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Suggestions for What to Do With the Baby Shower Gifts and/or Nursery When the Babies Have Died

A frequently asked question is what to do with Baby Shower gifts and/or Nursery when the babies have died.

The following suggestions are offered in order to provide some ideas as to how to handle this situation. Be sure to choose something that works for the both of you.

  • If you don’t want to keep the gifts for your next pregnancy, then return them assuming the persons giving you the gifts want them back. It may be that some want them back and some do not.
  • If the person giving you the gift does not want their gift back and you do not want to keep it because things have changed dramatically and you don’t wish the painful memories, consider donating each to a worthy cause, e.g. a women’s shelter, hospital, immigrants’ shelter. Some communities have homes for unwed mothers and they are very grateful for baby gifts. You could write each gift giver a short note indicating that their “very special baby gifts” have gone to such-and-such a cause in honour of your own special babies.
  • Consider keeping one, two or more (one for each baby) of your gifts, e.g. stuffed animals, for your babies’ Memory Boxes.
  • It may be that you have received special, expensive gifts which you don’t feel comfortable keeping. For example: Royal Doulton baby dish sets or snowsuits. Call the people who gave you the gifts and ask if they would like them returned. Take the opportunity to let them know of your idea to donate the gifts and let them know which place you have in mind. They may agree to having their gift donated as well. A phone call asking specifically for feedback when you are not sure what to do, will help decide on a mutually acceptable course of action.
  • A gift is a gift, regardless. The generous spirit of giving shouldn’t change if the babies die. When a gift is given, ownership of that gift is transferred. If you don’t feel you want to return the gifts or even some of the gifts, it wouldn’t be incorrect but you may still feel conflicted. If you are in doubt ease your mind by calling the giver.
  • Take your time when deciding what to do with the gifts. Initially, you may be taken up with mourning and funerals. Don’t be pushed by well-meaning relatives or friends to decide too quickly what to do with the gifts. If you are pushed to make a decision, it could add additional stress. Give yourself a few months to complete the task. You may disperse the gifts with your partner or you may ask a close family member or friend to help you.
  • The same with taking apart a Nursery. Many families set up a babies’ room ahead of time. There are no hard and fast rules on how to handle it. You might ask family or friends to take it down and store it before you come home from the hospital or you may wish to do it yourselves. If the latter, close the door and enter the room only when you feel ready to do so. You could move the cribs, equipment and toys to the basement or put them in storage so they will be out of your sight and you won’t fear tripping over them and triggering painful memories. It isn’t terribly expensive to do the latter. You may also choose to leave the Nursery for your next pregnancy. WHATEVER YOU CHOOSE TO DO IS RIGHT. Don’t be talked into anything that you feel might not work for you.

If you have any suggestions that you would like to see added to this list, please write to me and let me know.

 

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Do We Still Have Triplets?

The triplets were born at 29 weeks gestation, at about 2-1/2 lbs., 2 lbs. and 2 lbs. respectively. At ten days old, the eldest and largest succumbed to complications due to his prematurity. The parents were, naturally, devastated and the father asked me, “Do we still have triplets?” Without even hesitating, I answered, “Yes, your babies remain as they were conceived and you are still the parents of triplets. Nothing can change that. The difference is you have two on Earth and one in Heaven.” This makes perfect sense to me.

To call these precious babies “twins”, from this point forward, is not correct for a couple of reasons: 1) three babies were conceived and three babies were born. To call them “twins” denies the short life of a precious, much loved and wanted child, and 2) the simple truth is the two living siblings are surviving triplets and not twins at all!

The question, “Do we still have twins (triplets? quadruplets? multiples?)” is one of the most common questions from parents who have lost one or more of their multiple birth babies. Those working with multiples and their families or whom are bereaved parents who have conceived multiples and lost one or more, have no difficulty in understanding that surviving children remain twins, triplets, quadruplets or quintuplets. Making others understand such a concept, can be an enormous challenge. Sadly, some of the most painful denials come from family members.

