Although I can offer my condolences to a family who just lost their newborn baby, I cannot fix the reason I am offering my understanding and love in the first place. I have no answers most of the time. All I can do is share that they are not alone, that their baby matters to them, to us, and the world.
I remind them that there is no right or wrong way to integrate this loss. Some insist from the very minute they learn of their baby’s demise that there will be a tattoo. Even if they aren’t tattoo kind of people. Others refuse photos initially, but give in after they hear our pleas.
They are very tastefully done.
They are in black and white.
They become absolute treasures.
They are all you will have left.
It’s all true. There aren’t crawling pictures, preschool photos, or graduation invites. The family walks out of the hospital one less family member than they walked in. There is no soothing balm for that.
The space this baby leaves is a chasm that I try to bridge as a caregiver. I always take two sets of footprints and handprints. Just in case if something should happen to the one set you have. I try to find a lovely lotion I can put on the blanket I wrap the baby in, sometimes in dire need to cover up a horrific smell, other times to help mom “bank” her memory of her baby.
I remind you to hold your baby for hours and hours if that feels right. There is no need to rush to the morgue. And, if you change your mind and need more time with your baby, I will go get your baby from the morgue and wrap him or her in warm blankets to help the chill go away. I will encourage you to just BE with your baby. Examine every finger and toe. Kiss her cheeks. Nuzzle his neck. There will never be another time.
And when the time comes to say goodbye, I will take your beautiful baby, and with grace and dignity I will wrap him up, remind him that Mommy and Daddy love him very much, thank him for his presence, his gifts, his spirit, and send blessings to the parents who’ve just joined the club of Empty Arms, Broken Heart.
I will then take a deep breath and wonder about the person who took the time to crochet the beautiful blanket that I just gave to the mother. The blanket that was wrapped around her baby’s body. The blanket which will become the catcher for all the many tears to come. The blanket which she might sleep with, just to be close to her baby who now lives on in her heart and spirit. That person who spent all that time crocheting the blanket and donated it to our hospital, had no idea what a gift she gave. I for one, am grateful.