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.


Loss of a child in utero

After two and a half years of trying, in April 2002, we conceived twins through IVF/ICSI. I had moderate OHSS* so the first month or so took a bit of a toll but we were so excited to be having twins. I had some mild bleeding at 5 & 6 weeks but the doctors believed this was associated to the progesterone I was taking as part of the IVF treatment. At 7.5 weeks it was confirmed that we were having twins.

At 13 weeks we had a nuchal translucency scan** as we did not want to have an amniocentesis (which were advised to do due to my age – 35 yrs). The reason for not wanting the amnio was we did not want risk losing the babies. Twin A had a great measurement of less than 1mm but Twin B had a measurement of 3.2mm, and this situation combined with my age, showed a high risk for chromosomal abnormalities. Even after this news we decided not to do an amnio and that we would look to Level II ultrasound for tentative diagnosis.At 16 weeks we had another scan and it seemed that Twin B had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a situation where the left side of the heart does not develop. At 19 weeks, we had another scan and this diagnosis was confirmed. It was also determined that Twin A was a girl – Catherine, and Twin B was a boy – Marcus.

At 22 weeks we went in for a fetal echocardiogram followed by an appointment with the Pediatric Cardiologist. Unfortunately Marcus had died between my OB appointment the week before and the scan. We were aware that there was a high chance that Marcus could die in utero but you have to hope. Three days later I was admitted to hospital and put on bedrest due to a disease I have called adenomyosis. This is like endometriosis but it is only in the uterine muscle and during pregnancy it can cause severe pain when the uterus grows, plus the uterus is enlarged. They did a transvaginal ultrasound 3 days later and found my cervix had shortened and was only 1cm long Consequently, I was put on full bedrest. At 24 weeks, Marcus’ water broke and I was put on intravenous antibiotics. At 25 wks, 2 days I went into premature labour due to a uterine infection, from Marcus’ water breaking. At 12.29am the next morning, just squeaking into the next day, Catherine was born followed by Marcus at 12.30am. Catherine was intubated and taken to the NICU, though not before we heard a couple of little cries from her.

In recovery the hospital staff brought Marcus to us and we had the Chaplain name and Bless our precious little Angel. Afterwards we held him and said goodbye. This is something that meant so much. I needed to hold my much wanted little boy, as did my husband. The nurses took photos of us with Marcus plus photos of just Marcus, as well as little footprints. These were given to us in a beautiful memory box along with the clothing that he had worn. The hospital also gave us a beautiful urn in a box with Raphael angels on. We had Marucs cremated and put his ashes into this beautiful urn. Next Spring we will scatter his ashes on a small island that we love. The pain is always there but I believe that Marcu is watching over his sister and giving her strength to survive being such an early baby.

My advice for those who endured such a loss would be remember that your baby is yours and if you want to hold and see him/her you make enough noise until they bring him (them) to you. Be prepared for the fact that they may not look like the beautiful baby you want them to, but the most important thing is to say goodbye. I miss being pregnant as while I was pregnant I still had my son with me. But all things must come to end and we must move on. I hope that you are able to find strength if you are going through a stillbirth or birth loss. Just remember it does get better. I believe I am lucky to have had Marcus with me for 22 weeks and to still have her sister to love and hold. We will raise her to know about her special twin brother.

Gina in Canada

*Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS): is a side effect that can occur during infertility treament with ovulation inducing drugs. In these cases, the ovaries are very sensititve for these drugs and respond with growth of multiple follicles. Symptoms of this syndrome may include ovarian enlargement, accumultion of fluid in the abdomen and gastrointestinal disorders (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea). Severe cases of PHSS are however very rate (1-2%). In case of multiple follicular growth there is also a risk of multiple pregnancy and sexual intercourse is therefore prohibited. OHSS can be very painful because of the swollen ovaries. (Source:

**Nuchal translucency scan (NTS): is the swelling just under the skin at the back of the fetal neck. It is important because if the fetus has a greater-than-normal amount of swelling at the back of the neck, there is a high likelihood that the baby will have Down Syndrome or a major heart problem or both. For greater detail on NTS, please visit

When a multiple birth parent dies…

I’ve been working with bereaved multiple birth families for many years now and the focus of that support has been about the babies and children. However, two other areas have emerged in the past couple of years: the grief of survivors of a multiple birth situation and, more recently, when a multiple birth parent dies. While any pregnancy can present with difficulties for the mother, multiple birth pregnancies can present with additional risks (see my article Possible Risks to the Mother of a Multiple Birth Pregnancy on this site).

The birth of a child is initially disruptive to all families as they (the parents and baby) must achieve a balance and routine. Add twins or triplets (or more) to the situation and both balance and a routine take longer to work out as each family member is in a steep learning curve. Add the loss of a parent and the situation takes one’s breath away!

The surviving parent, whether Mom or Dad, has to attend to the needs of two or more newborns, make funeral arrangements for their beloved spouse, perhaps attend to other children in the family, maybe deal with work outside the home, deal with their spouse’s grieving parents and make some room to grieve the loss of their partner. Talk about trying to find balance!