One mother who delivered premature twins and one succumbed some 10 hours later due to birth anomalies, tearfully explained that her mother-in-law never mentions their deceased daughter. Her mother-in-law did not attend her granddaughter’s funeral and, four years later, continues to celebrate the birthday of her “’singleton’ granddaughter.” In addition, this same mother received a card from a co-worker reading “Congratulations on the Birth of your Daughter” even though her co-worker was fully aware she had been carrying twins.

This mother was inconsolable as she recounted her story. These are enormous hurdles for any parent to face: their grief has not been recognized; their daughter’s life has not been recognized or acknowledged, and Mom has not been given “permission” to grieve by either her mother-in-law or co-worker. She remains confused as well as very hurt and angry that her twin daughter’s life, albeit a short one, is completely denied. Mom would love nothing more than to talk about the loss of her child and the future that would have unfolded. While she and her husband feel that they are the parents of twins, others do not understand or share the same point of view and no doubt due to their own inadequate feelings around death, especially that of a child, choose to ignore the loss and celebrate the life of a “singleton child.”

This kind of situation is a very difficult for any family to have to deal with and, unfortunately, not all that uncommon for parents with surviving multiples. Not only is the birth and short life of their child (even if only in utero) denied, but the parents are not provided a safe place to share their sorrow in surroundings with people who understand and care about them. These parents are not “permitted” to acknowledge that they lost a child as well as a unique parenting experience, nor that their surviving child(ren) has lost a unique sibling relationship. The message given to many such bereaved families is that they must “carry on.” Research has also shown that in such situations, parents suffer compicated and prolonged grief when their loss is unrecognized by the people closest to them (Patricia Swanson, et al.).

Children are not interchangeable. Each and every child is important, no matter how short their stay with us. Hopes, joy, dreams, love and future planning are tied up in awaiting the birth of a child and dramatically affected when those dreams are brutally cut short. Parents with surviving multiples have the burden of extreme feelings, both at the same time: Joy at the birth of their child and Despair at the death of their child.

Whether or not parents wish to divulge their personal history will depend upon the situation they are in. With extended family or good friends, they may be open about the loss of their baby(ies). With strangers at the Mall, the parents of two surviving triplets may choose to just let comments pass, “Oh, how wonderful. You have twins!”, or even, the very painful comment “Be thankful you didn’t have triplets.” Which ever way you choose to handle the situation is the right way.

There is no doubt in my mind that the above mentioned family still has triplets, two with them here on Earth and one in Heaven.

Lynda’s Note

Many thanks to Dr. Beth Pector for her feedback and input on this article. 

 

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Memorial Ideas

‘How can I remember my child(ren) in a meaningful way?’ is a common question from bereaved parents.

Here are some memorial ideas for your consideration

Immediately following the death:

  • It may be possible to take hand and/or foot prints of your baby(ies). These can be framed in a shadow box with an engraved nameplate. The hospital staff will be able to guide you at/after delivery if this is at all possible. Depending upon how long the infant has been deceased while in utero, it may not be possible to make casts.
  • Have photos taken of both/all of your babies together as well as apart. This will be the only time they will be together and later in life these photos can become extremely important, not only for the parents but also for the surviving co-multiple(s) in actually seeing his/her sibling(s). One family noted that these photos were important in confirming to them that they did, indeed, have another baby. In some areas professional photographers donate their time and take the photos for free. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is one such organization. Alternatively, you can take the photos yourself, or ask a friend or hospital staff person to take the pictures for you.
  • Consider taking photos of hands, feet, ears as well. Baby(ies) can be carefully wrapped to facilitate such photos.
 For the funeral or memorial service:
  • Consider releasing homing pigeons either at the baby(ies)’s funeral or memorial. Try the yellow pages or internet for a local business offering this service. The birds are for rent for services and memorials. Note: Releasing mylar helium-filled balloons is not recommended as deflated balloons have been found in the stomachs and intestines of whales, turtles and birds. It is a difficult and sometimes painful death for unsuspecting animals. For the most part, regular balloons are biodegradable, but the strings, ribbons and cords are not. These parts remain a hazard for animals.
  • Consider involving the grandparents in the memorial or special services. They, too, have suffered a loss (and also grieve that they were not able to protect their own child from such a loss), and including them in a part of the service plans will help as you rely on each other’s strengths for mutual support;
  • Consider involving older children in the funeral and/or memorial service. Young children don’t always understand the concept of death, but involving them in funeral arrangements helps them better understand what is happening and why their parents are upset and sad. Left to their own devices, children can internalize negative feelings and interpret those feelings as if they, themselves, have not ‘been good’ and as a result their parents are sad, upset or angry. Including them and explaining the situation in age-appropriate language ensures they understand that the situation is not their fault, and helps them feel connected rather than left out or marginalized;
  • If the service occurs when there is still a survivor(s) either in hospital or at home with a sitter, allow yourself to be mentally, emotionally and physically present at the service. You are in the right place at the right time, so try not to be hard on yourself with thoughts of your surviving co-multiple(s) and that you should be with him/her/them.

