The birth: grief and joy
The birth of your next baby will almost inevitably re-awaken your grief for your child who has died. It will be a time of sadness, grief, joy, pride, relief and probably anxiety.“I cried for the first 24 hours when my daughter was born. They didn't understand that I was actually saying goodbye to my dead son.”
“When my next son was born I cried and cried. I realised it was really saying goodbye to Jonathan with the arrival of a new son. At some level I must have still thought that he was coming back but the new baby was his own little person.”
“When Jonathon was born I insisted that he stay by my bedside continually. I got no sleep and my milk was late arriving. I felt that no-one in the world understood what I was going through.”
“It is difficult to be feeling two opposite emotions at once. Such joy at the new life, the new hope, the new chance, intermingled with such grief and pain at the lost life, lost hope, lost chance.”The hospital
Parents often find it helpful to visit the hospital and meet the midwifery staff before the birth. You could talk to them about your feelings before you go into hospital for the birth. On the ward, make sure that staff know about your story; a note on the top of your history may help. Ask for continuity of staff if possible, to avoid constantly having to tell your story to new staff. Don’t be reluctant to ask for whatever special arrangements will help.“I think that it is important to inform staff how you feel and maybe even request a single room if that is what you feel you need. I did this because I was unsure about how I would feel after the birth of our subsequent child. I know I wanted privacy and I didn't want to frighten other mothers if I was a crying mess.”
“I think it helped that I wrote my story for the midwives to read – it seemed to really help the staff.”
Some parents will find it difficult to trust anyone else to care for their baby in hospital, whereas others will find it frightening to have the responsibility, particularly whilst their baby is asleep. Both reactions are understandable and based on a very normal fear. Hospital staff need to know why you are feeling this way. Do talk to them.“Being in labour in hospital the staff were telling me to push and I said ‘No, I've changed my mind. I'm not having the baby today. She is safer inside’...I was in labour for 30 hours!! Lucy was born beautiful and well...Finally!!”
“I felt very anxious in the fortnight prior to the birth. I had a deep fear that the baby might not survive the birth and actually asked for a caesarean to end the worry.”The new baby
Your new baby will bring joy but maybe also sorrow, as you remember the older brother or sister whom he or she will never know.
You may initially find it more difficult to feel a special bond with this baby. Many parents worry about allowing themselves to get close to or love their new baby too much, for fear of being hurt again. Usually this passes fairly quickly, as you get to know your new child. Sometimes people find that after their new baby has passed the age at which their other baby died, they seem to feel more relaxed and are more able to enjoy this new baby. However, this may not be a comfort for people whose children were older when they died.
You may also feel scared. This is normal. Even people who have never experienced the death of a child will feel frightened by the responsibility of a new baby, so it is to be expected that you will feel afraid at times!“I initially held back from loving too much to protect myself ... for fear of being hurt again or of losing her.”
“Initially, my husband would check our sleeping baby constantly but I would never go and check particularly if she overslept. I always felt that if she was dead I wanted to postpone the agony of finding out. It is something I still cannot do.”
“I was surprised and unprepared to find that I grieved for Jacob all over again following Luke’s birth – Jacob should have reached the milestones Luke was reaching, Jacob would have been as adorable as Luke. Jacob should have grown and flourished as Luke was.”
“Once the baby started to move inside me, I started to panic. I was frightened. I quickly convinced myself that I had never really wanted another baby. I felt that I would be unable to hold it, love it, breastfeed it or care for it in any way. However, I couldn’t stop myself from loving him, holding him and caring for him in every way.”
“Because Zoe died when she was 20 months old, we didn’t sleep properly until Lily was well over 2 years.”
“I also remember feeling so angry at times. It was bad enough that Jenny had died, but living with the fear that it could happen again seemed to be so unfair. The fear did seem to increase as the 10 week mark approached [the age that Jenny died]. The night that Allison was the same age as Jenny had been, was one of the hardest.”“How many children do you have?”
It is probably a good idea to plan how you will answer questions from strangers who do not know about your child who has died, questions such as “Is this your first child?” You may feel more in control if you decide beforehand what you will tell strangers.“Personally I feel I need to acknowledge Julia (our baby who died) even more so after the birth of Matthias.”
