Healing Your Grieving Heart After Stillbirth: 100 Practical Ideas for Parents and Families

Healing Your Grieving Heart After Stillbirth: 100 Practical Ideas for Parents and Families

by Alan D. Wolfelt

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Beloved grief educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt compassionately explores the common feelings of shock, anger, guilt, and sadness that accompany a stillborn child, offering suggestions for expressing feelings, remembering the child, and healing as a family. Ideas to help each unique person—mother, father, grandparent, sibling, friend—are included, as are thoughts from families who experienced a stillbirth. This new addition to Dr. Wolfelt’s popular series is a healing companion to families when they need it most.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617221774
Publisher: Companion Press
Publication date: 01/01/2013
Series: Healing Your Grieving Heart Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 128
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, is a speaker, agrief counselor, and the director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. He is the author of Healing a Parent's Grieving Heart, Understanding Your Grief, and many other bestselling books on healing in grief. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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Healing Your Grieving Heart After Stillbirth

100 Practical Ideas for Parents and Families

By Alan D. Wolfelt, Raelynn Maloney

Center for Loss and Life Transition

Copyright © 2013 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61722-177-4




"There is no foot so small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world."

— Unknown

• Everyone grieves when someone we love dies, but if we are to heal our grief, we must also mourn.

• Your body and mind's natural response to your baby's death is to grieve. Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings you have when you lose someone you have come to love and value.

• Your grief is what you may experience as a weight in the chest, a churning in your stomach, an ache in your arms, a memory of being told that your baby was not going to take his or her first breath, or a recollection of the moment you held your stillborn baby in your arms.

• Mourning, on the other hand, is the outward expression of your grief. It is an active process. Mourning is releasing your grief, be it through tears, writing your thoughts in a journal, creating art that represents your feelings of grief, writing out lyrics to a song that describes your heartache, talking to others about your baby, or telling the story of the life and death.

• Many of the ideas in this book are intended to help you mourn the death of your precious baby. These ideas have been written to help you express your grief outside of yourself so that over time your heart can heal.


Check in with yourself and ask, "Am I allowing myself to actively mourn my baby's death, or am I holding my grief inside?"



"Sorrow comes in great waves ... but rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us, it leaves us. And we know that if it is strong, we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain."

— Henry James

• During the first hours, days, and weeks after your baby's death, you are likely to feel shock, emotional numbness, and disbelief that any of this is real.

• These feelings are nature's way of temporarily protecting you from feeling overwhelmed by the full reality of the death. Like anesthesia, they help you survive the pain of your early grief. Numbness is natural and necessary early in your grief process.

• What does numbness feel like? You may feel mentally foggy. Or you may find yourself thinking, "I will wake up from this and it will not have happened." When we first begin to mourn a loss, it can feel like being in a dream. Your emotions will need to catch up with what your mind had been told.

• Numbness can also be experienced as a desire to be more passive in your day. You may not feel like taking care of yourself in basic ways or doing only what is absolutely necessary. You may want to be led through the day a bit so that you don't have to think or make choices. You may need others to make even simple decisions for you. You may move a little more slowly through your day or feel less productive than normal. This slowing down is a natural need your body and mind have so that you can begin to take in the reality of the loss.

• Even after you have moved beyond these initial feelings of numbness and begin to feel more clearheaded, don't be surprised if they reemerge later, further into your grief journey. Birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries often trigger normal and necessary feelings of numbness.


Give yourself permission to take a time-out from making decisions right now. Cancel any activities that demand concentration or focus so that you can allow your mind and body to heal before putting them to work again.



Need #1. Acknowledge the reality of the death

"Grief is a process of awareness, of making real inside the self an event that already occurred in reality outside."

— Parkes and Weiss

• Your baby has died. This is probably the most difficult reality in the world to accept. Your mind and heart will try hard to push this reality away. This is normal and necessary for your survival. Yet gently, slowly, patiently over time you will begin to embrace this reality. Little by little. Hour by hour. You will come to integrate the reality in doses as you are ready.

• Whether your beautiful baby died because of something that occurred suddenly or the death was anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss will happen as time passes. Over the coming months and years there will be many experiences that will remind you of this reality. These are necessary experiences for you to have, as painful as they may be.

You will first acknowledge the reality of the loss with your head, and then, over time, you will begin to acknowledge the emotional reality with your heart and soul.


Tell someone about your baby today. Talk about how you decided to name her or what it was like to first see her.



Need #2. Embrace the Pain of the Loss

"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey."

— Kenji Miyazawa

• Embracing pain may be furthest from your mind right now. In fact, you are more likely to be actively finding ways to avoid or prevent yourself from feeling the pain of this loss day in and day out. Embracing pain is something we naturally do not want to do. It is easier to avoid, repress, or push away the pain of grief than it is to confront it and feel through it.