Support at home

One idea, as a bereaved grandmother explains, occurred when her daughter and son-in-law returned home after losing triplet babies.

My daughter is home from the hospital and I will be going to take care of her this coming week so her husband can go back to work. I thought I would pass on what a loving thing their friends did. When my daughter and her husband arrived home, they were greeted by friends who [had arranged] a “shower” of love and comfort. They brought presents like plants for the house, gift certificates to the video store, cooked meals for the freezer, etc. One woman’s gift was to clean my daughter’s windows in a couple of weeks. Since we live in a desert environment, this is a very loving thing to do. They also brought covered dishes and spent time with the couple and just let them guide the conversation. My daughter said she felt so loved and cared for by so many people. One woman (although she was a little nervous about it) brought her newborn (2 weeks old) and let my daughter hold him. This did not upset my daughter. Instead she said it gave her a chance to hold a baby in her arms and it just felt so natural. I thought this was such a wonderful, thoughtful thing that made their homecoming less painful.

On birth or death days

  • Light a special candle on either the birth day or death day or both, whichever works for you;
  • Make a donation in your child(ren)’s name;
  • Do some volunteer work in your child(ren)’s name;
  • Some families spend the birth or death day at the cemetery with a picnic;
  • Some families do not want to take away from their surviving co-multiple(s)’s joy, and so if the death day is the same as the birth day, the family will set aside a different day in which to remember their deceased baby(ies);
  • One couple donates a baby layette each year in their son’s name to a male child born in the same hospital on the day their son died.
  • Consider planting a tree or flowers. One couple planted daffodil bulbs in a forest spot they liked, and went to visit them every spring and just sat in the quiet to think.

Helping a surviving co-multiple learn about their beginnings

Having photos around the house or perhaps making a memorial book can not only help with the grief process but also provide an opportunity for questions at a later point in time. Photos (even just one) around the house will encourage a surviving co-multiple(s) to ask questions, and provide an opportunity to explain and answer questions in age-appropriate language.

Down the road

  • Make a difference in the life of a child and ask the school board if you can help a child learn to improve his/her reading skills;
  • Donate a book to a local school or public library each year in your child’s name;
  • Plant a tree in a private space, or get permission to donate one to a public space;
  • Buy a bracelet and include a charm that might symbolize your child.  This is discreet and it would not be necessary to explain anything you did not wish to share.

Following is an idea from a triplet family who lost one of their young sons at 21 months due to complications from his prematurity.

Our fifth family member…

A friend of mine from Oslo, Norway, who also lost her young son, shared this poem with me. Loosely translated from Norwegian and paraphrased, it reads:

We are four in our family.

We are five in our family.

We have an invisible one in our family.

If you don’t know our fifth family member, you don’t know us.

This poem sums up for me the importance to us of always including our Angel Joey as a member of our family. This is especially so as he is one of our triplets. People will insist on calling our boys ‘twins’… but they are not. We have many pictures of Joey from his brief time with us but every year at portrait time, we want to make sure he is with us. Another friend suggested including some memento of his or even a framed picture in our family portrait. I found a small, stuffed bear with a blue ribbon and holding a wooden block with the letter ‘J’ on it. This is our ‘Joey Bear’. For the past two years, Joey Bear has joined us in our Family portraits. He is a small reminder that we are not as complete a family as we once were. One is absent from us physically but always present in our hearts.

