- Collect mementos: you could have a special box for things like ultrasound photos, photos of your baby, a hospital tag, hand or foot prints, a lock of hair, sympathy cards, pressed flowers and maybe toys or clothes that were ready for your baby.
- Choose a keepsake: this could be something like an ornament or jewellery.
- Create something: this could be a drawing, quilt, scrapbook or piece of music.
- Say goodbye: you could do this by writing a poem or letter to your baby.
- Bury your baby: it’s possible to have a burial, either at home or in a cemetery.
Memorials can also help you acknowledge your baby’s death. For example:
- Attend a communal memorial or remembrance service: these are offered by many hospitals and organisations like Red Nose and the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement.
- Have a private memorial service at home with family and friends.
- Make a memorial place. For example, you could plant a tree or go to a place that you love when you want to spend time thinking about your baby.
Looking after yourself after your baby’s death
Looking after yourself physically can help you stay mentally and emotionally well:
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs, and any risky or addictive behaviour that makes you feel numb. If you push away your feelings of grief, it’ll probably take you longer to grieve and heal.
- Try joining a gym, swimming at your local pool, walking for a charity or having a massage. Self-nurturing and physical activity with clear goals can help you to work through your emotions and get your body strong.
- Cultivate and maintain a vegetable plot or a garden. This kind of activity can be soothing.
- Keep a journal to record your thoughts, feelings and memories. This can be a good way to express and explore all your different feelings about the stillbirth or neonatal death. It also shows you how your thoughts and feelings change over time.
Getting support from family, friends and professionals is one of the best ways to look after yourself:
- Make sure you have sensitive and understanding people around you, especially around anniversaries that mark your baby’s birth date, death date or any other significant dates. These days can trigger grief and also fear about future pregnancies.
- Talk about your experience with a friend or relative who has also lost a baby. This can help you feel understood and validate your feelings.
- Search online for a local or online bereavement support group. This is a good way to meet others who might have similar experiences.
- Speak with a mental health professional like a counsellor or psychologist. Try to find someone with experience supporting people who’ve experienced a stillbirth or neonatal death. This can help you come to terms with your experience.
- Contact bereavement support helplines like Red Nose Grief and Loss on 1300 308 307 or Bears of Hope on 1300 114 673.
In time, you might consider volunteering to support other parents who’ve experienced the loss of a baby. For some people, supporting others with grief can help ease their own grief.
Trying for another pregnancy
Some couples are keen to try to get pregnant again after a stillbirth or neonatal death. Some might also feel pressured by family or friends to try for another baby as a way of ‘moving on’.
But getting pregnant again before you and your partner are physically or emotionally ready might not help your grief much at all. This is because the grieving period can take time and a lot of emotional energy.
You might also feel a mix of different emotions, like excitement about another pregnancy or fear of another stillbirth or neonatal death. It’s natural and OK to grieve the loss of your baby while also feeling excited and happy about another pregnancy.
You might prefer to wait until you feel physically and emotionally ready before trying for another pregnancy. You can discuss when this might be with your partner, doctor, midwife, friends or a support worker.
It’s also best to talk with your doctor about when it’s OK to try again.