• Confronting and allowing your pain to surface is what will help you reconcile and integrate the reality that this is not a baby you will raise, because he died before birth.

• In the early days after the death, the pain often feels ever-present, as if it doesn't let up for even a moment. During this early time, you will probably need to seek refuge from your pain for periods of time. You simply cannot take in the enormity of your loss all at once. It's healthy to seek distractions and allow yourself bits of pleasure everyday. Go for a walk, watch television, or talk to friends about something other than death.

• After some time has passed, you will find that the sorrow you feel surfaces less often. While you may enjoy the reprieve, it is important for you to find ways to consciously invite your pain to resurface, feel through it, and continue to integrate it.


Dedicate 10 minutes to thinking and feeling about the loss. If you don't want to be alone for this, reach out to someone who doesn't try to stop your tears or take your pain away with words. Sit with this person as you express how painful this experience is for you.



Need #3. Remember the Baby Who Died

"As long as I can, I will look at this world for both of us. As long as I can I will laugh with the birds, I will sing with the flowers, I will pray to the stars, for both of us."

— Sascha

• To heal in grief, it is important to remember your baby and commemorate this precious being whose life ended much too soon.

• If those around you try to take memories away from you in a misguided attempt to spare you from more pain, express to them that this is not helpful to your grief. It is good for you to share or display photos of your baby, even photos of the baby after she died. It is good to talk about your daughter, both happy and sad memories of your pregnancy as well as her birth and death. It is good to cherish a blanket or item of clothing that touched your daughter's precious body before you had to say goodbye.

• In the early weeks and months of your grief, you may fear that you will forget her. The details of her face, her smell, the feel of her skin. Rest assured that while time may blur some of your memories, as you slowly shift your relationship from one of presence to one of memory, the moments you shared with her will be imprinted in your memory.

• Remind yourself that it is remembering the past that makes hoping for the future possible.


If you took photos of your daughter or son, copy the pictures and make a special photo album for yourself, your partner, and each of your kids. On each page write down something you remember about wanting to have a baby, about your pregnancy, or about your feelings of love on the day you got to see your baby.



Need #4. Develop a New Self-Identity

"Identity is such a crucial affair that one shouldn't rush into it."

— David Quammen

• A big part of your self-identity was formed by the relationship you had with your daughter or son. Yes, you and your baby had a relationship even before he was born. This relationship began the moment you began to think about having a baby.

• You have gone from being a parent to-be to being a bereaved parent. You are the mother or father to this sweet child. If this was your only child, you may wonder whether his death means that you are a parent at all. Even if you have other children, your baby's death will alter your perception of who you are as a parent in many ways.

• While you must work through this difficult need, we can assure you that you are and always will be your child's parent. From the moment you discovered you were going to be parents to a new baby, you walked through a door that can never be closed.

• Re-anchor yourself so your feet are on solid ground as you embark on this journey to reconstruct your self-identity. This involves exploring and redefining what it means to be a parent and a family now that one precious member is not physically present in your everyday life.


Work on articulating how this loss is changing you. Using the following, complete the sentences with the words that feel right to you. I used to be _____. Now that ______died, I am_____. When I used to think about_____, I felt_____. Today, when I think about_____, I feel_____. Keeping writing as long as you want.



Need #5. Search for Meaning

"In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice."

— Viktor E. Frankl

• When a baby dies, it feels so unnatural and out of order. This death violates nature and the order of the universe. We naturally question the meaning and purpose of this sad turn of events. No question is too small or too strange. All of them are important questions to ask. Why did my child die before me? Why does a baby die before he is even born? What is the point in that?

• "Why" questions may surface uncontrollably and often precede "how" questions. This mental quandary that occurs with grief can feel consuming at times. You might be asking, "Why did this happen? How much pain can one person endure? How will my life be different? How will it be the same?"

• Remember that having faith or spirituality does not eliminate your need to mourn. Even if you believe in an afterlife of some kind, you and your child have still lost precious time together here on earth. It's normal to feel dumbfounded and angry at God or whatever source within the universe you may believe has permitted this to happen.

• Ultimately, you may decide that there is no answer to the question of "Why did this happen?" For some parents the only answer is this: My baby dying before birth does not make sense and it never will.


Start a list of "why" questions that have surfaced for you. Find a friend or counselor who will help you find your own answers, and explore (not tritely answer) these questions with you. Ask your spouse or children to do the same.



Need #6. Receive Ongoing Support From Others

"You must be at the end of your rope. I felt a tug."

— Unknown

• As mourners we need the love and understanding of others as we move through our grief toward healing.

• Unfortunately, our society places too much value on "carrying on" and "doing well" after a death. So many mourners are abandoned by their friends and family soon after the death. This is especially true in stillbirth because many do not understand that it is a significant and painful loss. Often family and friends avoid encounters because they don't know what to say.