“I choose who I tell. Sometimes I say I have four children, and sometimes I say I have had five. I am only interested in talking to people that I feel comfortable with, about my child who has died.”Comparisons
It is normal to look for similarities and differences throughout the pregnancy and when the new baby arrives. If your child had not died you would certainly have compared a new brother or sister to them. You will still do this and when others compare them too, it will reassure you that your child is not forgotten.“I was pleased at how much Kaitlyn looked like Daniel. Not identical, but she looked like his sister.”
“No-one in the family, not even my husband, could see a resemblance between my lost Geoffrey and my new Jonathon. No-one wanted to acknowledge that Geoffrey had ever existed. But I knew that Geoffrey was very special and he would always live in my heart.”
“I never realised how soft a baby’s skin is and how wonderful that baby smell is until after Jenny died. Allison and Christopher brought back those smells and touches.”Choosing a name
You will be conscious that this next child has his/her own distinct identity. Occasionally parents make a link with the child who has died by including that child’s name as a middle name. There is no rule about this.Your child’s belongings
Some parents decide to keep in a special place a selection of the clothes and toys that belonged to their child who has died. The remaining items then might be used again for the next child, or given away. There are no right or wrong choices about this – do whatever feels right.“We had decided that we wanted as many things different from when we had Mitchell as possible. For example Jacob slept in the same room as us. Mitchell slept in his own room.Mitchell had slept in a bassinette. Jacob slept in a cradle. Jacob and Mitchell were born in opposite seasons so I didn’t have to face the issue of Jacob wearing Mitchell’s clothes. I did however use the same nappies, singlets etc.”
“I had made a couple of quilts for Daniel and was happy to use these for the other babies. Likewise, with many of his toys. But a couple are kept out of reach and remain Daniel’s.”
“As Megan died at the age of 4 months, a lot of her clothes were never worn. However she did have some special dresses...we decided that Sarah would not wear these.”
“We decided not to use any of Joshua’s belongings for Trent, as Trent was a new person and had to have his own clothes, bed, etc.”
“Our new daughter wore some of Zoe’s clothes, just as she would have if Zoe had lived. It gave me a sense of continuity within the family.”Sleeping your new baby safely
If your child died of SIDS or from some hazard in his/her sleeping environment, you will be concerned to have up-to-date information about how to reduce the risks of SIDS and ensure that your child’s sleeping environment is as safe as possible. Research has provided good practical ways that you can reduce the risk of SIDS, but it is important to remember that risk factors are not causes; the causes of SIDS are still unknown. There is no way of knowing whether any of the risk factors play a part in any one child’s death.
Your local SIDS organisation has brochures which provide information about ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and to prevent sleeping accidents by focussing on safe cots, safe mattresses, safe bedding and a safe sleeping place.
Suggestions about providing a safe sleeping environment may raise anxieties and possibly even feelings of guilt over the death of your child, but you need to know that this information is new and may not have been available to you. Some deaths just cannot be prevented.“I felt very strongly that the only way I could enjoy my next child to any extent was by taking every precaution I possibly could.”
“I did my best with Kara with the knowledge I had.With my subsequent child I am aware of the risks even more so and I do my best with the knowledge I have.”Monitoring
Some parents find it reassuring to have an intercom between rooms monitoring noises in a child’s room. These intercoms are for reassurance and allow parents to be responsive to children who are in another room. They are not used for monitoring breathing or sleeping position.
Parents who have had a child die suddenly and unexpectedly may make enquiries about the use of monitors to detect the possibility of a cessation of breathing. An apnoea monitor is a piece of medical equipment, which detects changes in a baby’s breathing pattern. Apnoea is a medical term which means that breathing has stopped. It is known that short periods of apnoea are normal in infants.
There is no evidence that using an apnoea monitor prevents SIDS, or that there is any scientific benefit from the monitors. Some parents may feel more relaxed and reassured using a monitor for a subsequent child, but others may find that using a monitor increases their anxiety, especially if “false alarms” are often experienced.
More detailed information on monitors can be obtained from your local SIDS organisation. It is important if you do decide to monitor that you contact a recognised hospital-based Home Apnoea Monitoring Program so that you have technical support and learn how to perform infant resuscitation in case you should need it. Your local SIDS organisation can advise about this and can arrange for you to speak with other parents if you wish.“We knew a monitor was not a lifesaving device.We wanted to focus on ‘the positive’ and for our new baby to be part of our family in as normal a way as possible.We were afraid the technological intrusion of a monitor would inhibit the adjustment process for all of us.”
