There are nearly 26,000 stillbirths in the US every year. In Pennsylvania, a pregnancy loss that takes place after 16 weeks gestational age is considered a stillbirth. The national average is 5.96/1000 births; for black women, that number doubles. Pennsylvania's average is higher, at 6.7/1000, exceeding 800 stillbirths per year.  Over half have no known cause.  Stillbirth is one of the most unexpected tragedies one can experience. It is important to have someone who understands your feelings and pain. This can be difficult for partners and family because they, too, are grieving, all in very different ways.

Making the time together with your baby count

The short time spent together saying hello, and goodbye, is something that families will look back on and cherish forever. Making the most of this time is one of the most important things we can do to help parents begin to process their grief. Parents naturally want to nurture, protect, and socialize their baby, and we encourage parents to take all the time they need to do just that. We present opportunities to make memories and care for the newborn in a way grieving parents may not have thought of or thought possible. Most people have a lifetime to make memories, these families have hours or just a few days. The gift of time has been given in this situation to thoughtfully plan the baby’s funeral and make it meaningful and personalized. Instead of a baby shower, a blessingway can be arranged that celebrates the life of the birthing person and baby.

What else can a bereavement doula
help with?

Doulas journal the birth story because the details of labor and birth can get lost in the emotional trauma of the situation. They also help gently guide parents to:

Journal about the pregnancy

The details of the pregnancy and birth should not be lost with the loss of a child. Being able to capture the whole story helps to support the legacy of the child.  As memories change, the ritual of reading the “story” helps shape understanding and capture the meaning of this event.

"In the latest work on grief, story is taking a central place in how we recover. The old way of thinking about grief was that we need to disengage our emotions from the relationship that held a person to us, that defined the bond. The new way of thinking is that we need to remold the stories that connected our hearts, so we can weave them into the shifting and changing nature of who we are becoming. In fact, telling the story of the person who died and our relationship to them over and over again is now seen as the way we rebuild the notion of who we are, acknowledge that relationships with deceased people still grow and help us define ourselves. This is the opposite of disengaging." -Henry Fersko-Weiss 2018

Make physical contact

Some mothers like skin-to-skin after delivery, others prefer their baby to be  bathed and dressed before they meet them. There is no right or wrong way. The parents’ decisions are honored.

Grandmothers bathing stillborn babyBathe and dress baby

We can assist parents, or other family members, in bathing and dressing the baby.  We like to use scented oil to clean the baby because it is gentler and parents can keep some of the oil to remember what their baby smelled like.

Take photos

Initially, the suggestion of photos is met with surprise. These turn out to be some of parents' most valued mementos by parents. You only have one chance to take them. You may not want to be viewed right away but they will exist for the future to serve as proof of this child’s existence and a memory of the time this family had together.

A picture:

  • Shows parents exactly how the baby looked so they do not have to rely on memory.
  • Gives parents a way to share their baby with others.
  • Comforts parents who do not want to forget and fear they can’t or won’t remember.

We can put these into a photo book to create this baby’s story and have photos retouched if necessary. The content of the photos is discussed before they are taken.

Designate special songs/story books

Songs can be played while baby is bathed and rocked. It’s also nice for parents to have some quiet time together reading a storybook to their baby. We can provide suggestions for songs or books.

Make mementos

We have beaded name bracelets, footprint/handprint cast kits, photo props that can become mementos, and supplies for family handprint artwork.


Socialize their baby

Remind parents that they may want to introduce their baby to their family members, therefore weaving their baby into their family's history.

Prepare for breast changes

How to alleviate breast discomfort or discuss options for milk donation.

Think about the days ahead

Doulas sensitively encourage discussion of interment of the baby’s body, cremation, memorial services, and traditional or home funerals. Through guided participation, we help anticipate how to handle triggering scenarios and what life will look like after this life-changing event.  For more information, click here.

Get in touch with us today to learn how we can support you or a loved one during perinatal loss or to offer support.

"The end of grief is not severing the bond with the dead child, but integrating the child into the parent’s life and social networks in a different way than when the child was alive."

– Klass, 1998