Families grieve the loss of a baby in their own way - but they need support
Bereavement care is not prescriptive. This is something I know to be true in my role as Chaplain at the Rotunda Hospital for the last 10 years. At some point in life, we all experience grief, and part of my role as Chaplain is to help parents explore funeral rituals for their baby who has died through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, fetal anomaly, still birth or neonatal death.
In the Rotunda, there is a dedicated bereavement support team including midwives and social workers. We are here to support families whatever the circumstances of their loss.
We provide parents and families with practical, emotional, spiritual, and ritual support, as they try to negotiate their own unique pathway through grief.
We provide support to assist families to honour and recognise their baby to the extent that they wish.
Grief is circumstantial and the depth of experience varies from one person to the next. During my time as Chaplain, I have encountered a variety of situations that require bereavement support.
I remember numerous families who received a worrying diagnosis for their baby during their pregnancy.
Most request that their baby be baptised immediately after delivery. I prepare personalised baptism prayers for each baby in this special situation and leave everything ready so that baby can be baptised 24/7.
In special situations, any baptised Christian can baptise a baby.
I recall meeting a mother whose first little baby had died. She was pregnant again and was struggling to balance the happiness of her new baby with remembering and honouring the baby who had died.
Another difficultly this mother faced was the unwillingness of a close friend to talk about her first baby for fear of upsetting or reminding her of what had happened.
A previously bereaved mum had given me a quote a number of years ago that has proved quite helpful in this kind of situation - "You can't remind me of my dead baby, because I have never forgotten".
The conversation about little babies who have died might be a difficult one, but sometimes all people need is for you to just be with them, to listen, to "remember".
Avoiding difficult conversations might be the easy option, but in my experience parents want their babies to be remembered and will welcome a conversation about what they have gone through.
They will also be quick enough to shut down a conversation if they do not want to talk about it!
I have seen so many beautiful rituals during my time at the Rotunda Hospital. What is so important is that parents make their rituals authentically theirs. From choosing prayers, poetry and music, releasing balloons, placing flowers around the baby, 'theme dressing', or fundraising to honour their baby the options are endless for how parents can honour, acknowledge and recognise the precious short life of their baby.
I mentioned at the beginning that bereavement care is not prescriptive. Not every ritual or every option will suit each family. However gathering mementoes seems important for most bereaved parents.
Locks of hair, hand and footprints, photographs, identity bracelet, cord clamp, naming and blessing certificates, are just some examples of mementoes.
The Rotunda Hospital's annual service of remembrance takes place this Sunday in the Pro-Cathedral. Over 1,000 people will gather for the service. For some it is an annual pilgrimage. The service not only serves the current cohort of bereaved parents but also welcomes parents whose baby died many years ago.
The Rotunda's books of remembrance were started nine years ago and are the key and prominent features of the remembrance service. Parents are invited to have their babies' details recorded in these books. There are entries dating back to the 1930s. Each family is unique and no two families take exactly the same pathway through ritual, memory and grief. However, our humanity unites us all and this weekend we will gather to remember and honour all babies who have died, either recently or long ago.
Ann Charlton is the Chaplain at the Rotunda Hospital Dublin. The Rotunda Hospital service of remembrance takes place this Sunday, November 18. To find out more, please visit rotunda.ie/annual-service-of-remembrance-2018
Health & Living