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photo by Joanna M. foto, FreeStocks.org
photo by Joanna M. foto, FreeStocks.org

In childbirth and motherhood there are inevitably losses of many kinds. I’ve mentioned my own loss when I had a miscarriage. What was the most difficult for me at the time was the many unanswered questions. Why did it happen? Was it something I did? Was my child even a life at the time? Should it matter? A miscarriage is very ambiguous. It is not a loss that is talked about much because most people don’t even know you are pregnant when it happens.

There are other kinds of losses also. Some families have babies born to them who are not perfectly formed. Others lose their children soon after birth or before. It can be heart wrenching and seemingly unfair.  Grief work is one of the hardest things anyone will ever do, and is, quite possibly, never ending.  But there are steps that you can take to help with the process.

Making Memories

There are a number of different things you can do to help commemorate the birth of a baby that may be born too early or not survive soon after birth.  Creating memory boxes filled with items that remind them of their baby, is a great way to keep memories of a loss.  You can fill them with bassinet cards, hats , blankets, photographs taken by the hospital, hospital ID bracelet, cord clamp, measuring tape, bath items used, lock of hair, or the heart rate/contraction strips from any monitoring done.

Finding Meaning in Loss

Recovery from grief is associated with having a sense of purpose(Rogers et al. 2010).   A sense of meaning can come from serving in the community or religious institution.  As a nurse, I was privileged to be a part of one family’s way to find meaning.

I was given an infant boy’s suit one night while I was working, and then told this story.  A year ago that day a baby boy was born to a couple that lost him a few days later. To help remember him and to bring meaning to his life here, this couple choose to give one of his outfits that they had bought for him to another baby that would be born on the same day a year later. I happened to be working that night when we gave out that outfit. I can imagine that this act brought some sense of peace to the grieving couple.

Plan a Ceremony

Ceremonies provide several functions that help us through the grieving process.  It can help us to recognize the death as a reality and give us something to hold onto as we begin navigating the waters of grief.  They also allow us a way to tell our stories, or share our stories with others around us.  In this way, they tap into support systems that may later help us.

Funerals are the typical ceremony that we hold in our culture, but there are also other ceremonies that you can hold.  Some ideas include lighting candles in remembrance, planting a tree or other plant, or making an art project to commemorate the baby’s birth.

As a doula, you can also be a powerful presence for a woman who is experiencing loss, and provide her with a way to use some of these strategies in the days following her loss.

Other resources you may find useful:

Handout: Birth plan for pregnancy loss

Blog: Birth trauma and the five stages of grief

Webinar: Grief and loss in childbirth


Wolfelt, A. D. (2013). Healing your grieving heart after stillbirth. Companion Press.

Rogers, C. H., Floyd, F. J., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J., & Hong, J. (2008). Long-Term Effects of the Death of a Child on Parents’ Adjustment in Midlife. Journal of Family Psychology : JFP : Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 22(2), 203–211. http://doi.org/10.1037/0893-3200.22.2.203


Follow Rachel Leavitt:

Rachel has worked as a register nurse (BSN from University of Utah) since 2004 with a work history in Labor and Delivery, NICU and Postpartum Care. She is also the founder of New Beginnings Doula Training which she organized in 2011. When she's not busy being a mother and grandmother, she can be found reading research papers related to some aspect of childbirth.

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