If there has been a baby shower, ideas for what to do with the gifts

Gifts given belong to the receiver. This might not hold true if the gift is a family heirloom, e.g. silver cup or spoon. You may wish to return any special items. However, all other shower gifts or gift certificates can be kept by the receiver or returned, as you see fit. An option might be to donate some, or all, of it to a needy cause such as your community home for unwed mothers or other charity. If this latter option is chosen, think about writing a note to the giver of the gift and letting them know that their generous gift has been forwarded to a worthy cause. Reasons that gifts/certificates might be passed along include: the parents feel unable to keep them as they are a reminder of their loss, fear of more “bad luck” or parents want their next pregnancy to have a more positive outcome.

Organizations

Multiple Births Canada – Loss Support Network
Telephone: (705) 429-0901 Toll Free in Canada: 1-866-228-8824
WS: www.multiplebirthscanada.org
Email: loss@multiplebirthscanada.org

Center for Loss in Multiple Birth (CLIMB)
Jean Kollantai, PO Box 91377 Anchorage, Alaska 99509 USA Telephone: (907) 222-5321 WS: www.climb-support.org
Email: climb@pobox.alaska.net

The Compassionate Friends of Canada
Tel: 1-866-823-0141 WS: www.tcfcanada.net
Email: nationaloffice@tcfcanada.net

Bereaved Families of Ontario (BFO)
Canada Telephone: (416) 440-0290 WS: www.bereavedfamilies.net
Email: admin.bfo@axxent.ca
Email: info@bfotoronto.ca

Books

  • Forever Our Angels, Hannah Stone, Lulu Publishing (2006).
  • Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby, by Deborah L. Davis, Fulcrum Publishing (revised edition 1996).
  • The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child, by Barbara D. Rosof, Henry Hold and Co., N.Y. (1995).
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Suggested Loss Reading List

There are many helpful books on loss and grief available. Here is a loss reading list of some that I have found to be particularly helpful and supportive. I am very pleased to note that support literature for surviving co-multiples is on the increase.

If you have a read a book that you have found helpful and would like to share it, please let me know.

Step into the Light: Living in the Shadow of the Ghosts of Grief , Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., Companion Press, 2007, 152 Pages, ISBN 978-1-879651-51-7 $13.95US; $17.95Cdn.

Wolfelt has written many thoughtful and supportive books on grief and here is another one.  He looks at why many of us carry our grief rather than mourning it.  It isn’t uncommon to feel afraid to face what hurts us.  We may fear losing control and never getting it back.  We may fear crying and never stopping (in fact, we do eventually stop crying.  After about 20 minutes, our body slows down and crying stops).  We may be under the impression that if we do not face our losses, then they didn’t really happen. We may be under the mistaken impression that if we “ignore” the pain, it will go away.  We may fear that the pain will be so great that we could “break.”  As common as such feeling or perceptions may be, Wolfelt encourages the reader to address that which we fear will destroy or cripple us and to mourn so that we can move forward and “step into the light.”  If we do not so, the grief will never leave us and will be carried forward with us to raise its ugly head and undermine us at every opportunity.

Here are a few quotes (from several) which touched me:
Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live – Dorothy Thompson
If my grief softens, I’m afraid I’ll have to admit he is never coming back.  And that is what I don’t want to face.  A workshop participant.
One heals suffering only by experiencing it to the full.  Marcel Proust

If the reader has difficulty in recognizing his/her pain, grief, physical problems or addictions, Dr. Wolfelt has included a survey to assist with learning about and/or recognizing which issues readers might be experiencing.  When it is all in a list before us, it can be helpful in coming to terms with what we are (may be) dealing and help us move forward to get the help and support need.

