Grieving Forward: Infant Loss and Support
When Michelle Newberry put 7-month-old Elizabeth Eden down for a nap, she never imagined it would be the last time she would see her daughter alive. As an experienced parent, Newberry was training Elizabeth to nap on her own. The sweet double-chinned baby was adored by her family. They could not get enough time holding her. Baby Elizabeth had come to rely on people holding her while she slept. Employing the Ferber method of sleep training, Newberry laid Elizabeth in her crib, then quietly left the room. The walkie-talkie style monitor turned on. Every couple of minutes, Newberry peeked in on her until she fell asleep. While Elizabeth drifted off contentedly, Newberry and her family gathered for dinner. A couple hours later, when Newberry’s husband, Alan, went in to check on their baby girl, he found her with a blanket wrapped around her head.
Immediately Newberry called 911 while her older daughter ran to their brand new neighbor’s house to look for help. The neighbor came to their aid, administering CPR. Paramedics arrived and raced lifeless Elizabeth to the hospital. Within the hour she was pronounced dead. Horror, anguish, guilt, and heartache coursed through the surviving family members. They had just barely moved from Vancouver to a new state and were not settled in. Suddenly their new home life was violated. Elizabeth Eden’s life had evaporated. Doctors call this infant mortality; families call it unfair.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines infant mortality as “the death of an infant before his or her first birthday.” The top five causes are: birth defects, pre-term birth, pregnancy complications, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and injuries. In the United States, in 2018, 21,000 infant deaths occurred. That’s 21,000 families and communities that are affected by the loss of our littlest people.
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Infant Mortality Grief Support Tips
Infant Mortality is all around us. We all know someone who has experienced this intense loss. They may be in our family, or a neighbor, co-worker, friend or relative. Below are some guidelines for offering support to loved ones who experience infant loss, compiled from a combination of input from grief counselors and parents who have lost little ones.
- Listen to and tell the stories of the baby.
- Share photographs among each other.
- Help create a keepsake center.
- Remember the baby at holidays.
- Ask parents how they want to honor the baby.
- Leave an open spot at the meal table during family gatherings.
- Write notes and letters to the baby. Share them with the parents.
- Make posters and signs for the family’s yard.
- Stick notes of love, support, and encouragement in the door.
- Arrange for meals to be shared or delivered.
- Ask to listen. Then listen.
- Open your home to their other kids or family members.
- Work side by side with Instrumental Grievers.
- Respect the family if they aren’t ready to socialize.
- Remember that milestone moments can be hard. Tread kindly.
- Offer to be a safe space or person they can talk to.
- Ask them how they would like to be supported.
- Ask fathers and spouses how they are doing. Often, they get asked how the mother is. They need their pain validated, too.
- Invite them to lunch or coffee. Even if they don’t attend, the invite will help.
- As time moves on, try your best to remember that they will always be one family member short. If they are having a bad day, that may be missing that family member.
- Have your work team or company attend or actively participate in their advocacy. Who knows you may save another life as you do?
- Don’t gossip about their situation. It doesn’t help.
- Invite couples and families to seek counseling.
- Don’t be afraid. Everyone wants a friend.
- Watch your comments. Statements such as, “Don’t worry, you’ll have another one.” Or “They are in a better place” or “God needed them” can hurt deeply.