• Keep in mind the rule of thirds: one third of your friends will be supportive of your need to mourn, one third will make you feel worse, and one third will neither help nor hinder.

• Grief is experienced in doses over years, not quickly and efficiently. As you encounter your pain, you will need the continued support of your friends and family for weeks and months and years to come. If you are not getting the support you need most, be sure to ask for it. Usually people are more than willing to help, but they don't know what to do or what not to do. You may have to practice being assertive and up front about what help would benefit you right now.


Make a list of the things that would be helpful for others to take care of. Send an email or a text to your three closest friends letting them know that these are a few of the things that would help you the most right now. Asking for help is hard, but practicing this is vital as you move through your grief.


Excerpted from Healing Your Grieving Heart After Stillbirth by Alan D. Wolfelt, Raelynn Maloney. Copyright © 2013 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. Mourn the loss of your precious baby,
2. Know that numbness if natural,
3. Understand the six needs of mourning: Need #1. Acknowledge the reality of the death,
4. Understand the six needs of mourning: Need #2. Embrace the pain of the loss,
5. Understand the six needs of mourning: Need #3. Remember the baby who died,
6. Understand the six needs of mourning: Need #4. Develop a new self-identity,
7. Understand the six needs of mourning: Need #5. Search for meaning,
8. Understand the six needs of mourning: Need #6. Receive ongoing support from others,
9. Know there is no order to grief,
10. If you decided not to see your baby after birth, find other ways to acknowledge the reality of the death,
11. Practice self-compassion,
12. Be compassionate with your partner,
13. Be loving toward your surviving children,
14. Release your tears,
15. Designate a time to mourn each day,
16. Acknowledge that you are a parent,
17. Understand when others say, "I'm sorry",
18. Just be,
19. Open your heart,
20. Remember: one day at a time,
21. Understand what it means to be "traumatized",
22. Seek safety and comfort,
23. Make an inventory of survival strategies,
24. Be patient,
25. Let go of destructive myths about grief and mourning,
26. Wear a symbol of mourning,
27. Know there are no bad days, only "necessary" days,
28. Reach out to others who truly understand your pain,
29. Know that you will reach the other side of grief,
30. Believe in your capacity to heal,
31. Move toward your grief, not away from it,
32. Acknowledge that you and your child had a relationship,
33. Give attention to your marriage,
34. Expect to have whirlwind emotions,
35. Talk about grief and mourning,
36. Be tolerant of an imperfect funeral,
37. Acknowledge the multitude of losses,
38. Watch for warning signals,
39. Identify a person you can count on,
40. Set boundaries,
41. Prepare to answer uncomfortable questions,
42. Carry a linking object,
43. Share your story,
44. Use language that empowers you,
45. Use your baby's name,
46. Talk to your baby,
47. Redefine "birthdays",
48. Be aware of "grief overload",
49. If you are angry, find appropriate ways to express your anger,
50. Leave hurtful advice behind,
51. Find ways to move through any doubt and guilt,
52. Take care of you!,
53. Make sleep a priority,
54. Honor what your body needs,
55. Create a personal sanctuary just for you,
56. Let go of tension with a sign,
57. Turn off the negativity,
58. Hold someone,
59. Remember, rocks crumble with too much weight,
60. Create your own place to keen or wail,
61. Find the words in music,
62. Tell someone you love her,
63. Sing or play a lullaby,
64. Know that it's normal to feel the presence of your baby,
65. Acknowledge when you are feeling "lost",
66. Access good grief support online,
67. Allow for unfinished business,
68. Simplify,
69. Prepare yourself for the holidays,
70. Dream,
71. Demonstrate your faith,
72. Know that you are a good parent,
73. Ground your thoughts with a touchstone,
74. Communicate with your partner about your sex life,
75. Manage your fears about future pregnancies,
76. Believe in the power of your story,
77. Create an online memorial,
78. Publish your words,
79. Plan a ceremony,
80. Write a letter to your higher power,
81. Don't be caught off guard by griefbursts,
82. Understand the concept of reconciliation,
83. Think about what comes next,
84. Move your grief to gratitude with yoga,
85. Climb to new heights,
86. Bring in more light,
87. Relax with aromatherapy,
88. Take in the sun,
89. Contemplate life through the arts,
90. Contemplate the universe,
91. Allow love in,
92. Express your childlike self,
93. Know that it's natural to rethink death,
94. Talk to someone about the afterlife,
95. Reunite and reconnect,
96. Remember others who had a relationship with your baby,
97. Reconfigure your life,
98. Be purposeful in everything you do,
99. Allow yourself to be "thankful" when you are ready,
100. Embrace your transformation,
A Final Word,
The Mourner's Code,

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