Another thing I appreciated about this book was the almost “interactive” nature of it.  Wolfelt encourages the reader to read the book with a pen and to underline anything that speaks to you, and/or to create a reflective journal of those words, phrases, paragraphs which meant something to you, and to add your own thoughts and feelings as you progress, hopefully towards the light.


Always My Twin
, by Valerie R. Samuels and Illustrated by Najah Clemmons, Trafford Publishing, 28 pages, softcover

At last a book for young co-twin survivors! Samuels gave birth to twin daughters Gina and Julia at term. Gina had Trisomy 13 and Holoprosencephaly and lived for 9 days. As Samuels describes, “She died in my arms, but not in my heart.” In order to honour Gina and help Julia deal with her loss, Samuels wrote this book. It is narrated by Julia who explains her parents sadness at losing her sister and joy with having her.  It is an easy to read children’s book, using language aimed at about age 5. It explains how the pregnancy began as two and that one of the babies died.

Always My Twin  is interactive in that the reader can complete sentences explaining how they feel about losing their co-twin, paste in a photograph and complete their own Family Tree. The touching illustrations “speak” so that the young reader can understand and perhaps relate to what they, too, might be feeling.

The book may be little, but it fills a gap for young co-multiple survivors in a big way!

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, it can be ordered online at: trafford.com/05-0937 or from Valerie herself at samuelsvr@yahoo.com

Sibling Grief: Healing After the Death of a Sister or Brother, P. Gill White, iUniverse Inc., 2006, softcover, 112 pages

When a child dies, people close to that child feel the loss: the parents, the grandparents, the siblings. While we tend to focus on supporting and providing resources for parents, the grandparents and siblings also have unique experiences. This book focuses on sibling loss and as bereaved parents, we need to be aware that the loss of our child(ren) also affects our living children. Depending upon the age of each child when his/her sibling dies and under what circumstances (born still, illness, accident, suicide), the situation can be very difficult for siblings as well. Not only are their parents not emotionally available to them for an amount of time (sometimes years), they have lost a comrade, partner, playmate, friend, confident and so much more.

While this book does not touch on multiple-birth co-sibling loss and the unique challenges faced by the survivors, nevertheless, there are many parallels included which parents will be able to relate to, understand and act on to support and assist their living co-multiples in dealing with a co-sibling’s loss.

White, who lost a sister when she was 15, has broken her book down into the different ages at which loss might occur and provided guidance and insight for parents at each stage. She breaks down the healing practices into 5 steps: learning about sibling loss and the grief process; allowing yourself to grieve; connection with other bereaved siblings; telling your story; and finding meaning in the loss.

There are a plethora of resources listed in her helpful and supportive book, also broken down into detailed categories so that bereaved siblings can make other connections as they might need. This book would not only be a terrific resource for professionals whose clients are looking for grief support around the death of a sibling but also for parents having lost a child(ren) and suporting/helping their surviving child(ren) deal with their own emotions around the loss.

Journeys: Stories of Pregnancy After Loss, edited by Amy L. Abbey, Woven Word Press, 2006, 183 pages, softcover

Losing a child is a parent’s worse nightmare. In our fantasies about our lives and how they will play out, we never envision that we will lose a child. In fact we have the most beautiful baby (or babies) in the world and everyone lives happily ever after. The truth is, that sometimes parents lose their baby. There may be no discernable rhyme nor reason to the loss, making the loss much worse as we blame ourselves, our bodies, the world.

Getting pregnant after a loss has additional issues: Will we lose another pregnancy? What are my chances of losing another pregnancy? When is the optimum time to try again? When another pregnancy does occur, time lines can be emotionally depleting, especially if they mirror those of the unsuccessful pregnancy. Such fears and questions are normal.

Journeys: Stories of Pregnancy After Loss, edited by Amy L. Abbey, chronicles stories of loss by parents whom have suffered the worst kind of loss. This touching and caring book speaks to the pain of losing a much-wanted and loved baby, through miscarriage, stillbirth or just after birth. One by one parents recount how their pregnancy progressed, some knowing ahead of time that their precious child would not live to feel the sun. Parents speak to their innocence about their pregnancy, their joys, and about the journey of the distress of their loss. Some share their disbelief with the news of their child’s prognosis and of processing that knowledge. They share how they coped through their loving relationships with each other, family and friends. Some had other children but the emptiness remains in spite of the subsequent joy of the birth of a healthy child.

