Your baby died at or shortly after birth. Becoming a father or a mother coincides with intense sadness at the passing of your baby. Sometimes this happens at the end of the pregnancy when everything was already in place to welcome your baby. However, sometimes the delivery happens far too early, and you can be overwhelmed by a variety of emotions: disbelief that you are about to give birth, fear and panic about your baby.
You gave birth prematurely and your baby didn’t make it. Maybe you were prepared for a premature birth and you’ve been in the hospital for a while. The doctors have done everything they can to give your baby a good start; lung seizure medication has been started and everything is in place to take care of your baby. In spite of everything, it has not been possible to keep your baby alive.
Sometimes premature birth comes completely unexpected; your water breaks without warning, the cervix has suddenly given way or contractions start without warning. Childbirth is something intense and in a normal situation you live towards the end of the pregnancy and are ready to give birth. If you are not prepared for it, just giving birth too early is mentally difficult. Worst of all, your baby has not made it and you suddenly have to deal with saying goodbye.
After a full-term pregnancy
The end of the pregnancy is in sight and you are preparing for the delivery. In a little while, you will finally be able to hold your baby in your arms. Suddenly, everything goes wrong. Nobody had taken into account that your baby could die during the delivery or shortly after. If your baby is not doing well during the birth, it may be decided to perform an emergency C-section. The paediatrician will take over and check your baby.
If the doctors feel that your baby has a chance of survival, they will start resuscitating, but this is not always the case. CPR consists of giving extra oxygen, cardiac massage and medication through an IV, usually in your baby’s hand but can also be done in other places.
CPR is a very intense event. The doctors do this as closely as possible to the parents. As a mother, you will often still be under anaesthesia and will not (fully) experience this important and intense moment. Your partner has to watch alone how hard all the people are fighting for your baby’s life. This will leave an indelible impression and will be engraved in his memory forever. In many hospitals pictures are taken, which you can look at together later so that you can slowly come to terms with what happened. It is important to talk about this together so that you know what the other person saw and what the experience was like. If you have had an epidural, you sometimes experience the CPR consciously.
If your baby stops breathing on its own, the treatment will be stopped. You will then immediately be given your baby in your arms so that he will be close to his mother and/or father when he dies. The doctor will regularly listen to your baby’s heart with a stethoscope and will be able to tell you when it is no longer beating.
The moment at which treatment is stopped can vary considerably. This can be after a resuscitation of about 30 minutes, but it is also possible that your baby will be ventilated for a few more hours if at first the doctors are hopeful and it turns out in the end that your baby can’t be saved.
Immediately after death it is nice to have skin on skin contact with your baby for as long as possible. In this moment, he is still warm and this first contact is very important. This moment will never come back. After a while your baby will get colder, and you will be able to wash and dress him. Hand and footprints will also be made in the hospital and, if you like, a strand of hair will be cut off for you to keep as a memento.
If you have to stay in the hospital for medical reasons, e.g. a caesarean section or because you are still very ill yourself due to pregnancy poisoning, you will usually get a private room. If possible, you will get your own nurse who will be there just for you. This way you will see as few different nurses as possible. In addition, it is indicated on the door that no one is allowed to walk in unannounced. Not even for food and drink.
Usually you get a visit from the gynaecologist and paediatrician on the day of birth. They will tell you exactly what happened and you can ask all your questions.
If you want to see how CPR goes, you can watch these videos:
Video 1: (Dramatised) Resuscitation after home birth and the organisation of the acute chain of care.
Video 2: CPR lesson on a doll
Video 3: Baby Amélie has a bad start after a caesarean section and needs to be ventilated. Warning: this is intense and emotional to watch. Fortunately, Baby Amélie will be able to breathe independently.
Taking your baby home
Many parents choose to take their baby home with them. This gives you all the time you need to take a good look at and “get to know” your baby and make memories (see help card memories and days until the funeral).
When you take your baby home, it is important that your baby is kept cool. There are several ways to do this:
- Baby cooling
- Water Method
- Cooling elements
- Embalming / thanatopraxy
Investigation into the cause of death?
Sometimes the cause of your baby’s death is immediately obvious, for example if an infection has been diagnosed or because the placenta has come loose. These are things that can be seen on the outside. If the cause is not immediately known, you can request to have your baby examined further. Read more about the different ways of examining your baby here.
"I got Hugo wrapped in sheets in my arms. It looked like he was asleep. He was so beautiful. I didn't want to believe that he wouldn't open his eyes or start crying every moment. How could it be that the baby I had felt in my belly for 9 months suddenly wasn't there anymore? We took Hugo home so he could lie in his own little bed in his own room. It was so nice to have him close by, so that we could say goodbye in our own surroundings and in our own way."
Hiske, mother of Hugo*, Hanna and Juul
"The nurse asked my partner to stay over. They would put an extra bed in the room. Since we have two other children, we didn't think it was a good idea at first. We felt that they needed their father at that emotional moment. When I had a friend on the phone later that day, she said it might be very important to me if my partner stayed over. We did, and I am still very grateful for her advice. I don't know how else I would have spent that night alone. The realization really came through that night and I would have been lying there all night on my own."
Petra, mother of Nout, Fransje, Mees* and Eef
"We are very happy that we were able to take Lynn home and spend time with her as a family, to cuddle with her, show her to our surroundings and give her a bath. We feel that we have made the most of these days and have very beautiful memories of them with very beautiful pictures."