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Life isnít supposed to end before it has the chance to begin. Sadly, every year in the United States, approximately 1% of all births are stillborn or end in death within the first month of life. Many infants who are born prematurely are too tiny or too sick to survive. For a parent holding a dying baby, sorrow and sadness are overwhelming. Even though the parents had little, if any, time to spend with their infant, the parental attachment is still strong. All of the hopes, dreams, and plans they had for their infant are suddenly taken away. The future they had looked forward to sharing is lost.
In talking with bereavement counselors, perinatal nurses, and familiesÖ the thing parents most seek after the death of an infant is acknowledgement of their childís life. When talking with parents, call the baby by name; this is a way of recognizing the infant. The moments families shared with their infant, whether only a few hours, days, or weeks, become lasting and precious memories.
When an infant dies, the family often feels lost and alone. Many people donít know what to say or are uncomfortable dealing with the death of an infant. In trying to offer words of support, well-meaning friends and relatives often say, "It was for the best," "Youíll get over it," or "Youíll have another baby." According to Diane Kerchner, Director of Women and Children's Services at Glens Falls Hospital, "While all of these things may be true, they are not comforting words to grieving parents."
Mrs. Kerchner adds that just being there for the parents is the important thing. "Most parents need to talk about the death. Some need to talk a lot. The best thing family and friends can do is listen... listen... listen. Another statement that is made, though said with the best of intentions, is 'You'll have (or have) other children.' No one else can replace this little one. It doesn't matter how many weeks this pregnancy had progressed; the parental bonding began when they knew she was pregnant. Plans and dreams for this special infant began at that moment." Another suggestion from Mrs. Kerchner: "Don't remove all of the clothing or baby furniture before mom comes home. There needs to be time for grief, and sometimes doing this is helpful for the grieving process. Always ask the mom and dad how they would like this handled."
The Mason and Megan Program canít hope to help these families through their grieving process, but we can give them small loving kindness gifts from the heart. Providing items such as an Angel Bear, a Memory Box, and Care Cards are ways to send caring and compassionate messages to the parents.
Regardless of what the parents decide, we have accomplished our mission, to acknowledge and honor the life of the infant and let the parents know that we care.
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