“Living with a monitor can be challenging. Looking back, I realise how silly some of the things I did may have seemed to someone else. Like having a shower with the door propped open and the control box up on the bed, so I could see the little green light. I knew from experience that I would hear the alarm even with the door closed, but it was ‘just in case’.”
“We decided before I had even conceived that we would have a monitor... It would give us more of a feeling of control and that if he did die we had done everything we possibly could.”
“I wouldn’t walk into the room if I couldn’t see that light flashing…I couldn’t put her (next child) in a cot without a monitor, because Ben died in a cot.”
“We decided against a monitor...we became our own monitors though. Kaitlyn went everywhere with me during the day. She was wheeled from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to laundry to lounge – awake or asleep. She wasn’t left with anyone else until well over 12 months and slept in our room until she was nearly two.”
“We monitored James, Andrew’s surviving twin. Tthe monitor instantly became a family friend. Patrick, our subsequent baby was also monitored – even in hospital – again with a feeling of real relief.Monitoring was a really important issue for our older children who were young teenagers. It lessened their anxiety enormously.”What people say
The death of your child has also affected friends and relatives. They may feel worried about you and the new baby. Sometimes they will not know what to say or do and sometimes their comments may hurt. But do try to keep your friendships going – don’t let barriers arise between you. You are the ‘experts’ about your own family, so you are the ones to make the decision about whether and when to have another child.
Occasionally, if friends and relatives have no knowledge about grief and loss, they may assume that your grief will disappear and you will be fine again when a subsequent child is born. They may need a gentle reminder that you are not replacing your child who has died and that your love for that child, and your grief, will always be a part of your life.“We always wanted a large family, but we didn’t know what other people would say if we had another child. We worried too much about what other people would think. Other people don’t understand what we are going through.”
“Our parents especially were not overjoyed at the news that we were pregnant again. They were scared for us because they had no control over what may happen again. However, in hindsight I can understand their concerns. They do not regret our decision now as they have a beautiful healthy grandson that they adore and cherish.”
“Some people, who were really close to us, said we were not ready to have another baby. I realised that they actually meant that they were not ready to take that risk of loving another one of our children...but now they share in the joy the children have brought.”Final thoughts
You may find it helpful as well as reading this post to talk to other parents and/or to a counsellor. Whatever decisions you make, it does not mean you have stopped grieving for your child who has died. Your child will never be replaced, but you will learn to build your life around your loss. A future with new hopes and dreams is possible.“Time does heal even if you don’t have another child.”
“When Jemma was born I laughed from my heart again for the first time since Justin died… I found out what healing means when [she] was put on my tummy after she was born.”
“What we needed the most was counselling and support for us with other parents in the same situation. A new baby/pregnancy for grieving parents is not filled with joy and happiness that so many other parents feel…Having other parents around who are either in the same situation or have been through it before gives you some hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It has been a long hard road at times but for every day we miss our beautiful boy we are faced with another equally adorable child who brings us endless joy. She has helped repair some of the damage of a devastating loss. To be blessed with her has been worth every minute.”
The documentary ‘Regarding Raphael’ screened on ABC TV’s Australian Story in 2002, is Vanessa Gorman’s story of the birth of Raphael who was born two years after the death of Layla, her daughter who died soon after birth. Layla’s father,Michael Shaw comments:“Probably what people really want to hear is, ‘She was sad, she had the baby and now she’s better’, and it’s not how things are. It’s just not how things are, you know. One child doesn’t replace another one.”
Vanessa reflects:“I want the opportunity sometimes still sort of to say ‘I really miss her, you know. I just really miss her.’ And it’s so simple and basic. But I still miss her every day, and I still think about her every day… It can never really be a happy ending when you’ve lost your child because that loss is always there, but it’s a happier reality I guess…Raffie - I feel like he’s given me a future. I feel like he’s given me back optimism in the world and optimism about life. I’m so looking forward to seeing him grow up and seeing all his little milestones and his big milestones…And so he’s given me back optimism and joy. Huge gifts.”