The loss of a baby is one of life's most cruel blows. It goes against everything that we feel should happen. Retired nurse, mid-wife and health visitor, Elizabeth Postle, has helped many families cope with this loss.
Here are some of her thoughts and advice, along with a story of how one family learned to live with their loss.
When the unthinkable death of a baby happens, the shock and chaos of the first few days helps the time to pass. There are visits from doctors, specialists and police. There is lots of activity trying to establish why the precious baby died.
Sadly there is always a lot of guilt around for parents wondering if they’d done something wrong. Was baby too hot, too cold, fed properly. There are so many questions, but sadly a cause is not always found.
It takes months for families to come to terms with what has happened. They never forget or totally get over something like this. But they learn to cope from day to day.
How long a lifespan anyone has is due to genetics, lifestyle and the environment into which we are born. None of us have total control. Sometimes a baby’s life is just not viable.
Their short lives are very precious and the pain and anguish is caused because you loved them. Parents would not want to have missed that.
Parents today know that babies recognize their parent's voices from inside the womb. They can hear the music that parents have listened to during pregnancy. You have felt their movements.
If a baby is destined to have only a few days or weeks of life, you have witnessed all these things and shared almost a year with them. You have been there to nurture, support and comfort them for all those months, for all their lifetime in fact.
From the miracle of conception, the joy or panic in discovering that a new being is on the way, to the awe of seeing the first scan or the thrill of feeling baby’s first kicks, these are all exciting milestones.
The experience of birth itself, the joy of tiny fingers gripping yours. Those eyes looking at you, adjusting to light and seeing this strange new world. The first suckling of a new born. All these are magical moments which some people never get to experience. Treasure them. Your baby was loved and had a precious life which you will never forget.
Who can ever understand the slings and arrows of life’s misfortunes? The lesson to be learned from this is that there is no-one to blame. Life is precarious and unpredictable and there are no guarantees.
One mum who thought she’d be a career woman gave up work after her baby was born and loved being at home. It was her first baby, a girl. A first grandchild for the family and everyone was delighted and supportive. Feeding was going well and weight gain was good. All the medical and developmental checks were fine. She was a happy content baby from a loving comfortable home.
I visited the home one day, talked to mum and grandmother and did a hearing check. All was well. The child was at that lovely 3 months age, full of smiles. After bath time, a feed and being put to sleep that night as usual in her cot, the family experienced the horror of a sudden infant death. From my happy and relaxed visit the day before, I walked into this nightmare with the family next morning. I feel no shame in admitting that at times like these I shed a few tears with the family. There were lots of hugs and why, why, why? It goes to show that it can happen to anyone.
Two years later the couple had a baby boy. Yes, they were naturally over protective and made use of technology with baby alarms and such like. The little boy was not a replacement for their lost little girl, and never could be. But life went on.
Thirty years on, I still remember the smile of that wonderful 3 month old baby girl who was victim that night to sudden infant cot death.
How many smiles do you remember 30 years on?
That child’s life was very meaningful to all her family. There was pain and loss because they loved her, but lots of joy because they knew her, cuddled her even if for only a short time. They all loved and cherished their lovely daughter and grand-daughter.
There will be pain and grief and tears. There may be guilt. If you are wondering if you did something wrong, if you could have taken more care, or if you missed something, please accept that usually there is no fault anywhere. These precious babies were just not viable with life. Forgive yourself, remember the life they had with love and joy. It is quality not quantity that matters.
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