When Your Baby Dies

Little boy wearing green fairy wings and a grey hoodie blowing bubbles over a lake with evergreen trees in the distance.
Big sister blowing bubbles for her little sister

Content Warning: Photos of a deceased infant.

Aside from your heart spontaneously combusting, there are a lot of other unpleasant things to do when your baby dies. As with any death planning, it’s gut wrenchingly awful and each step feels like twisting the dagger in deeper and deeper. In the North American customs that I’m used to, there are very little conventions to follow and lots of whispered stigmas around child deaths (rightly so, as they are the most sad). So that makes trying to find ways to honour your child’s existence very difficult. As my daughter never got to have a life, I wanted her death to be an expression of all the things I had hoped for her. I wanted to remember her with joy as well as sadness. I wanted my son and I to have some experiences with her. These are some suggestions that helped me, and maybe they’ll help you or someone you know.

Stroller procession.
Saddest walk to the park ever.

Have a baby funeral

When my baby was still born at 39.5 weeks, I knew I wanted to have a funeral. I didn’t know then, that a lot of people don’t have funerals for their babies, but I can imagine why you might not want to. I had spent the whole year making up her stroller kit and researching skateboard attachments for my daughter. Talking about how Rook and he would roll to school and we’d drop her off and roll him back at the end of the day. How we’d all go to the park, and throw snacks to the ducks on the lake. It was a vividly pictured story that I told us both over and over with great excitement. As our baby was in a surrogate in another State, we had lots to imagine together.

Friends floating lanterns into the lake.
Friends floating lanterns into the lake.

Planning things makes me feel better. Planning nice things for my daughter makes me feel immeasurably better. So I planned a stroller parade from the house to the lake with all our baby owning friends and their kids, Rook and my daughter at the top of the line. Everyone was asked to wear bright colours and the kids all had faery wings and bubbles. A friend played guitar and sang as we paraded down the street.

I had created a eulogy about Rook’s likes and dislikes based on stories about my surrogate’s pregnancy. Her husband and daughters all told me about different foods she couldn’t eat (eggs were top — and my daughter and I found out we are intolerant to eggs recently) and the ones she loved (melons). How she was not a morning person, but liked to kick all night. My then-partner created a sci-fi tale of how her DNA gets found in space and she starts a rebellion uprising, which seemed on brand for our combined personalities.

Then we lit environmentally safe candles in biodegradable floating lanterns and set them on the lake while people thought about their wishes for Rook. We all sang you are my sunshine to her as her sole lullaby. Then head back to the house for drinking, Irish wake style. I had photos of myself, my then-partner and my daughter as infants on poster boards next to Rook, so people could imagine what she would have looked like.

Sweetest Tiny to never take a breath.
Sweetest Tiny to never take a breath.

Bring your baby home

After embalming, your loved one is okay to be in your home for up to 72 hours. They can be home. They can be in their bed. You can go and see them all you’d like. You do not have to pay for a funeral home showing. The earlier you get them after death, the better however. My poor little girl took a while to travel from California and babies are mostly water, so they do not take as well to embalming as adults do. Their skin gets dark and they need a lot of makeup. I did not know this initially, but you may want to know before you make this choice. As our baby was never alive outside in the world, I wanted her to be in her crib and get to rock her in the same glider I rocked my daughter. Lots of cultures have their loved ones in their home and plenty of people do open casket funerals. This gave the family a lot of time with Rook to make peace and I’m glad we did it.

Family portrait

Take a family portrait

There is a lot of slack put on ‘younger people’ taking selfies at funerals. I don’t think it has the flippancy that is being put on the act. I selfie like a tornado snatching up cows on a farm. Selfie attack! I’m a single mom and if I don’t selfie, then my daughter will have no memories of me existing in his childhood. If no one else is going to take the photo you want, then you selfie. If you want a reminder of how you felt, or what someone looked like after the life went out of them, then do that. It is literally not harming anyone. We would not have any family portraits if we didn’t take one after Rook died, and I have had two kids. I wanted a memory of all of us together. My daughter was thrilled to take shots with his sister and was only mad that she got to wear make-up and she did not get to. So, don’t harsh on people who do this. Just because it’s not *your* thing, doesn’t make it a *bad* thing.

My tattoo of Rook

Get creative with ashes

There are a lot of things you can do with ashes. There are little urn necklaces (my friend got me a rocket one for Rook), you can turn them into diamonds, they can be used to make glass art pieces, or hosted in teddy bears. You can even send your baby to space, which is one of the plans we have for some of Rook’s ashes. You can use ashes to plant in your home, or in pods meant for outside. You can also get them put into ink and have yourself tattoo’d. Both my then-partner and I got tattoos with Rook’s ashes in them. The rest have gone on piles of adventures with us, and have been sent to various friends and family. I like to think of each scattering of her ashes as a trip she’s gone on. Celebrating the life she didn’t get to have.

The end is not the end.

If grief ended within a certain amount of days post death, how great would that be? Alas, no such luck. But… that does give you a lot of time to process that grief and many opportunities to come back to it when you have more mental fortitude. Directly after your baby or child, or anyone’s death might not be when you have all the strength to have a funeral, make a scrap book, or blast their ashes into space. You give yourself space instead. When you’ve had a chance to regroup, you can always chose to do something to honour them in your own time. The loss is timely, the love endures.

Each container is an adventure.
Each container is an adventure.

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