Friday, October 05, 2012

Taking Our Babies Home

In New Zealand, the practice of taking your baby home after he or she has died is normal and natural. Parents there cannot understand any other way of doing things. In Maori culture, it is almost unheard of not to bring your baby home for rituals and for saying goodbye. All the family and friends are involved and get to meet the child. In NZ, it is actually quite normal to bring any deceased family member home, whether baby, older child or adult. It doesn’t mean everyone does it, but people know it’s an option. It is not viewed as bizarre, morbid or unhealthy in any way. Our friends from Sands NZ gave a fascinating talk on the logistical, as well as the emotional, aspects of bringing babies home. They played a video they put together which shows bereaved parents talking about their experiences of bringing their baby home. Those parents spoke very lovingly, with a great deal of serenity, about what it was like to be able to spend time with their babies before saying goodbye.
As I sat through the session, I thought, Uh oh. Trouble. My experience was pretty much the opposite of what occurs in Maori culture, which has a rich tradition of welcoming stillborn babies into the family with grief rituals and celebrations that involve friends and family. My son was born in a hospital in downtown Vancouver. I didn’t look at him, I didn’t hold him, and I very definitely did not take him home. Peter peaked at him once. No one got to meet him. We didn’t have a memorial service. We have 2 photos taken by the nurse. No pictures of his mama or daddy holding him or of his big sister with him. No family portrait. It took us 2 months to name him and 3 months to pick up his ashes. After five months, I was sobbing on my bathroom floor in a complete panic because I didn’t know where my son was, what he looked like or what he felt like, and it was too late. His body was in ashes. The staff at our hospital were so kind and compassionate, I can’t imagine more caring people. But unfortunately they were not able to facilitate us interacting with our baby. They did not even recognize the extreme shock we were in. These are all crucial pieces in caring for newly bereaved families. We found out Toren had died when I was near the end of labour and I said to Peter, “We have to look at him, we have to hold him. Everyone always says they regret it if you don’t.” And yet when he was born, my brain shut down and I went into shock. It’s a natural response, but it needs to be managed. The staff did offer for me to hold him, once, at the very beginning. The shame and guilt associated with all this is hard to describe. The way it has affected my grieving, my relationships, my parenting, my understanding of myself – all hard to describe. I am working on getting all that down in words to share. For now I will just say, we need to do better for families. It’s not ok to unintentionally add grief upon grief because of ignorance. We need to catch up to other nations and other cultures when it comes to helping families cope with loss, especially the loss of a baby before, during or after birth. 


  1. Just stopped by your blog through a Twitter link and wanted to let you know what a small world it is. I am a LD RN at a downtown Vancouver hospital. I am really sorry for the loss of your baby boy and also that not more memorable photos of him and you were taken. I am surprised that your nurse did not contact Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep to capture the beauty of your baby son and those moments of you together. Not sure what the circumstances around that *miss* would be. Keep on blogging and sharing your story.

  2. Thank you Andrea for sharing your story. Through your words we are knowing Toren, your beautiful baby boy.

    Sadly, I had a similar experience in a Vancouver hospital. I think sometimes what might be perceived as a calm patient able to make informed decisions, is really, in fact, a newly bereaved mother in acute trauma.

    Stillbirth is a traumatic death. Stillbirth is a traumatic birth.

    Clinicians serving newly bereaved parents have to be skilled enough to facilitate and model parenting and grieving from the moment we are told "I'm sorry, there is no heartbeat," so that there are no regrets nor missed opportunities.

    I am eternally indebted to the MISS Foundation in Arizona founded by Dr. Cacciatore for stepping in when our local services could not.

    Love to you and Toren,
    Scarlett Amelia's Mom

  3. Thank you both for your kind words. There is so much more to our story but I wanted to clarify that the nurses did indeed try to contact NILMDTS but we were told there is no one available on the weekend (Toren was born on a Friday). That's fine, it's photographers volunteering their time and I have personally met people who are indebted to that organization. I do believe ours nurses did everything they could for us and for that I am so grateful. I will never forget them and I think about them often. I know it can sound like I'm saying the opposite but I truly feel that "the system" let us all down in a way. I think about the big picture and how things can be improved but I do feel that on the day he was born, everyone did the best they could.