Remembering your baby after a stillbirth
As part of the Baby Loss Series, this animation shares how some parents have chosen to remember their babies.
It can be hard to know how to commemorate the huge loss of your baby and the future that might have been. But we know that some families regret not creating keepsakes and memories. We wanted to give you some ideas and examples that other families have found comforting and helpful.
Making a memory box
A memory box is a box or envelope that holds items from your birth and memories of your baby. In the future, it may be something that help you to remember your baby with more clarity. You can speak to your midwife about creating a memory box.
You may want to take photos of the baby or take handprints or footprints. You may be able to take a lock of hair. Your midwife can help with this.
You might want to have two sets of baby items such as blankets, teddies and outfits so the baby can have one set and you can keep the other set for your memory box. Some people have also said it can be nice to read a book to your baby and then keep it in your memory box to return to later.
Some hospitals are able to store these keepsakes for you if you aren’t ready to take them home yourself. Or you could put them in a sealed envelope or box, which you can open later when you’re ready.
If a twin or triplet has died, you could take a photograph of your babies together. One day you might want to show a surviving child their twin or sibling.
Some hospitals offer a memory booklet to record details and measurements of your baby.
You might want to collect scan pictures, pressed flowers you’ve received, letters, the cord-clamp, your baby’s blanket or clothes or your own or your baby’s hospital name band.
"The things we have to remember Arthur are now some of my most treasured possessions. I wear a locket necklace every day with a photo of him in it and a lock of his hair. We have some beautiful photographs and moulds of his footprints. It keeps his memory alive to be surrounded by these mementoes."
Kathryn, who lost her son Arthur
One family's memory box
This is an example of one family's memory chest that they created for their baby Chloe. Some of these ideas might be helpful for you if you're not sure what you might want to keep for the future.
"A few months after we lost Chloe, I created a memory chest and a photo book of my journey with her. The box was made because the very small memory box they give you at the hospital is so impersonal, and just too small to capture everything we wanted to. So my husband made a large wooden chest, which I painted and decorated. It is about the size of a toy chest. In there we have the following:
- Chalkboard that we used through the pregnancy to take photos each week, it still says 40 weeks, the photo was taken the day before I went into labour.
- I have all the sympathy cards people sent us, and cards from bouquets of flowers we received.
- I have a photo album with the hard copies of all the photos we have of Chloe.
- The clothes we were both wearing the day I went into labour.
- The nail varnish that I had worn that day.
- The memory box the hospital gave us.
- The clothes we dressed Chloe in along with her blanket, all still unwashed.
- Her little socks.
- Her ID bracelet and discharge paperwork.
- The results of the post-mortem.
- All my prenatal records.
- The strip of paper from the last time we heard her heartbeat.
- Her handprints and footprints.
- A few books on grief that we were advised to read at the time.
- The photo book I made. This shows in chronological order all of my pregnancy, delivery, and the 12 hours we spent with her. It's like a photo storybook.
- A USB stick with all the photos on.
- A book that I write letters to Chloe in.
- A Christmas bauble ornament with Chloe's name on that we will hang on the tree every year as a family tradition (I have a matching one for my son now too, who is six months old)."
Some ideas for how you may want to remember your baby
Here are some suggestions of things that you can do to help create special memories:
- Keep letters and cards people have sent you.
- You may want to press any flowers you receive so you can keep them for the future.
- Many families find it helpful to write about their experiences. Try writing a diary or a letter to your baby.
- If you have lost your baby during or after the birth, the first few days are crucial for gathering moments and memories. Spend as much time with your baby as you want. You can often visit your baby after leaving hospital. Some families may wish to take their baby home with them for a day or so.
- It is natural to spend time with your baby by talking, touching, cuddling and comforting them. Being together as a family is often very important. You may want to include other family members or close friends.
- You can dress, wash or undress your baby as you wish. Some parents wish they had undressed their babies to look at their bodies. You may like to keep the clothes your baby wore. Take as many photographs as you want. You may like some photographs of the baby being cuddled by you and different family members. Don’t be afraid of taking close-up shots as this may become precious to you later on.
- Take a lock, or several, of your baby’s hair. The hospital will also make hand, foot and ear prints if you want. In some cases (usually if a baby is very early or has been dead for some time this may not be possible).
- Keep hospital nametags and other items and keep them in a special memory box.
