Ways to Memorialize your baby

For those who have a baby die in the latter stages of pregnancy, there are ways to remember the baby that are not available to those who miscarry earlier. There is a graveside to visit, pictures, or a piece of hair, perhaps. But for those for whom the loss was early, there often isn't anything to hold on to later. Fortunately, there are ways to create a memorial or remember your baby:

Give your baby a name

Even if you never felt the baby move or have no idea if it was a boy or a girl, giving your child a name can be very healing. It allows you to refer to your baby as an individual and not just as an abstract concept or medical issue.

There are a number of ways you can look at choosing a name. If you don't know the gender of the baby, you can choose a “neutral” name that could be given to either a boy or a girl. Or you can go with the inner feeling of it having been one or the other—after all, if you are wrong, does it really matter? You can look at the meaning of names and choose something based on what its meaning says to you. Some people have a hard time with giving the baby a real name, and choose to go with something more abstract. For example, one woman I know had referred to the baby in utero as “Harpo,” an affectionate little nickname for a child whose gender was unknown to them. When that child died in the second trimester, the parents couldn't bring themselves to change the name, so Harpo is how they continue to refer to the baby.

No one can tell you there is a right or a wrong way to go about creating a name for your child. Whatever feels right and comfortable to you is what you should do. Nor is there a time frame by which it must be done. It is never to late to give your child a name. I have a friend who named her son more than thirty years after he was stillborn. There can be healing in speaking a name, whenever you are ready to do it.

Plant a tree

Many people I know have planted a tree or a shrub or created a special little part of their garden in memory of their infant. We planted three azaleas under our bay window for Zachary, Victoria, and Joshua. And Nicholas' tree stands a few feet away in the front yard. Very few people know why those particular plants are there, but it makes me feel good to look at them and see a living, growing, blooming thing in memory of each of my little ones.

Write your baby a letter

For some people, writing can be therapeutic. Many people find they can put into words on paper what they cannot say to others in person. Writing to your baby can bring about a sense of connection. I kept a journal with each of my pregnancies, and for the last two, I wrote it in the form of letters to the baby. When Nicholas' pregnancy journal became one of loss, I continued to write to him, telling him how I was feeling and how much I missed him. Through addressing him in writing, I felt I was able to speak to him, that perhaps he was able to hear me somehow.

Keep a journal

Even if you can't bring yourself to write directly to your baby, keeping a journal can still be a good way of working through deep feelings. Sometimes it is easier to let those feelings spill out onto paper than to say them out loud. Get a pretty blank book or an inexpensive spiral notebook. No one else ever has to read it if you don't want to share it. You can write about how unfair this all is, how much your heart hurts, whatever it is you are feeling at that particular time. You can just scribble on the page until it is solid black if that helps. You may find that you are working through feelings you couldn't identify before, just by letting you hand write whatever comes into your head. Later, your journal might be something to read through as a memento or to burn as a symbol of letting go.

Light a candle

Many churches still have areas of candles you can light for a special intention. Or you can light a candle at home on your child's due date, birth/death date, or other special day of memory.

Attend a service

Having a memorial service for your baby can bring some closure to the loss. It can be a formal service at church (having a mass said, for instance), or it can be something you put together in your backyard. You can invite those who are close to you, or let it be private, just you and your partner. Read a poem, light a candle, sing a song, whatever helps you. Each year at our church, we hold a memorial mass for infants, where parents are invited to light a candle for each of their infants as the names are read out loud. In many communities, services like this are held at local hospitals or through local support groups. Ask around and you may find a special event that happens every year.

Create a memory book

If your baby died later in the pregnancy or after birth, the hospital will likely provide you with items to keep, such as photographs, a lock of hair, a blanket, or a tee shirt. It is likely you will have cards and things to keep as well. All these things can be kept in a special box of some kind or mounted into a shadow box, or you can create a memory book from the paper items with larger items kept separately. None of these things need to be done right away—it's perfectly fine to put them away in a closet until you are able to face the emotions involved in assembling something.

It is harder to create a memory book if you lose a baby early in the pregnancy, but you could include copies of emails or cards from friends expressing their sorrow. Perhaps you had an ultrasound photo from an early exam. Whatever things you might have received, arranging them in a blank book or scrapbook of some kind can give you a tangible thing to keep as a memento.

Purchase a keepsake

There are many websites that offer keepsakes in memory of miscarried babies. Jewelery, artwork, garden memorials, and Christmas ornaments are among the many kinds of keepsakes available.

Ornament for the tree

Many people tell me that having a special ornament for their Christmas tree or small statue on their shelf is of great comfort. I keep all four of our special angel ornaments packed together in one little box, and they always hang in the same area of our tree each year, all together. It makes me feel that those little souls are a more prominent part of our family during the holidays, when I can look at the tree and see my angels.

Create a memory/angel garden

Many people create a special place in their yard for a memorial to their child. It can include statues, plaques (these can be ordered on line), bushes, trees, whatever speaks to you and creates a place that is special to you. Another option is to create a special place of beauty that can be enjoyed by many people at your church or in a local park, with permission, of course. You can include a small statue or plaque naming the place in memory of your child, or it can just stand alone.

Angel of Hope

In, The Christmas Box, a worldwide bestseller by author Richard Paul Evans, a woman mourns the loss of her child at the base of an angel monument. Though the story is mostly fiction, a bronze statue was commissioned and installed in Salt Lake City by the author in response to reports that grieving parents were seeking out the angel as a place to grieve and heal. Across the nation, there are now many “Angel of Hope” gardens, created as a symbol of hope for all parents that grieve the death of a child. Each garden contains an angel statue, with the face of a child, and many of these gardens have an “adopt a brick” program, where you can purchase a brick for the walkway or wall in memory of your child. These gardens also have an annual memorial service for bereaved parents.

Create a special tradition for your baby's birthday/due date anniversary

Creating a special way for your family to remember this child each year may seem difficult at first, but it can also become a treasured family tradition. It can be helpful for other children in the family to have a way to remember the brother or sister who is not living. We visit Nicholas every year on his birthday and due date, and the boys take great pride in clipping the grass around the stone and scrubbing off any dirt with water and paper towels. The past few times we have done this, they have also gone around and cared for the stones of the other infants buried around Nicholas. Aaron and I also attend the daily mass on Nicholas' birthday each year.

Register your baby's name via the Internet

There are a number of on-line resources where you can register your baby's name. Some of these sites send you support information, and others are just on-line memorials.

Perform a service project for others

There are always organizations looking for help with service projects. Join a team building a house with Habitat for Humanity, a group cleaning up a park, or donate your time in some other way. If you don't want to make a big time commitment, you can take an ornament from one of the holiday Angel Tree/ Toys for Tots type of holiday programs and buy a gift in your child's name for a child of the same age.

Participate in Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day

In 1988, President Ronald Regan declared October 15th to be National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Across the country, memorial services, remembrance walks, and other events are held in memory of all the babies whose lives were too short. My boys and I take flowers to the cemetery on October 15th each year, leaving one on the gravestone of each baby. I place a small sticker on the stem of each flower, noting the date and the reason for the flower.

If there is nothing available in your area, perhaps you are the person to begin something—not right away, of course, but when you have healed enough to begin looking forward again.

© 2009 Kathleen Olowin All rights reserved.