I think it is important not only to tell the stories of precious lives lost, but also in letting us know that we are not alone in our grief. By sharing their stories, these courageous parents have honoured the short lives of their babies while at the same time extending a hand and loving spirit to other grieving families experiencing the same situation. Together we are so much stronger and the path, while still bumpy and often uphill, is somehow made a little better.

  • The Loss of a Multiple: Miscarriage, Stillbirth, Infancy , Multiple Births Canada
  • The Loss of a Multiple: Childhood, Teens , Multiple Births Canada
  • Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of your Baby , Deborah L. Davis, Fulcrum Publishing
  • Living When a Loved One has Died , Earl A. Grollman, Beacon Press
  • Men & Grief (a guide for Men surviving the Death of a Loved One), Carol Staudacher, New Harbinger Publications
  • On Children and Death , Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Collier Books
  • Questions and Answers on Death and Dying , Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Macmillan Publishing Co.
  • When a Baby Dies: A Handbook for Healing and Helping , Rana K. Limbo and Sara Rich Wheeler, RTS Bereavement Services
  • When Hello Means Goodbye: a guide for parents whose child dies before birth, at birth or shortly after birth , Pat Schwieber and Paul Kirk, Perinatal Loss
  • The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child , Barbara D. Rosof, Henry Hold and Co., N.Y.
  • Forever Our Angels, Hannah Stone, 2006, Lulu Publishing, 96 pages, soft cover, $7.95 US.
    Web site: http://www.lulu.com/content/216306

Hannah Stone suffered three pregnancy losses along with the births of five healthy children.  Each of her children were much-wanted but not all of her babies were able to stay to be a family on earth.  While Hannah located books on loss, grief and others offering coping strategies, they did not meet her needs of wanting to know her feelings were normal and not feeling as if she needed to hide her loss.  As such, she decided to create the book she never found in the hopes that others might also find solace as she needed.

Her book, while not addressing multiple birth loss, is a collection of about 15 personal stories of miscarriage.  Grieving parents share their confusion, grief, numbness, having to put on a ‘happy face’ for others and some acknowledge their anger at God for taking their baby before s/he had a chance at life.  This is not a book about being fair.

When we share our grief and say our baby’s(ies) name, we honour our Little Lights of Life and confirm that our Forever Angels remain in our hearts.  The future is forever changed.  Parents learn that the world can be a cruel place and their discussion centres around the struggle to find a new “normal.”

While Forever Our Angels rips at the heart, families suffering the early loss of much wanted babies, will no doubt find comfort in knowing they are not alone in their grief.

Remembering Our Angels: Personal Stories of Healing from a Pregnancy Loss, Hannah Stone, www.lulu.com, March, 2007, softcover, 138 pages

Courageous and very sad families have shared their stories of loss(es), how they have handled their loss and how their lives have changed as a result of losing their precious baby(ies). While these stories are difficult to read, they are also compelling and the fact that these parents are honouring their children by sharing each aspect of their short lives, the reader cannot remain untouched. In fact, we shouldn’t be untouched. Nothing about losing a baby is fair or right.

Stone includes one family’s story of loss of one twin, and I submitted an article addressing some of the challenges multiple birth families must face and how friends, family, professionals and the community can do their part to support and assist each bereaved family.

For Surviving Co-Multiples

  • The Survivor , Lynne Schulz, 2003, Pleasant World – with Foreward by Lynda P. Haddon
  • Living Without Your Twin , Betty Jean Case, Tibbutt Publishing
  • The Lone Twin: Understanding Twin Bereavement and Loss , Joan Woodward, 1998, Free Association Books
  • The End of the Twins: A Memoir of Losing a Brother, by Saul Diskin, The Overlook Press
  • Twin Loss: A Book for Survivor Twins, by Raymond Brandt, Courier Printing Co.