You may not feel able to do any of these things so soon after your loss. This is completely natural. But we have found that many parents often come to regret this decision once they have had more time to start coming to terms with what has happened. We suggest not throwing things away immediately so you can come back to them later. It is never too late to start creating memories of your baby.
Saying goodbye to your stillborn baby through a ceremony
Planning a funeral or memorial for your stillborn baby can be a special way to commemorate their memory. If your baby was born after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or was born alive at any stage of pregnancy, you’re legally required to bury or cremate your baby’s body. Otherwise, it is your choice.
You may also decide to bless your baby in the hospital. Ask to speak to the hospital chaplaincy team about this. Your own religious figure may also be able to come into the hospital and do a blessing for you.
"The service was a lovely simple service, just the 3 of us, with Rhianna Lily in my arms the whole time. In her white blanket that had held her mummy and held her brother. It was such an important blanket and one that she had to have with her, it was the only thing that we could give her and I was so grateful that even though she’d been changed no one had removed that blanket from her."
Kerry, who lost her baby Rhianna Lily
It is your decision whether you have a small, private funeral for immediate family, or whether you decide to have a bigger funeral ceremony for your stillborn baby and invite friends and extended family.
Read more about planning a funeral or arranging a blessing.
Later on, you might want to attend a remembrance service. Ask your hospital chaplain if the hospital holds a service for babies who have died there.
‘Saying Goodbye’ services are held at cathedrals across the UK, the USA and Canada for people who have lost a child at any stage of pregnancy, at birth, or in infancy, whether recently or in the past.
Remembering your baby in the future
As time passes, you might want to think about continuing to collect and make memories.
“When I sit and look through it I am taken back to those feelings, and honestly sometimes I really need to just sit in that and feel it wash over me again. But then, when I have had my time looking back through everything, I can put it away and focus on my day-to-day life again.”
Diane, who lost her baby Chloe
Some parents decide to mark anniversaries. These are likely to be triggers for your grief so be aware of this and look after yourself. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, your baby’s due date, birth date, the day of the funeral can sometimes become difficult days. You might want to think about taking time off work, or marking important dates in some way.
"Every year on Erin’s birthday, we do something to commemorate her memory. We release biodegradable balloons like we did at her funeral and we take time as a family to do an activity."
Bethan, who lost her daughter Erin
If you have other children, they may want to celebrate their sibling’s birthday too.
How you remember your baby is personal to you and your family. Here are some suggestions:
- getting a piece of jewelry made, engraved with your baby’s name or their hand or footprint.
- planting a tree in a garden or special place – if you may move in the future, a pot is a good idea.
- choosing a special candle holder and lighting a candle when you want to have quiet time or on special dates - you could encourage friends and family to do this too
- taking part in Remembering Together Holiday Swaps (a non-denominational worldwide ornament gift exchange)
- taking part in random acts of kindness on behalf of their baby
- joining the #AdventToRemember in the run-up to Christmas.
As time goes by, grief will continue to hit you in waves. It might be unexpected at times.
"I got really upset about what would have been Rhianna’s first day of school. When I saw all the little five-year-olds, I burst into tears."
Kerry, who lost her baby Rhianna Lily
Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect too much. Give yourself time and space to grieve and to remember your baby.
Creating an in-memory page
While the grieving process often begins as private and intimate, some people then choose to honour their baby’s life with a tribute page, where donations are given to a charity of choice. This allows friends and family to show their support through messages and donations. It can also provide a place to turn your grief into something positive.
If you’d like to, you can support Tommy’s stillbirth research through an in-memory page. The donations help fund our research to prevent pregnancy loss. A lot of parents choose to ask for donations to Tommy’s if they hold a funeral, instead of flowers.
We hope that by offering our in-memory tribute page service, we can in some way support you with this process. You can also take comfort in knowing that all donations received through tribute pages come directly to us and are put towards our research projects. Any donations you raise help us to find out why babies are lost during pregnancy and birth and will prevent others experiencing the loss you have felt.
If you have any questions about setting up a tribute page, or have any problems, please contact us at [email protected]
There are also some online resources where you can include your baby’s name and a short passage as part of an interactive artwork to break down the stigma of stillbirth – visit the Still Born Project website.
Find out other ways to remember your baby and fundraise for Tommy’s.
This page is based on conversations with parents who have experienced stillbirth and bereavement midwives.