You may also experience the profound effects of shock and trauma due to the sudden nature of the loss. All of these elements can feel completely overwhelming, and you may feel isolated and lost. Whatever your thoughts and feelings, grief is a deeply personal experience, and has no set time or process.
It can be a turbulent time, although there may be periods of calm. Intense emotions, which had seemed to fade, can return. There is confusion and it can be difficult to make decisions, or concentrate for any length of time. Even if you can sleep you may still feel exhausted.
Grieving people may fear they are going mad. Many parents say that their baby is always on their mind, that they experience aching arms, and hear the baby cry. Some people have a strong need to continue with routine childcare tasks.
Parents often go over and over in their minds everything they did or did not do which they worry could have caused the death. They sometimes blame themselves or each other, or feel angry with the doctor, health visitor or anyone who had seen the baby recently. These feelings of guilt and blame are normal, virtually universal, and will lessen with time.
Anger, almost always experienced, can be expressed in a number of ways which many parents have found helpful, such as crying and shouting in an outdoor open space, or exercise like walking/running/ jogging. Religious beliefs may be questioned, and further tragedy of some sort may be feared.
Occasionally thoughts of suicide may occur and you may want to contact The Lullaby Trust Helpline: 0808 802 6868 (open 10am-5pm on Monday to Friday and 6pm-10pm on weekends and public holidays) to talk through the way you feel, as well as staying in touch with your local healthcare professionals or other trusted supporters.
If you ever feel as if you are at a risk of harming yourself, please consider calling the Samaritans on Freephone 116 123
Most parents who experience the death of their baby describe the pain as the most intense they have ever experienced. You may wonder if you will be able to tolerate the pain, to survive it, and to be able to feel that life has meaning again.
You may feel as if you are functioning in a fog during the first few weeks after your baby’s death. Some parents describe their experience of the funeral as being an observer or not really being emotionally involved. These reactions are nature’s way of helping you deal with the very early days following the death of your baby.
One mum described how isolated she felt:
“After the funeral and people have gone back home, you have to get back to some kind of normality. But many nights can be spent in solitary grief, feeling that you cannot keep bothering people time and time again, just because you feel upset.”
A dad wrote to us describing how he felt after his son’s funeral:
“After the funeral, part of me felt that I couldn’t carry on. The other part of me was searching for normality – doing routine and mindless things to block out the pain, trying to avoid thinking about what had happened. I returned to work after a week, but I just couldn’t concentrate; I couldn’t see the point.
Birthdays, holidays and the anniversary of the death can trigger periods of intense pain and suffering. These are all normal reactions. You and your partner may experience your grief differently, and may have difficulty in sharing feelings. You may feel isolated, even though you are part of a couple. One of you may want to talk often about the baby while the other may not even want to hear the baby’s name spoken.
One mum told us:
“Chris didn’t want to talk, that was his way of dealing with it, whereas I wanted to talk about Jack all the time, to keep his name on people’s lips. I would lie awake at night and there he was, forgetting all his worries, asleep. Losing Jack put an enormous strain on our relationship, but in the end it bonded us together completely. It would take an atomic bomb to split us apart now.”
One dad said:
“We coped in different ways – she grieved, I didn’t. I began to feel overwhelmed by the burden of supporting my wife and children while at the same time trying to cope with my own feelings.”
Friends and relatives often treat parents differently after the death of a baby. Fathers are often asked “how is your wife?”, and people may forget to say “how are you?”
As another dad told us:
“My wife was being treated as having lost someone she loved. I was being treated as having lost someone I was responsible for. I felt like shouting ‘I loved him too, you know!’”
Fathers may feel it is their job to discourage looking back, and to encourage facing the future. Men often refuse help, or may not ask for support when it might be helpful.
Parents’ relationship with each other may suffer further as physical contact may feel a necessary solace for one of you, but is not wanted by the other. You may feel differently about making love, or the possibility of having another baby.
It is possible to misunderstand the reasons for each other’s responses (sometimes one partner feels that the other’s way of expressing their grief means they loved their baby less intensely) so try to be open and honest about your own needs and feelings, accepting that each person’s response is valid.
In time, couples who can respect each other’s differing ways may find that they can begin to talk, share and support each other more easily.
If you are on your own
If you are on your own, the sudden and unexpected death of a baby can be particularly difficult.
One mum told us:
“It is very hard to describe the loneliness which grief brings when you have no partner to share the loss of a beloved child. The burden becomes only yours. You seem to drive into a dark world of your own, shutting out everyone around you. All you want is a partner to comfort you in the sleepless nights, to hug you and dry away the tears, to share memories. It is so easy to fall apart when you’re on your own.”
If you are on your own, you may feel that you are not receiving the same sympathy that a couple would. Some people may have even suggested that your baby’s death was a blessing in disguise, because it would have been so hard to bring up a child alone.
As one mum put it:
“My parents regarded my baby as a big problem in our lives. When he died they said it was probably for the best. They felt that this was the solution.”
Many parents turn to their own parents in times of need, but some have no family to support them.
Our Befriender programme could be of some support to you, whereby you can be put in touch with a bereaved parent to talk about some of the thoughts and feelings you may be struggling with. Please phone us to talk to a Befriender directly.
Helpline: 0808 802 6868 Mon to Fri 10am – 5pm Sat & Sun 6pm – 10pm
You may find this helpful straight after your baby has died, or months or even years later. If you do not feel up to talking, you may find it helpful to keep a journal or write letters.
One mum told us:
“I wrote letters to Michael all the time. I still have those letters and although I don’t write them anymore, I do sometimes still read them.”
Even if you are not on your own you may find writing such letters to your baby helpful.
Life after your baby’s death
The death of a baby inevitably changes the dreams and hopes parents have for the future.
One dad said:
“I miss my son as much for the things we didn’t do together as for the things we did. What strikes me most of all these days is the fundamental way in which Patrick’s death has changed and continues to change us. He was only with us for five months, but I doubt if anyone else will make such a profound impression on our lives.”
People may suggest at some point that you should be over it. This is a meaningless concept for a bereaved parent, so try not to let others suggest when you should be moving on.
With support from friends and relatives and perhaps discussions with one of our Befrienders or bereavement support helpline advisers, you will make your own decisions about what helps you to cope and carry on. It is almost always a good idea to talk things over when you feel especially low, or perhaps tempted to misuse alcohol, medication or drugs to numb your grief temporarily.
Such a profound bereavement may change your priorities or make you look at life differently.
One mum said:
“One thing that grief has done for me is to make me wiser and the future brighter. No matter what comes along, you know that you can cope with anything; nothing can ever be as bad again for you. I will always keep my son in my heart and I am glad to have had such an angel share my life.”
Talking about the tragedy of your baby’s death can be of great help. Many people turn to close relatives and friends for immediate comfort.
You can also talk with your GP, health visitor or the midwife who knew your baby. You should try to do this if you have any physical symptoms or feel very, very low emotionally.
If your baby has died you may feel that no one can help with any of your feelings, but emotional support in the short term may help you to keep going.
We offer a range of bereavement support services that can help in the days, weeks and years after your baby’s death. Find out how we can support you here.