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By Sarah Garvey
When you learn that a loved one is facing a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition and the loss of their precious baby, it’s natural to feel compelled to do something to comfort the parents and honor the life they created. That desire is tender, wonderful, and valid.
The greatest gift you can give grieving parents, both during pregnancy and after delivery and loss, is your support and the fact that you remember. But if you’d like to give them something tangible, gifts and keepsakes can be a wonderful way to symbolize that support and honor their baby’s memory.
The greatest gift you can give grieving parents, both during pregnancy and after delivery and loss, is your support and the fact that you remember.
Speaking from my own experience, it’s heartbreaking to realize you will only have a finite number of memories with your baby and only a few items that belonged to your child or were chosen for them.
Every single gift, keepsake, card, text message, and letter I received during my pregnancy and after losing my triplets are cherished items to this day. Every item someone thoughtfully chose for us was carefully packed away in memory boxes for my babies. To be able to pull out those boxes and feel and see tangible reminders of my children means the world to me. It is proof that they existed and are still deeply loved. It is proof that they mattered to more than just me and my husband.
To hold their memory items and trace the outline of their handprints and footprints is a gift and a way for me to feel like their mother. That is the gift you are giving when you send something in honor and memory of your loved one’s child.
To hold their memory items and trace the outline of their handprints and footprints is a gift and a way for me to feel like their mother.
As you begin your search, remember that the most important aspect of giving gifts and keepsake items is not the item itself but how you approach it. Because you are thoughtfully choosing a gift, I know you would never intend to trigger a negative emotional response or cause additional pain for grieving parents.
No one expects you to know what to do and how to do it if you have never walked this path or been in a support role under these circumstances before. The reality is that you will likely make missteps. I have made my own missteps in caring for grieving friends and family, and I am intimately acquainted with the process.
But, while you cannot control or predict how your gift will be received, it’s crucial that you’re mindful and delicate in your mode of delivery. Here is my advice to help you feel confident as you choose and deliver gifts and keepsakes to grieving parents:
After all the thought and care you put into choosing a special gift, it’s important to give context for the gift you have chosen. This helps the parents understand your compassionate intentions and the love you have for them and their baby.
Take a moment to include a card explaining your heart and the thought behind the gift. If you have ordered something that will be delivered directly to the parents, and you do not have the option to include the context in a card, consider making a phone call or sending the parents an email or text so that the arrival of the gift does not catch them off-guard.
Take a moment to include a card explaining your heart and the thought behind the gift.
Sometimes, well-meaning friends and family want to give a gift anonymously. Often, it’s because they want to eliminate pressure on the parents to acknowledge the gift or send a thank you note. While this is noble and kind, I would encourage you to consider letting the parents know who the gift is from. You can always address your concern in your note and let them know they don’t have to respond.
Part of the joy and emotion behind receiving a remembrance gift is knowing who was thinking of you as a grieving parent and your precious baby. I still look back to the gifts I was given and smile while thinking of those who took the time to send such precious items to us. I have even followed up with those people years later to tell them how much their gift still means to me. It is a beautiful means of connection.
Opt for Something Permanent Instead of Something Temporary
This piece of advice is not a hard and fast rule; it is simply a suggestion for you to consider.
Sending flowers is a beautiful gesture, and I encourage you to send flowers or plants if it feels right to you. Opting to send something is better than not sending anything because it conveys that you remember them and what they are experiencing.
However, there are two reasons I suggest opting for a permanent gift:
- By providing something permanent, you are giving the parents something they can hold onto forever. A permanent gift can be lovingly packed away in a memory box and pulled out when the parents need to feel connected to their baby or when they want a reminder of who was thinking of them during their pregnancy or after their loss.
- For some parents, receiving something like flowers or a plant can have the unintended effect of compounding loss. It can be hard to care for a living thing like flowers or plants, and it can be painful when those things die.
Of course, every grieving parent is unique. You know your loved one better than I do, so use that knowledge to guide how you give a gift.
If the idea of sending a gift or keepsake item is too overwhelming or not your strength, that is okay. The number one rule of providing care and support to grieving parents is knowing your abilities, strengths, and capacity. Not everyone is a skilled gift giver, and not everyone enjoys picking out gifts. If you want to send something more useful or practical, that is completely understandable. I have written an entire post about providing practical and tangible support to parents, and you can find that post here.
Consider Both Parents, Not Just the Mother
It is very common for the mother to become the focus of a family’s support network. After all, she is the one who has continued to carry their baby despite the physical toll on her. She is the one who will face one of life’s most cruel and difficult challenges: laboring and delivering a baby who will not live a full life. She is the one whose body and mind will wage war after going home without a living baby.
Her mind knows there is no baby to feed and hold and comfort, yet her body will still produce nutrition and long to hold that baby with every fiber of her being. So, yes, a grieving mother needs support from her family and friends — but so does her partner.
A pregnant woman’s partner experiences an additional layer of grief. Not only are they losing their child, but they are also watching the woman they love suffer unimaginably. At times, they carry their own grief and the grief of their significant other.
A pregnant woman’s partner experiences an additional layer of grief. Not only are they losing their child, but they are also watching the woman they love suffer unimaginably.
It is easy to assume that the grief is somehow less severe for the parent who did not carry and bear the baby who died, but the reality is it is different — not less. The other parent often becomes an invisible sufferer, someone expected to manage their own grief, yet remain strong for their partner and family. Many parents manage to do that well, but as their support network, I encourage you to see them and acknowledge their grief too.
As you search for bereavement gifts and keepsake items, you will notice that the vast majority are designed with the baby and the mother in mind. Rarely will you find gifts specifically for the father. So, when you shop for a gift for grieving parents, consider giving something for the father, too, or something for the whole family to cherish. The same consideration goes for the living siblings of the baby who dies. Keep them in mind and consider giving them something of their own as they navigate their grief.
The loss of a baby during pregnancy or following birth does not happen in isolation. It is not something that happens to just the mother or even the immediate family. The effects of this kind of loss are devastating and far-reaching. So, if you are reading this and thinking that you do not have the kind of relationship with the parents where you would feel comfortable sending them a gift, consider your relationship with the baby’s grandparents. Would they be someone who you would feel comfortable supporting with a gift or keepsake item?
The above guidance is intended to help you in the gift-giving process and is not meant to overwhelm or discourage you. So long as you are mindful and intentional, you will likely choose something your loved ones will cherish for many years to come.
A Note from Sarah
It truly is one of the greatest and most humbling privileges to advocate for those who are experiencing prenatal loss and bereavement. In a period of three years, my husband and I experienced infertility, three miscarriages, the birth and loss of triplets, and the premature birth of our daughter. Sharing my story is not always easy, but I believe in the power of connection. My hope is that you feel less alone, and that you find support, education, and empowerment through Carrying To Term.