Some thoughts come to mind when Mom dies as a result of her multiple birth pregnancy…

  • When a planned pregnancy has gone terribly wrong and Mom has died while the children have survived, the initial feelings are of numbness, shock, denial, “this can’t be happening”, “what am I (‘we’) going to do? How will we cope?” are normal. One can expect a roller coaster of emotions. In addition, it is going to be difficult to push aside grief feelings in order to take care of twins or more.
  • What if I feel that my wife has died and it is the babies’ fault? What if I feel that I can’t love them as a result? These are normal feelings and a natural consequence to such a dire situation where children survive while the parent does not. Over time, the surviving parent will come to love their babies, while still mourning for and loving their wife, the babies’ mother. The mother’s death may have occurred because of her pregnancy, but the babies’ aren’t to blame. Her death isn’t anyone’s fault but rather a painful and very unfair occurrence.
  • Fathers don’t always feel terribly comfortable sitting in a bereavment support circle if they are the only males present. It may be more prudent to connect with another widowed father. Check out a religious affiliation, ask your doctor, or your local Bereaved Families Chapter. Some bereaved fathers have reported that time spent in a social setting rather than a bereaved setting worked better for them and made it easier for them to talk about their feelings. Some social settings to consider are on the golf course, breakfast out, perhaps a picnic with the kids. Use your immagination for what might work for you…and for when either parent dies…
  • Babies need to nurtured, cooed at, smiled at, held, cradled, rocked, fed, bathed and changed. Through these actions, babies learn to trust those who are looking after them and bonding occurs. None of these things may initially be possible as the surviving parent is working through their grief. The surviving parent may experience a need to ask someone else to provide some of the nurturing care of the children for at least a part of the time. The surviving parent may ask the grandparents, other family members or friends to help out. It is important in this circumstance for the parent to stay involved in some part of the babies’ daily care. Sometimes holding a wee baby enables us to grieve, as their small bodies are cradled in our arms or we hold them during a feed. For some, knowing that we are needed can be helpful.
  • Grieving parents need to be kind to themselves. They have received an enormous shock. It will take time, gentleness, support from family and friends to even begin to feel normal again. Expect setbacks. Grief is a journey, not a destination.
  • Grieving parents should not set huge goals for themselves. One step at a time is the best approach: “I just need to feed them this meal; I just need to eat; I just need to rest; I just need to sleep.”
  • The surviving parent should accept all the help they can get. They need reliable, comforting people around them. They may need to defer some elements of the funeral arrangements or babies’ care to someone else.
  • The grieving parent should not be afraid to speak up if they need something. People want to help but they may not know how or what to offer. The parent might ask someone to bathe a baby, take them for a walk, play with them or make the parent a cup of tea, if that is what will help. Asking someone to do the grass cutting or snow shoveling can mean a great deal to a parent faced with the duress of grieving and caring for their children at the same time.
  • If feelings of grief are overwhelming, it is appropriate to seek professional help and grieving parents may benefit enormously from an appropriate professional. Their doctor can either assist directly or provide a referral to a professional grief counselor. Grief is not the same as clinical depression, however, even if it feels incredibly painful. It is a normal human emotion and the goal is to mourn rather than stifle feelings. Surviving parents faced with the demands of grieving and simultaneous child care may really only grieve when all the work is done and the children are asleep. In other words, grieving may occur in spurts rather than continuously because of the unique life situation in which the loss has occurred.
  • The grieving parent may find it very helpful to have a safe place to speak about their feelings. They may wish to join a bereavement support group in their community. Sometimes, however, grieving people do best when they mourn on their own in a private space. Indeed, there is no formula for mourning that fits everyone.
  • The surviving parent should go forward slowly. They should expect setbacks and realize that adjustment will resemble a roller coaster more than a steady incline. Bursts of sorrow will occur, sometimes at very unexpected moments. That’s normal. The surviving parent must take it one day or hour at a time.Over time, there are other things to consider for the surviving spouse ..
  • It is advisable not to clear out their partner’s clothing or personal items in a hurry. Doing so will not relieve the pain and may, in the long run, cause more grief as cherished memorabilia is donated or given away in haste.
  • Leaving out photos of the lost parent and speaking to the children about them is very important for helping children process the grief of a parent they did not know. Relating how much both parents looked forward to the children’s births, how each considered names for them, how much the parents both looked forward to being a family is important for the children to hear. Such communication and openness about the lost parent helps children fill in gaps in their own identity and promotes self development. It will make it less likely that they will feel guilty for their parent’s death.
  • Expect your children to ask all sorts of questions regarding the death of their parent. If the surviving parent doesn’t feel capable of answering them (example: Why did Mommy die?), the parent can respond that they will think about it and answer the child later. Counselors or bereavement groups can provide assistance on how to answer difficult, pointed questions from children. A medically accurate answer, using appropriate words for the age of the child, could also be a good approach. Even when there are more than one survivor of the multiple birth, such questions are usually posed by one child at a time. Of course, the same question may be posed by another in the future or by the same child who has a need to hear the same answer once again.
  • The goal of mourning is to find our way back to life with its joys and challenges. Children who have lost parents in infancy need to laugh and enjoy life as much as any child. It is the surviving parent who must lead the way. It is OK to laugh and to have new possibilities, new experiences.



By Lynda P. Haddon and Arthur S. Leonoff Psychologist/Psychoanalyst/Training Analyst